“Letsema le tsweletse”. Freely paraphrased, this means, let the good times roll. This phrase is often used as election slogan or battle cry of the Botswana Democratic Party.
Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in as new president of the Republic of Botswana. He comes after Ian Khama who succeeded Festus Mogae who took over from Ketumile Masire, who in turn had succeeded the founding president of the Republic of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama. President Masisi has inherited a country reputed for political stability and economic success. His promise to the people of Botswana is that he will address youth unemployment and diversify Botswana’s economy.
Botswana has, by African standards, maintained a low-key political posture. In the converse, the country has remained in the forefront of political support for struggling countries in the Southern African hemisphere, primarily through receiving refugees and catering for their welfare. This trend dates as far back as circa 1900 when the country received refugees from Germany’s mayhem in South West Africa that forced the Namas and Ovaherero to spill over the borders into then British Bechuanaland.
Botswana gained autonomy from British rule in 1966. This was the time when the country formalised its politics along the lines of the British parliamentary system of state governance. These times witnessed the emergence of political parties, prominent of which were the Botswana Democratic Party, led by its founding president Sir Seretse Khama and the Botswana People’s Party led by Dr. Phillips Matante.
The birth of Botswana as a sovereign state came against the back-drop of a volatile political environment of agitation in South Africa and Namibia. The same year that Botswana gained autonomy, Swapo launched an armed struggle against the unyielding South African apartheid regime. Given the proximity of South Africa and Namibia to Botswana, this country became the cradle for refugees from the two countries and it paid a heavy price of military invasions by the South African troops.
Dr Matante emerged as an eloquent political mind and fast cemented opposition politics in the new state of Botswana. But the Botswana Democratic Party remained dominant of the political landscape of Botswana and the party has prevailed as ruling party to date. During those days Ovaherero leadership in Botswana implored their communities to follow the party of Seretse Khama and the rationale was that, had it not been for the traditional leadership of Gammangwato from where Seretse Khama hailed, chances were that they would not have settled in Botswana.
When the country attained freedom, some of the Ovaherero scholars – the likes of Keith Kaitire Ruhapo, Katoloki Tjitjindua, Kavitundema Muhakaona, Ben Maekopo and others – were taken into the civil service of the new government. These youths had capitalised on Namibia’s liberation struggle education and had gone for training in different countries of the world.
Botswana has sustained a stable political culture, associated with economic stability, since its first elected government. Like many of our countries, this nation state has gone through the throws of numerous political formations with political party break-aways leading to new political structures. But these had hardly ever caused political uncertainty pertaining to the governance of state.
When the first president left an impression was gained that new political formations would successfully prevail. During the reign of the second president, the third president served as the permanent secretary of finance and he doubled up as director of elections. In 1984 I joined a Namibian delegation to observe the elections in Botswana in anticipation of our new political order. And we had an opportunity to sit for debriefings with Festus Mogae, in his capacity as director of elections.
He came across as a focused senior civil servant, committed to fairness and the rule of law. When he took over as president, Botswana continued to enjoy the advances in political stability and economic progress. Still the dynamics of political break-aways and re-alignments continued in the political complexion of Botswana and in this process some of the hitherto political stalwarts, the likes of Dr. Kenneth Koma of the Botswana National Front (BNF), were to fall on the way side.
Ian Khama came in, somewhat unexpected to the casual observer of the politics of Botswana but for close observers it was a logical development, particularly after the virtual stand-off between Namibia and Botswana on the Kasikili/Sedudu Island that was resolved with limited political tensions. Ian Khama’s reign seems to have contributed enormously to economic progress, particularly to the development of Botswana’s infrastructure.
President Masisi takes over the reins of government at a time when the country enjoys political stability and is riding high on the economic front. But he stands before some political challenges as his party is destined to contest national and presidential elections in 2019.
Botswana has remained a consistent player on the international scale and stable neighbour to the Southern African environment. It has projected economic stability perhaps second to none on the SADC plain and the country had hosted refugees from its neighbours who would be going through political upheavals, ranging from German genocide with regard to Namibia, through apartheid subjugations in the case of Namibia and South Africa, to internal political strives such as Zimbabwe’s Matebele Land conflicts that saw Joshua Nkomo of ZAPU having to leave the country in camouflage under the cover of darkness. Botswana has over the years sustained its culture of political tolerance and that is an example to emulate, particularly in our continent where freedom reins, but political stability has remained a moving target.