Reflections on a Presidency: 10 Years at Botswana's Helm
On Monday October 6, 2008 the Woodrow Wilson Africa's Program hosted "Reflections on a Presidency: 10 Years at Botswana's Helm," a Wilson Center Director's Forum with the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, who reflected on his leadership, successes, and shortcomings over the past decade. After brief introductory remarks by Deputy Director Michael VanDusen, the event was moderated by Africa Program Director Howard Wolpe.
President Mogae opened by giving a brief description of the electoral system in Botswana, referring to how he became president in his country. "I succeeded my predecessor by law (he was vice president) and then was elected by parliament," he said. Mogae served as President of Botswana from 1998 until he stepped down on April 1, 2008. He is known for having consolidated democracy by applying the rule of law, maintaining governmental transparency, and maintaining peace and stability in Botswana while using the nation's resources to bolster the economy and strengthen the education system.
Botswana has a remarkable reputation in Africa for its economic success as compared to many other nations on the continent. President Mogae explained that part of his success during his years in power was due to the market oriented policy he developed. He implemented investor-friendly policies to encourage outside investments in Botswana's diamond mines and tourist industry. Given the success of this plan, the overall poverty level was reduced and inflation was contained. President Mogae also stated that the respect of human rights was a priority for his presidency. He emphasized that the anti-corruption commission he created had been a vital component in helping to contain corruption and to ensure accountability in the country. These principles have helped Botswana to achieve political stability and to implement sustainable macroeconomic mechanisms. Under his leadership, Botswana maintained an average growth rate of 6 percent.
During his tenure, respect of women's rights and gender parity was one of Mogae's top priorities. Over that period, 40 percent of key government positions were filled by women. He focused not only on empowering women but also on providing women with access to education, and ensuring that education was a universal right. President Mogae emphasized that "statistically, Botswana has achieved gender parity in education." However, he admitted, he did in fact fail in one area of women's empowerment: achieving an increase in the number of women in parliament. Because party leaders do not pick parliamentarians - they are chosen through a primary election process - he was not able to directly influence the number of women sitting in parliament. Moreover, what surprised President Mogae is that women don't tend to vote for other women running for these positions. Indeed, even though women account for more than 50 percent of the total population in Botswana, women politicians have a much more difficult time winning seats in the Parliament.
President Mogae acknowledged that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana remains a challenge for the country. The government has been extremely devoted to fighting HIV/AIDS; the state now provides anti-retroviral to patients who need the medication, and is dedicated to the prevention of early childhood infection. As a testament to his commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, President Mogae chaired the National Aid Council, and has accepted to continue to chair the Council after retirement from office. President Mogae recognized the generous assistance of the international community in fighting HIV/AIDS, and praised the U.S government for its effort to increase the number of Peace Corps volunteers who assist on the ground in a variety of HIV/AIDS programs.
When asked about the success he had in fighting corruption as compared to other African states, President Mogae stated that sophisticated measures against corruption were instated. Hearings about public funds allocations take place in parliament. The anti-corruption commission investigates any public sector agency including private companies. "Our success," said the President, "is due to the fact that Botswana started earlier to pay particular attention to the matter of corruption."
Another participant touched on the issue of indigenous people of Botswana, and wanted President Mogae to elaborate on the Bushmen's rights to education. Mogae responded that they built schools for Bushmen and provided them with other services. He spoke about the government's intention to establish services for Bushmen that are of modern standards but on the condition that they move out of protected natural reserves of the Kalahari and Okavango Delta where many Bushmen continue to hunt.
The dedication of Botswana to political and economic stability is unique in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, while most nations in Sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to establish the rule of law and achieve sustainable economic growth, Botswana has made remarkable progress in these areas. In continuing to avoid the "resource curse" that plagues so many African states with abundant natural resources, Botswana is able to use their diamonds as "development diamonds" and in many areas has set the example for other African countries as to how to overcome the many challenges facing post-independence Africa.
Drafted by Justine Lindemann