Botswana CEO Mogae to exit the boardroom

Festus Mogae is to stand down as Botswana’s president on Tuesday after a decade in which his country cemented its status as one of Africa’s success stories despite fears it could be wiped out by HIV/Aids.

Mogae, who hands over the reins of power to his long-time heir apparent Ian Khama, styled himself as the ”chief executive” of a nation of about two million which enjoys one of the highest standards of living on the continent.

The Southern African nation’s wealth is due in large part to its status as the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value and by volume, yielding 34,3-million carats of the gemstones from its four open-cast mines in 2006.

Other African countries, such as Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have also been blessed with large stocks of diamonds but they have not been able to match Botswana’s achievements in keeping the benefits in-house.

Only a fortnight ago, Mogae launched the Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB), an equal joint venture between De Beers and the Gaborone government, which will end the practice of sending diamonds mined in Botswana to De Beers’ London-based main Diamond Trading Company for sorting and marketing.

Mogae has also looked to diversify the country’s sources of wealth, encouraging companies to access large reserves of coal and opening Botswana to tourists thanks to its spectacular wildlife.

A shrewd economist who previously headed Botswana’s Central Bank, Mogae made enemies among the unions over his reluctance to release the purse strings despite Botswana’s relative wealth.

”The road to political expediency and populism may be lined with cheering crowds, but in the end, we can not escape the cold hard facts of our limitations as a developing country,” he said in one of his last addresses to Parliament.

”As sure as the merry-maker must account for his excesses with a splitting hangover the morning after, an even harsher punishment awaits a nation that spends unwisely in pursuit of immediate gratification rather than sustainable development.”

Five unions, including the teachers’ and the local government workers’ union, are threatening to stage a one-day nationwide strike on Tuesday in protest at pay offers on the table which lag behind inflation.

While Mogae has been steadfast in his refusal to splash cash on pay rises, he has lavished funds on the fight against HIV/Aids.

His concerns at one stage about the impact on Botswana of the pandemic, which has ravaged much of Southern Africa, were so grave that Mogae warned in 2001 that ”we are threatened with extinction”.

Unveiling his final finance Bill in February, Mogae announced that 834-million pula ($126-million) would be allocated to the fight against Aids, representing more than a quarter of the overall budget.

But while he won praise from abroad for his record on Aids, a lengthy court case over the rights of San Bushmen to live in the Kalahari desert attracted condemnation from international rights groups.

Domestic opponents also say he should have done more to protect minority tribes.

Motsamai Mpho, founder of the small opposition Botswana People’s Party, said Mogae should have implemented laws to combat discrimination, saying the failure could ”destroy peace and stability at any time”. – Sapa-AFP

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