/ 1 April 2008

Botswana marks peaceful transfer of power

Seretse Khama Ian Khama was inaugurated as Botswana’s President on Tuesday, inheriting a rare political and economic success story on the world’s poorest and most unstable continent.

Just next door, millions of Zimbabweans desperate to end economic misery anxiously awaited results of an election in which President Robert Mugabe faced the biggest challenge in 28 years of iron-fisted rule.

Botswana can expect a smooth transition under Khama, who analysts say is likely to stick to sound fiscal management that has brought prosperity to the country of nearly two million, the world’s biggest diamond producer.

Khama said at his inauguration there would not be any radical change in the government’s policies, which he had also been involved in setting.

”The overall objectives remain the same and not least because we, [former president Festus] Mogae and I, have been working together for quite some years to achieve them,” he said in a written copy of his speech.

”However, in the course of the incoming administration you may detect a change in style and special emphasis on a number of issues. This should not cause any alarm or uncertainty.”

Mogae retired after nearly a decade in power to hand over to Khama (55), first-born son of Botswana’s hugely popular founding president, Seretse Khama. The president is also paramount chief of the biggest tribe, the Bangwato.

He inherits a country with GDP per capita forecast at $8 453 in 2008, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, according to global investment banking group UBS. Botswana also has the highest sovereign ratings in Africa, and is ranked the continent’s least corrupt country by Transparency International.

”Botswana has managed to avoid the path of other neighbouring countries that have just squandered their natural resources,” said Mark Schroeder, an Africa analyst at Stratfor Strategic Forecasting. ”I don’t think this will change.”


The contrast with neighbouring Zimbabwe is stark.

There, the world’s highest inflation rate of more than 100 000% has made the currency virtually worthless. Severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages are part of everyday life.

Botswana’s GDP has grown an average 8% for two decades and the International Monetary Fund forecasts an expansion of 5,2% this year. Zimbabwe’s GDP has contracted every year since 2000 and the IMF forecasts a fall of 4,5% in 2008.

A general election is expected in 2009 in Botswana and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has won every election since independence from Britain in 1966, seems assured of another victory.

”Elsewhere, in times of leadership transition, there would be murmurs, or even tremors which could result in confusion and chaos,” Mogae told the BDP’s national council last week.

”We must be grateful that we do not even have a ripple of disquiet as we change the guard.”

Questions have been raised over its human rights record.

Botswana faced international scrutiny in 2006 when its highest court ruled it had illegally forced its San Bushmen off their ancestral lands. Last year it banned 17 people, mostly foreign journalists and human rights activists, from the country.

And some fear the new president’s military background as a former general may bring in an authoritarian leadership style that could taint Botswana’s consistent democracy.

Khama moved to reassure people worried about his military background.

”I am a democrat. I have always believed in democratic ideals, and joined the military to defend this democracy,” he said. ”I consider myself an integral part of this system of governance that has become entrenched in the life of Batswana.” — Reuters