While most eyes in Southern Africa were glued to the unfolding drama in Zimbabwe this week, Botswana remained true to its reputation as Africa’s most stable country, quietly transferring power from one president to another.
On April 1, Festus Mogae, president for the past decade, handed power to his hand-picked successor and vice-president Ian Khama Seretse Khama, a fellow member of the Botswana Democratic Party, which has ruled Botswana since independence.
Khama (55) is the son of Botswana’s revered independence leader, Seretse Khama, and the paramount chief of the Bamangwato, the country’s largest Setswana tribe. He has a military background, serving as head of the Botswana Defence Forces (BDF).
Until his appointment as vice-president five years ago, he had little experience in government; critics have voiced the fear that his military background could usher in a more autocratic style of leadership.
Three years ago, Australian academic Kenneth Good, a politics lecturer at the University of Botswana, was expelled from Botswana after writing a paper criticising Mogae’s plans to hand the reins to Khama without direct endorsement from the electorate.
According to Africa Confidential, very little is known about Khama’s leadership style. The publication refers to him as a ”remarkably secretive politician” and says that not even Mogae can predict what type of president Khama will make.
It also says that Khama is expected to reach out to the country’s political opposition, and to appoint members of the Botswana National Front and the Botswana Congress Party to his Cabinet. The country faces general elections in 2009.
Khama takes the reins of a country with the highest GDP per capita in sub-Saharan Africa, now forecast to reach $8Ã‚Â 453 this year. The International Monetary Fund expects national GDP to grow at 5,2% in 2008.
Although Botswana has managed to avoid the instability that has plagued many other African states, there has been growing criticism of its human rights record, in particular over the removal of the San Bushmen from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an area that has been opened up to diamond exploration. In 2006, the Botswana High Court ruled that the removal was illegal.
Additional reporting by Reuters