/ 14 October 2009

Discipline the buzz word under Botswana’s Khama

President Ian Khama has command in his blood as son of Botswana’s founding father, but the pilot and former army chief faces criticism over his military-style leadership ahead of elections on Friday.

Discipline is the buzz word under the leadership of the 56 year old — also chief of Botswana’s largest tribe the Bangwato — who took over from his retired predecessor Festus Mogae in April last year.

Khama’s traditional roots make him hugely popular among rural Batswana who see him as their king, but the urban elite are uncomfortable with his autocratic style and the extreme power granted him in the Constitution.

After taking office he immediately reshuffled the Cabinet, sacking people perceived as unable to follow direction and announced the tenets of his government as ”the four Ds: Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline”.

Critics fear this may come at the expense of personal liberty as he pushes through directives without consulting his ministers.

The authoritative style of the fourth president of the world’s largest diamond producer and Africa’s longest-running stable democracy has alienated many and caused deep rifts in the ruling party ahead of elections.

Despite his tough reputation, Khama is also a soft-spoken wildlife enthusiast who loves the outdoors, horse-riding and safari — calling himself Africa’s greatest conservationist as he seeks to protect his country’s natural beauty.

Much to the chagrin of his security, he flies anything he gets his hands on, including a powered parachute, and has to be stopped from flying his own aircraft when travelling.

”There are always risks involved. You can’t live in a cocoon,” he said in a television interview, saying his hobby ”helps keep me sane for the job I am doing”.

A fitness fanatic and teetotaller, Khama has slapped a 30% tax on alcohol to crack down on abuse, saying people must live responsibly.

A former lieutenant general and commander of the Botswana defence force, Khama entered Parliament in 1998 and was fast-tracked up the government ranks and sworn in as vice-president.

He was also made chairperson of the Botswana Democratic Party, which has ruled since independence in 1966.

Born in Britain on February 27 1953, to independence leader Seretse Khama and his British wife Ruth Williams, he spent his early childhood in exile along with his parents.

His father moved the family to Botswana after the formal end to British colonial rule on September 20, 1966 when he became the first post-independence leader.

Khama is popular abroad, garnering international favour when he broke ranks with regional leaders to criticise failed elections in neighbouring Zimbabwe, boycotting regional meetings and pushing for President Robert Mugabe to call a new poll.

”It should be unacceptable for ruling parties to seek to manipulate election outcomes to extend their stay in power, as this is bad for democracy on our continent,” Khama said during his neighbour’s political crisis last year.

Despite rumours of an engagement to a local dentist, this has never been confirmed and he has never been married despite pressure from tribal elders. — Sapa-AFP