Masire, Africa's statesman of the year

Gaborone- Botswana (PANA) -- Former Botswana president Sir Ketumile Masire, who has won the African Statesman of the Year Award, is among a select group of African leaders who have relinquished power voluntarily.
Sir Ketumile retired from office in 1998 at the age of 73, paving way for vice president Festus Mogae to take over the reins of leadership.
Explaining his move, the former president said "the old order must give way before it corrupted the new" - a famous quote whose foreboding has come to pass.
Africa is a tale of "grumpy old men," if you would allow the pun, who have refused to heed Masire's call to give way to new rulers, thus breeding corruption and misrule.
Masire becomes the second African leader to receive the prestigious award, after another distinguished statesman Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
A spokesperson for the promoters of the award, Ambassador Kapembe Nsingo, said in Gaborone last Tuesday that Sir Ketumile clinched the award for his "exceptional humanitarian efforts and leadership.
" He is indeed a leader of exceptional qualities.
Masire has done in only 12 years what the bulk of African leaders have failed to do in three decades.
When he became President on 17 July 1980 at age 55, Dr Quett Masire had beaten the odds.
Unlike his predecessor Sir Seretse Khama, who came from the influential Bangwato tribe, Masire came from a minority tribe, the Bangwaketse of Kanye.
And that was not the only set back with which he had to contend.
Kanye, where he was born and raised, was also the stronghold of the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) led by Dr Kenneth Koma.
Masire was the late president Seretse Khama's right hand man.
They had founded the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in 1962 and went on to form the government together after independence in 1966.
But this was not necessarily an advantage.
From the onset, he fought to establish tribal balance in a government that was previously dominated by the Bangwato.
Changes he made in his cabinet were evidence of his desire to create tribal harmony.
It was during Masire's time that Botswana weathered hostilities from its neighbours, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
In 1985, South Africa raided Gaborone in search of ANC guerrillas, killing 15 people, including a child.
Namibia, Botswana's northern neighbour, was festering a dispute over the tiny Sedudu Island on the Chobe River and threatening to take the matter to the International Court of Justice.
As if that was not enough, Zimbabwe on the east was accusing Botswana of harbouring ZAPU guerrillas.
Considering that Botswana had little or no military might to speak of, it took Masire and his government all the diplomatic manoeuvring he could muster to avert an all out war.
Perhaps it was here that Masire sharpened his skill as mediator and negotiator par excellence, that has served him exceptionally well on DR Congo.
It was in Masire's reign that Botswana saw a record acceleration of social growth and expansion of a commercial economy, mostly cattle ranching, Diamond and Copper mining.
Botswana is the largest exporter of Diamonds in the world and controls a huge chunk of the beef market.
Thus, the Statesman of the Year award adds a feather onto the multi-feathered hat won by the charismatic Masire, who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the greatest of his time.
Masire, who was SADC chairman for over 10 years, is currently facilitator of the peace process in DR Congo.
The first person in Kanye to buy a tractor in the early 1950s and the first African to be awarded a master farmers certificate, he is a commercial livestock producer and a farmer.
Besides being an agriculturist, game and ostrich farmer, he once tried his hand at journalism, and was one-time editor of "Naledi," an English/Setswana paper published in the 1960s.
He also compiled and edited the BDF newspaper, "Therisanyo.
" Born 1925, he was the first child to Johnnie and Gabibone Masire.
Five other children followed and, at eighteen Masire would become the guardian of his siblings when his parents died within months of each other.
The young Masire, like all other lads in Kanye, then a Bechuanaland protectorate, did his fair share of herding cattle.
Although he became known for his whip skill, it was his zeal at education and not his acumen at ranching that distinguished him from his peers.
Born to a shopkeeper later turned rancher, Masire had little chance of acquiring formal education.
Like all boys his age, his father thought he was better at the cattle post.
But as fate would have it, his mother came from a progressive clan where education was valued, and in fact everyone including Masire's maternal aunt went to school.
The young lad was no exception but he had to wait until his brother was old enough to take his place at the cattle post before he could go to school.
Young Masire's father named him Ketumile after one of his uncles, who in turn gave the boy the superfluous name of Marquette for his love of French.
Masire adopted the short form "Quette" as his official name.
Ketumile attended Rachele primary school in Kanye, where legend has it that he proved so bright that be breezed through two classes at a time, graduating top of his class in 1943 and earning himself a big government bursary to pay his way through Tiger Kloof Institute (1944-1949).
The school, located in then Union of South Africa was, despite its reputation, not without shortcomings.
Students' provisions were meagre and girls were strictly guarded such that there was no interaction between them.
Masire went on to become a teacher and was in fact the first headmaster of the pioneer secondary school in Kanye.
His political ambition began rearing its head when he was elected secretary to the Bangwaketse Teachers Association.
But it was not until 1961 that he was elected to the African Council, the first to bring elected Batswana to the National podium.
He was among the pioneer Batswana elected to the Legico, together with Seretse Khama, with whom they later formed Botswana Democratic Party.
Masire held the post of party secretary for a long time.
A historic 1965 party election saw BDF alone field candidates, and Masire was elected with 96 percent of the vote to become MP for Kanye South constituency.
Once there, he became the youngest Deputy Prime Minister and minister of Finance in Seretse Khama's Cabinet.
When independence came in 1966, Sir Seretse Khama became president and Masire his vice.
During his tenure as Finance minister, he is credited for facilitating Botswana's admission into the World Bank and the reorganisation of Southern Africa's Customs Union.
Masire is married to Gladys Olebile Molefi, with whom they have six children - three sons and three daughters

03 november 2001 13:32:00

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