Chris Zumani Zimba, Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Academician and Consultant
Ian Khama must be saluted and praised to be among the few outstanding Presidents Africa has ever produced in terms of being a true champion of democracy and defender of good governance. As the son of the lead freedom fighter and founding father of Botswana-Sir Seretse Khama, Ian Khama had all the political reasons to behave like Paul Biya of Cameroon, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Pierre Nkruzinza of Burundu, Idriss Debby of Chad or Boutaflika of Algeria who manipulated and altered their respective republican constitutions to either extend or abolish presidential term limits. But Ian Khama chose to respect constitution democracy and rule of law by leaving the presidency peacefully and happily on 1st April, 2018 when his second term came to an end.
Ian Khama had another option to behave like Joseph Kabila of DR Congo who after his second term came to an end in November, 2018, he has used military force to illegally stay in power and remains an illegitimate president using all political excuses and circumstantial reasons today. For Ian Khama, going the Joseph Kaila way of very easy and possible as he comes from a strong military background for having been a soldier as well as later a Minister of Defence. However, Khama chose to defend democracy and good governance by respecting the constitution and bid farewell in a smooth transition of power to his Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has become the country’s fifth president since independence. In his farewell speech, Ian Khama stressed that “we have the strongest democracy in Africa and should guard it jealously,” he boasted. This cannot be said by many power hungry African Presidents across the continent.
By his political conduct, Ian Khama shamed many authoritarian presidents that have emerged in many African democracies such as in Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Djibouti, Zambia, Egypt, Cameroon, Algeria, Burundi, Togo, Equatorial Guinea or Republic of Congo and are doing everything politically wrong and constitutionally amiss to either stay in power longer than necessary or die in power as president like a king. In appreciation for his peaceful handover of power, Khama received many gifts such as three cars worth more than $300 000, a bicycle worth $6 000, more than 1 000 cattle, 500-plus chickens, more than 200 sheep, a pistol, a ranch, a tractor, undisclosed cash money as well as shares in Botswana’s main telecoms company from his cabinet ministers, members of the opposition political parties, traditional leaders, business executives and mere citizens during his farewell tours.
For most political scientist who understand comparative politics as well as types of global political systems, Khama’s main strength in terms of this legacy against most of these African authoritarians lies in the fact that Botswana is a parliamentary democracy while most these African states have presidential democracies. In other words, Ian Khama has sent a positive political lecture to many African citizens and politicians that democracy and good governance can only be practically consolidated and sustained using a parliamentary system as in South Africa, Botswana, Mauritius, Seychelles, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, New Zealand or the Netherlands than a presidential system like in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Togo, Angola, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Djibouti, Zambia, Egypt, Cameroon, Algeria, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea or Republic of Congo.
For many political observers, Khama is now perfectly suitable and ready candidate to win the next continent Mo Ibrahim Presidential Award for good statesmanship and political legacy. This is even empirical as he left a strong growing economy, massive poverty eradication programs and passionately fought corruption. Khama was also politically tough as he openly opposed any form of dictatorship and bad governance both in African and internationally. Under his direction, Botswana took strong stands in favour of the International Criminal Court (ICC) when many African states were in opposition. He publicly departed from diplomatic etiquettes and rules of international relations by openly criticizing his peers such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Joseph Kabila of DR Congo as authoritarians and called for their departure from power. As a president who became renowned for straight talking, he is on record to have also criticized the US President, Donald Trump. Thus, Khama was different from most African presidents and leaves a positive legacy of distinguished political leadership in favour of democracy and good governance.
As earlier noted, Ian was the second Khama to rule Botswana following the footsteps of his father. Ian Khama is the first-born son and second child of Sir Seretse Khama (1 July 1921 – 13 July 1980), who was the country’s foremost independence leader and President from 1966 to 1980, and Lady Khama. He was born in Chertsey, Surrey, during the period in which his father was exiled to the United Kingdom due to the opposition by the colonial government and the emergent apartheid regime in South Africa to his marriage to a white woman.