Emma Njoki Wamai: Lessons for Kenya from Botswana

As we continue haggling over Cabinet portfolios and watching President Robert Mugabe’s dying kicks with bated breath, there was a quiet transition in Botswana that almost went unnoticed on April 1. It was a democratic and peaceful election in Parliament.

Festus Mogae, 69, who has been President for the past 10 years, retired on March 31, handing over to Vice-President Ian Khama, the eldest son of the late founding President Seretse Khama.

While Mogae could have chosen to extend his term, he retired honourably.

Khama, 55, said in his inaugural address, that there would be no policy change; instead his roadmap would be "underpinned and characterised by the principles of democracy, development, dignity and discipline."

Khama has been Vice-President for the past decade and chairperson of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) since 2003. The BDP has been in power for more than 40 years since Botswana, a former British protectorate, gained independence in 1966. The country goes to elections every fives years.

The new president is a graduate of Sandhurst, a British officers training college, and served as the commander of the Botswana Defence Force.

Mogae and his predecessor, Sir Ketumile Masire, attended the inauguration. Others were traditional leaders, judges, Members of Parliament and the diplomatic corps.

Four women were appointed to the Cabinet of 16. Their number represents 25 per cent of Members of Parliament. The women hold the influential positions of Local Government, Health, Communications, Science and Technology and Youth, Sports and Culture. The point is that Kenyan leaders must learn from a case of an African democracy.

The first lesson from Botswana is that there is an honourable life after retirement, for an African President. The Botswana ex-presidents, like Masire, who came to help Kenya at the height of the post-election violence in January, are often called upon to handle African issues amicably.

Retiring to remain relevant

They work alongside respected figures like Mo Ibrahim Leadership award winner and former Mozambican President, Joachim Chissano.

What does this mean? It is more honourable to resign than hang onto power if one wants to remain relevant after the presidency. Those who have hung on have seen their misery propel them to their graves. Hangers-on like Mugabe, Museveni and Gaddafi cannot get a nomination for recognitions or awards.

Second, a nation is better off built on fundamental human principles like democracy, development, dignity and discipline like the case in Botswana. It makes it easier for citizens to identify with these principles than the numerous abstract manifestos whose only difference is the cover page.

In addition, the President must ensure the citizens identify with the principles both in practice and policy.

Third, Botswana understands that gender parity in decision-making is pivotal for any balanced development to take place. That is why women constitute 25 per cent of its Cabinet.

Lastly, Botswana’s economic development record and political reform should make other African leaders green with envy. The small South African country boasts one of the best Gross Domestic Products and Incomes per Capita.

They are not doing badly either on the latest standards on measuring humanness such as the Human Development Index and the Gross Domestic Happiness.

-The writer works at the Kenya Human Rights Commission and is also a member of National Youth Council

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