The success story of Botswana, an insignificant British Protectorate that rose to become a leading democracy in the region is tied to the lives of its people. The founders of this republic worked hard to build from scratch a country that even the British imperialists had given up hope of in as far as economic prosperity is concerned. History informs us that the British government readily acceded to requests for independence because in their view, Botswana, then Bechuanaland, was a barren hot desert that had nothing much to offer. 49 years from that independence, this republic has grown to great heights. It is now classified a middle-income country, which is a great for a third world state whose budget was pathetic in its formative years. Besides economics, most importantly, Botswana is a reference point in as far as democracy and proper management of natural resources. It even has one of the best mineral policies, where unlike other African countries, diamonds and other minerals are not owned by the elites or a tribe but the whole nation which all benefits through development projects.
This success story was written through the sweat of the republics’ sons and daughters. It is therefore quite befitting that at this moment the nation is mourning. Mourning the death of one of its foremost sons, Mompati Merafhe, a man whose life epitomises the life of an ordinary Motswana who struggled against odd and rose from nothing to become the second most powerful man in the country-Vice President! He debunked all myths and broke through class barriers, soaring higher up the echelons of power. There is no one in Botswana who has achieved what Merafhe achieved. It was through the old tried patience and dedication to serve people and country that saw the Serowe born Motalaote excel in every profession that he pursued. He joined the police service as a Constable, the lowest of all police ranks and retired as Deputy Commissioner, upon which he was asked by the founding president of the republic, Sir Seretse Khama, to form a defence force in 1977. This was a turning point in the history of Botswana. Being a landlocked country, Botswana surrounded by Zimbabwe and South Africa which were under racist regimes of Ian Smith and PW Botha respectively posed a serious geopolitical challenge for the republic which at the time only had a police force. The Boers down south and the Smith in the north, had turned Botswana into their playing ground. They could easily come and go as there was no military force. The visionary leader that he was, Sir Seretse saw in Merafhe a true patriot who could defend our borders from these marauding armies.
Merafhe’s approach to politics and issues of statecraft quickly reminds one of famous Prussian Chancellor, Prince Otto von Bismarck, a man who attracted praise and hate for his vies and frankness. While Bismarck was tough-talking and would use his oratory to woo everyone to his side, Merafhe was frank-talker who would tell you what he thinks of you. Most of those who found themselves at the receiving end of his diatribes were the opposition members.
Merafhe has had a great influence in the direction this country took. During the Mogae administration, Merafhe’s great leadership skills saw Botswana carry a big sway on the global landscape. Be it issues of the economy, health especially HIV/AIDS and democracy, Festus Mogae and his foreign affairs minister did a splendid job of not only making known the republic’s domestic international policies but also making and developing partnerships with countries like Cuba, United States and many others over military, health, education cooperation among others. We-the people and the current leadership, inherited a better Botswana, because of the tireless efforts of people like The General. It is therefore necessary that when we mourn this departed hero, we should remember the good deeds that he did for his country. He was a patriot who sacrificed his time that he could have spent with his family and friends, choosing to protect and defend Botswana from all kinds of battle fronts. His exemplary life of selfless service should be a model for the youth who have a vision of seeing Botswana develop and overcome its challenges. For those who are struggling against difficult odds, this man’s life should be a constant reminder that despite our circumstances, as long as we are alive we have a great potential of even surpassing our own dreams.