As you are aware, Batswana have just come back from Seretse Khama Day, a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Botswana’s first president, Seretse Khama. Seretse Khama started his political career as a member of the colonial era Legislative Council, and became Bechuanaland’s new Prime Minister when the Legislative Council was replaced with the Legislative Assembly after Botswana’s first general elections of March 1965. On the 30st September 1966, Botswana became a republic and Seretse Khama became its first President. Khama was to rule Botswana for the next fifteen years, until July 1980, when he departed this world. All along, from the days of the Legislative Council, to national independence, Seretse Khama was with one Ketumile Quett Joni Masire. They were together at the Lobatse preliminary talks about independence in 1963, and they were together at the Marlborough House Independence Conference in 1966. I think the latter is the one that PG Matante walked out of in protest. Masire was then Deputy Prime Minster to Seretse Khama. After 30th September 1966, Masire became the Vice President of Botswana and also Minister of Finance and Development Planning. After Seretse Khama’s departure Masire became the President of Botswana, and was to remain at the helm until 1998. Whilst Khama ruled Botswana for only 15 years (1965-1980) Masire ruled for about 34 years, (1965 -1998) first as Deputy Prime Minister and then as Vice President for 15 years, and then as President for 18 years.
Mr President, it is common knowledge that at the time of Botswana’s independence, there was very little going on economically. Throughout the colonial period, Botswana (then Bechuanaland) was a labour reserve colony for South Africa, and was labeled a hopeless basket case, with next to nothing in the form of modern physical and social infrastructure. Even the seat of its colonial government was located outside its borders, in Mafikeng. As you are aware, by the mid-1970s Botswana’s economy started to turn around, first by balancing its recurrent budget and by the mid-1980s, national revenues started to exceed national expenditure, thus enabling government to avoid borrowing and to start building foreign reserves. I stand corrected, but my information is that these developments took place under the stewardship of Quett Masire, first as the Vice President and Minister of Finance and Development Planning, and then as the President, and what’s more, these developments took place long after the demise of Seretse Khama. It appears that this is what led Hoogvelt, Phillips and Taylor, writing a piece in the left leaning Review of African Political Economy in 1992, to condemn what they regarded as World Bank simplistic tendency to lump African countries together (Afro-pessimism) and argued that Botswana stood up on its own as an exceptional case. You will also recall, Mr President, that it was under Masire that Botswana also introduced and perfected the notion of national development plan, to me an affirmation of the centrality of state in economic development, in order to redress the past colonial neglect. It is interesting to note that the post-apartheid South Africa government has also adopted this notion, in order to redress the apartheid era economic neglect of black South Africans. Needless to say, many on the left of Botswana’s political spectrum would not entirely agree with the neo-liberals ideology referred to as Washington Consensus, precisely because it lacks inbuilt redistribute mechanisms and has led to social inequalities and poverty in the midst of plenty in this country. But Quett Masire and his team at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, and I guess much to the chagrin of the high priests of neo-liberalism, tried to accord the Botswana state a role and space to actively participate in the economy, indirectly affirming the need for state intervention in the economy, especially in the context of the Third World.
You will recall, Mr President that, Quett Masire departed this world in June 2017, apparently after suffering from a blood clot in the brain. Needless to say, a symptom of stress, to somebody who had watched helplessly as a robust economy that he painstakingly built from scratch was looted by bo-maja polaelo. One of them even arrogantly boasted “It is our time to eat.’ Since your arrival at the Office of the President on the 01st of April, 2018, I have been hoping and praying that one morning we would all wake up to the good news that finally Quett Masire will be accorded his rightful place in the pantheon of Botswana post-colonial history. I was therefore disappointed when you completed your first 100 days with no mention of honouring this icon. But is not too late. You can still give Botswana an early Christmas /New Year Present. Remember that the present day Botswana was not built in a day, but took many years to get it to where it is today, and that with all the imperfections it has, Quett Masire was the ‘structural engineer’ who must also be celebrated in the same way as the ‘architect’. We have Seretse Khama Day, Seretse Khama International Airport, Seretse Khama Barracks, we have Seretse Khama in our P50:00 bank notes, we have Seretse Khama this and that and other things. I ask you, Mr President, when is Botswana going to celebrate Quett Masire? I know that a small corner of the University of Botswana was named after Masire, but in my view this is not enough. When Botswana attained Independence, the country had only seven kilometers of tarred road, but today it boasts of hundreds of tarred road network. I seem to recall that at his farewell speech to the nation, Quett Masire announced that cabinet had approved the dualization of A1, a major motor way from Rabatlabama to Vakaranga A1 It is important that Quett Masire is celebrated in such a way that he lives in our memories and every day conversations, just like his friend and colleague, Seretse Khama. To me it will a great honor to name the highway simply Quett Masire Motorway. Ka na A1 o kare go tewa phaleche. Quett Masire was also awarded the title of Master Farmer, back in the 1950s, before 75 percent of Botswana’s current population was born. Will it not be a fitting tribute to rename Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) Quett Masire University? According to the available historical evidence, Masire was not Seretse Khama junior colleague, but a friend and a partner in Botswana’s post-colonial developments efforts. Yes, there are many other Batswana citizens who have to be celebrated, but that is a topic for another day.
Sengwato Ward, Serowe.
*The letter was first published on 16 Jul 2018