Motsemme’s life with Masire  

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 05 July 2017   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane 
Motsemme Motsemme

Letsema Motsemme dedicated a better part of his public service tenure spending sleepless nights working extended hours to organise the life of former President Sir Ketumile Masire as his Senior Private Secretary. From their first encounter while he was Chief Economist in the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1980s, Masire knew he had found his man whom he later hand-picked to work in his office after rising through the ranks in the public service. In an interview with The Patriot on Sunday Motsemme, now a private consultant, says he must have made a good impression on Sir Ketumile after he was redeployed to the then Ministry of Trade and Industry as Director Industrial Affairs. "While preparing for Botswana's accession to the World Trade Organisation, which involved drafting of Bills preparing the country to be admitted as one of the first members I had to work over December holidays when everybody else was enjoying their Christmas with their families. I drove to Sekoma to trace Masire at his farm because he had to sign an accession instrument so that we could submit before the deadline which was near. After waiting for 2-3 hours, Masire arrived and signed the papers but insisted that I remain at the farm as he slaughtered a goat for me and my family. It was his way of thanking me for going to great lengths to do my job as a public servant. Thereafter, I enjoyed numerous special invitations to State House for informal meetings and functions," says Motsemme, evidently nostalgic about the encounters with the then President. Two years later Motsemme was promoted to deputy Permanent Secretary, and although he had his superiors Sir Ketumile specifically instructed that he be included in his entourage on foreign missions. Unbeknown to Motsemme and to his surprise, the President wanted him to play the role of attracting foreign direct investment to Botswana, which he did with mixed results. After joining Masire's office in the year 2000 Motsemme was thrown into the deep end coordinating and arranging meetings for the former head of state as he undertook an African Union (AU) assignment investigating circumstances surrounding the Rwandan genocide where multitudes were massacred by rebels. Masire was leading a task team made up of six other members appointed by the United Nations to find underlying causes of instability in the Great Lakes region. The team also assessed the role of various local and international actors and had to make recommendations of how to avert similar tragedies going forward. The secretariat for the mission was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the home of AU headquarters. "We travelled to many countries in the Rwandan diaspora including France, Belgium, Canada and the US," he says. 

Motsemme was Sir Ketumile's right hand man and lifeline during the Inter Congolese Dialogue where the latter was the facilitator between fighting rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mission: to bring a new political dispensation in the DRC. He says following intense negotiation and persuasion, which faced numerous hurdles, the end result was the signing of an agreement that ushered in Kabila as the interim President until the next elections were held. Other peace missions which he remembers vividly include mediation in Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland to quell simmering tensions threatening to explode into civil unrest. Further abroad Motsemme says he travelled all over US where Sir Ketumile gave public lectures on different subjects under peace keeping missions, after he was appointed African President in residence at Boston University. Motsemme describes Sir Ketumile in three words; a man with respect, authentic and a positive attitude. "He recognised each individual’s right to be heard. He encouraged full expression of ideas, and would always drive you to fully express your ideas without fear.   He believed in everyone's ability to grow and change, and valued and acknowledged each person's strengths without focussing on weaknesses. He didn't force people to follow what he believed in because he believed that people have a right to their choices. Above all, he was good at massaging what he termed 'Elephantine egos' (egotistic people)," says Motsemme. According to Motsemme, Masire gave the full expression of his positive attitude when he accepted all negotiating parties as valuable in their own right during the Inter Congolese dialogue. In a way, Masire trusted the ability of each individual to discover his or her own solution to the Congolese problems, then gave and received feedback graciously.  On the authenticity, Motsemme says Masire displayed amazing prowess in the Setswana language, was eloquent in written and spoken English and was fluent in Afrikaans. Masire was a good reader of body language and could tell inconsistency between words and actions, says Motsemme. "He remained open to positions that differ with his. He was aware of his limitations and worked within those. He set clear boundaries. Although he was good a delegating he would remain accountable for delegated tasks frequently checking on progress to provide support where possible. True to what many other have said about Masire, Motsemme says he interacted openly with everybody. Not the one to forget easily Masire insisted on impact after interaction and recently surprised Motsemme when he appeared unannounced at his doorstep. He would later ask if Motsemme had started setting up a cattle-post yet (he had repeatedly asked him to), insisting that every Motswana man should have a moraka. "Monna ke tsile go tlhola ka gore wena ga o ntlhole. That's the first thing he said to me when I opened the door," says Motsemme, adding that there was no difference in their relationship, whether they were at the office or at home in an informal meeting. For Masire, there was a blurred line between formal and informal interactions.