Mogae, Festus Gontebanye 1939–
Festus Gontebanye Mogae 1939–
President of Botswana
Festus Gontebanye Mogae became president of the Republic of Botswana on April 1, 1998, in a peaceful transfer of power that political analysts term exceptional for southern Africa. Mogae was only the third president in Botswana’s history since the country gained its independence from the British Empire in 1966. His resume included decades of service in various governmental posts, most of them connected with finance and development. “Unlike his two predecessors who styled themselves as farmers on loan to politics, Mogae is steeped in the world of economics and high finance,” noted Darren Schuettlet in The Namibian.
Mogae was born on August 21, 1939 and traveled abroad for his higher education. He attended North West London Polytechnic in England, and went on to earn an honours degree at Oxford; he later received a graduate degree in developmental economics from Sussex University. In 1968 he married Barbara Modise and started a family that eventually numbered three daughters. Botswana was granted independence from its status as a British crown colony in 1966, and soon afterward Mogae became a part of its vanguard of young, educated politicians in the new government. Since independence, politics in the Republic of Botswana have been dominated by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), of which Mogae is a long-term member. Beginning in 1968 he served first as a planning officer in the Ministry of Development and Planning (restructured into the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in 1970), then was elevated to senior planning officer in 1971, and became director of economic affairs for the Ministry in 1972. Between 1975 and 1976 he served as Permanent Secretary.
Unlike its neighbors, the Botswana of Mogae’s era has enjoyed a long history of political stability. This, many observers note, is partly the result of a largely homogenous population: most of its 1.5 million citizens are of the Tswana ethnic group (the plural of which is “Batswana”). The Tswana native language is Setswana, but English is used in Botswanan government and business, a legacy of its colonial past. About thirty percent of the
At a Glance…
Born August 21, 1939, in Serowe, Botswana; son of Dihabano and Dithunya Mogae; married Barbara Gemma Modise, 1968; children: three daughters. Education: Attended North West London Polytechnic; received honours degree from Oxford University; earned degree in development economics from Sussex University. Politics: Botswana Democratic Party.
Career: Ministry of Development and Planning for the Republic of Botswana, Gabarone, Botswana, planning officer, 1968-69; Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Gabarone, planning officer, 1970, senior planning officer, 1971, director of economic affairs, 1972-74, permanent secretary, 1975-76; permanent secretary to President of Botswana, 1982-89; minister of finance and development planning, 1989-98; vicepresident, 1992-98. International Monetary Fund (IMF), alternate governor for Botswana, 1971-72, alternate executive director, 1978-80, governor, 1981-82; alternate governor, African Development Bank, 1971-76; representative at the Commonwealth Fund for Technology Co-Operation, 1971—;member of Junior Development Committee of the World Bank and IMF on the transfer of real resources to developing countries, 1992. Mogae has also served as director of Botswana Development Corporation, 1971-74 (chair, 1975-76), DeBeers Botswana Mining Co. Ltd., 1975-76, Bangwato Concessions Ltd., 1975-76, B.C.L. Sales Ltd., 1975-76, and Bank of Botswana, 1975-76 (governor, 1980-81).
Member: Botswana Society, Botswana Society of the Deaf, Kalahari Conservation Society, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Parliamentarians for Global Action, Global Coalition for Africa.
Awards: Officier, Ordre National de la Cote d’Ivoire, 1979; Presidential Order of Honour of Botswana, 1989.
Addresses: Office —Office of the President, Republic of Botswana, Gabarone, Botswana.
population live in urban areas such as the capital, Gabarone.
Botswana is also considered a leader in Southern African politics, and earns praise for the stable example its sets for its neighbors. In many cases, African leaders have been ousted only with armed intervention. It has been called the continent’s “showcase democracy.” All three of the nations bordering Botswana—South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe—bear the scars of internal violence and strife. When Mogae became president in April of 1998 as the handpicked successor to outgoing president Ketumile Masire, it contrasted markedly with the reigns of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (in power since 1980) and Sam Nujoma of Namibia; only South African President Nelson Mandela and his announcement of his planned retirement in 1999 compared.
Mogae’s stint as Permanent Secretary also gave him a seat on a number of other important official bodies, including the DeBeers Botswana Mining Co. and the Bank of Botswana. He had already served as an alternate representative for Botswana at the International Monetary Fund. Botswana’s economic success still rests largely on its mineral wealth, primarily in diamonds. It is the international leader in diamond production, and derives so much income from this—although the powerful DeBeers company co-owns, with the government, the three main diamond mines—that it receives no international aid.
Mogae was well qualified for his new post. From 1982 to 1989 he had served as permanent secretary to President of Botswana under Masire, and was named minister of finance and development planning in 1989. In Botswanian politics, that post is often paired with that of the vice-president, and in March of 1992 Masire elevated Mogae to that office. The vice-presidency is usually considered a stepping stone to the presidency, but there were others within the BDP that were vying for power in the event of Masire’s leaving office. Furthermore, as a result of rising unemployment figures in the cities, Mogae’s BDP had lost a number of seats in parliament to other parties such as the Botswana National Front in the 1994 elections. Just prior to stepping down in early 1998, Masire enacted a series of reforms that pleased both the BDP and its opposition in parliament, the Botswana National Front, and smoothed the way for Mogae’s assumption of power.
Mogae was sworn in just two days after a visit to Botswana by U.S. President Bill Clinton. Just prior to the ceremony, The Namibian called Mogae “a no-nonsense politician capable of uniting a fractured BDP.” His first task was to name a new vice-president and new cabinet. Given the recent internal conflicts within the BDP, however, his choices could earn him new enemies—or even perhaps create a threatening rival. Vying for the prominent post were Ponatshego Kedikilwe, an American-educated BDP official, and Ian Khama, the son of Botswana’s first president and former head of the army. Mogae named Kedikilwe his new minister for finance and development, but not vice-president, and created special post for Khama as minister of presidential affairs and public administration.
In Mogae’s first few months in office, he announced a major program to improve Botswana’s infrastructure, using the country’s revenues to build schools, medical facilities, and offices. The country has enjoyed a budget surplus 16 years in a row—ten of those with Mogae as Finance Minister—and plans to add additional funds to its reserves with the planned privatization of a few major industries. In late 1998, Mogae planned to sell off both the government-run airline, Air Botswana, and the government telecommunications industry. There were no plans, however, to unload the country’s water utility, a crucial sector in this draught-plagued area.
Mogae faces elections in 1999 as mandated by the country’s constitution. There have been problems with restless—and in some cases riotous—university students, and Mogae has attempted to resolve a longstanding border dispute with Namibia over an uninhabited island situated in the river that serves as border between the two countries. Armed troops on both sides fire the occasional volley, and Botswana claims that its sovereignty over the tiny island, which is under water for much of the year, dates from an 1890 German-British treaty. The dispute has been referred to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for arbitration.
Mogae is considered an outstanding leader in Southern African politics. He is involved with a number of regional coalitions whose aim is to modernize economic conditions in this part of the continent. Mogae’s charitable involvements include membership in the Botswana Society of the Deaf and the Kalahari Conservation Society. In his leisure time he enjoys tennis and music.
African Business, September 1995, p. 12; September 1996, p. 17.
The Namibian, March 27, 1998; April 2, 1998; May 20, 1998; May 22, 1998.
New York Times, April 1, 1998.
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