By Kalima Nkonde
The recent death of Sir Kitumile Masire of Botswana at Bokamoso Hospital in Gaborone and not London or Paris or New York, prompted me to write this Opinion Editorial about some of the recent African great Presidents that can provide a benchmark or blue print for our President Lungu and other young African Presidents and those aspiring for the top office.
In the light of the death of Sir Ketumile Masire on 23 June, 2017 and what is happening in our continent in recent times where leaders are changing constitutions and extending their stay in office, rigging elections, involved in high level corruption including state capture by big business and multinationals, intolerant of free press, detaining opposition, allergic to divergent views and so on and so forth, it is important to highlight some of the best Presidents of recent times who our current leaders should emulate.
There is no doubt that the quality of the majority of Presidents running our countries in Africa and even those in the Opposition today are mediocre, corrupt, dictatorial, egoistic, power hungry and are not motivated by public service but rather by personal and selfish goals of enrichment.
The list of visionary and transformational leaders that i have identified covers the period 1996 to 2016- which is not exhaustive by any means – should be good examples for those in leadership and those aspiring for leadership roles in Africa to emulate if they hope to have a lasting legacy instead of consigning their children and great grand children to shame, ridicule and possible retribution after they are long gone, just by the mere mention of their surnames or any association.
I have come up with six names which i personally feel have been exemplary as leaders in their various countries in the period under review. The names are Sir Kitumele Masire of Botswana, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, John Kufuor of Ghana, Festus Mogae of Botswana, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique and Levy Patrick Mwanawasa of Zambia.
Sir Kitumile Masire – Botswana
Botswana’s former President and who passed way on 23 June, 2017, Sir Ketumile Masire was a trained Journalist. Masire was born on 23rd July, 1925. Dr.Quett Joni Kitumile Masire as he was known before getting a knighthood from the Queen of England, together with the first President of Botswana, Seretse Khama had a vision for Botswana despite being laughed at by the British Colonialists when they demanded independence, which they got in 1966. Bechuanaland, as Botswana was called then, was poor, a semi arid country with no infrastructure and no single tar mark road at independence. They were told. “You are either very brave or very foolish” for demanding independence. On the death of President Seretse Khama in 1980, Masire took over the Presidency and transformed Botswana into a democratic country with a successful economy with virtually no corruption to talk about.
Botswana under the Masire presidency was known for exercising prudence in fiscal and monetary policy and ensuring financial discipline in government expenditure by not being wasteful. Masire and Khama started a culture – which is still obtaining today- of ministers of NOT having personal to holder cars and all official government vehicles including ministers’ official cars to be parked after work and only the President and vice have cars parked at their residence. The Presidential motorcade is made up of less than ten cars.
He single handedly made a decision to establish the Pula fund in 1976 to delink the country from the Rand, to become independent of the South Africa financial system. The Fund was a way of building foreign reserves which were estimated to be about $9billion in 2015. He also pioneered the establishing of a long term vision for Botswana in the 1990s which i participated in and contributed to. Masire introduced electoral reforms that brought in the two term presidential limit in the process facilitating his exit and smooth handover of power to Festus Mogae in 1998. Masire’s record on corruption and maladministration is blemish less during his eighteen years of presiding over Botswana.
“Corruption is a scourge in many countries, rich and poor. It has benefited some at the expense of the majority, and it has also wrecked whole economies. We have been fortunate to have managed as little corruption as we have”, he stated in his biography: Very Brave or Very Foolish, Memoirs of an African Democrat, a must read book for African politicians as it provides lessons on good governance, prudent economic management, democracy and in handling multinationals especially those involved in mining a country’s mineral wealth so as to ensure that revenue from the ground benefit the host country.
Masire together with Botswana’s first President Sir Seretse Khama ensured that politicians and civil servants did not see their careers as a route to enrich them.
“There are dangers of increasing salaries, allowances and perks such as the provision of cars for politicians. The real danger is that people come into politics for wrong reasons. It is even worse when those who are useless come into politics to become wealthy, since they may operate by hook or crook to get whatever they want,” he added, stressing how Botswana managed to prevent low grade, useless and uneducated individuals to enter the noble profession of public service, politics, as there is no incentive to get rich over night unlike many African countries.
Nelson Mandela – South Africa
The second on my list is Nelson Mandela who was a Lawyer by Profession with a degree from Witswaterand – the current top University in Africa. Mandela was born on 18th July, 1918.Madiba’s story and qualities as a leader are well known and his achievement are too numerous to mention. Mandela’s 751 page biography: Long Walk to Freedom tells the full story about the greatness of the man. But, as a person who was up close to what transpired in South Africa after his release from prison in the 1990s and the subsequent negotiations for a new South Africa, I would like to highlight a few events that convinced me about his greatness. The turning point to South African’s peaceful transition to democracy after Mandela’s release from prison is to how he handled the assassination of Chris Hani.
He single handedly prevented civil war after the assassination of Chris Hani, the Commander of the ANC army, Umkonto We sizwe, on 10 April, 1993 .The then President, Frederic De Klerk could not handle the explosive situation and he had to ask Mandela to address the nation on the national broadcaster ,SABC television even though he was not yet a President. When he addressed South Africans especially the blacks, he emphasized that the murderer of Chris Hani had been caught because of a white South African woman who reported the murder and gave description of the killer. His message was to unite the nation against the despicable act and not be seen in racial lenses. This single address cooled down the tempers of black South Africans who were prepared to go to war.
He also preached reconciliation and forgiveness and demonstrated it by practical actions unlike most of our African politicians who will say one thing and do the opposite. Mandela took practical steps by taking powerful symbolic steps to show that he had forgiven his apartheid jailers by visiting the widow of the founder of Apartheid, Dr. Verwoerd, inviting his Prison warder for a meeting and officiating at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, a sport for white South Africa. He also studied and understood the oppressor’s culture and language, Afrikaans. Mandela contributed to the lifting of sanctions resulting in massive foreign investments and economic boom during his Presidency. To crown it all, he gave up power after one term in 1999, clearly demonstrating that the struggle for freedom was not about him but the country.
John Kufuor – Ghana
It is widely acknowledged in Ghana and abroad that John Kufuor, is the best President Ghana has ever had due to his achievements in the economy, infrastructure, governance and social sectors. John Kufour inherited the worst economy in Ghana’s history from Jerry Rawlings in 2001. He served as President from 2001 to 2009.
John Kufuor was born on 8 December,1938 and qualified as a Lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn in London in 1961 and then studied at University of Oxford to obtain a Master’s degree in Philosophy, politics and economics in 1964.
During his tenure as President of Ghana, Kufuor transformed the Ghanaian economy. He inherited economic growth of 3.7% in 2001 and left it at 8.4%. The national debt was 182% of GDP when he took over, but left it at 33% of GDP. Kufuor inherited 40% inflation in 2001 but he more than halved it to 18%.
In the area of governance, Kufour was accommodating and believed in running an inclusive and open government. Kafuor kept the vociferous Ghana media at a distance by never reacting to their taunts, insults and other gutter journalism tactics and in the process presided over a flourishing and unfettered free press. In the social sector such as education, he introduced grants for schools as well as the popular and widely acclaimed school feeding programme. He also introduced the first National health Insurance Scheme which is very popular with Ghanaians today.
Kufour, the gentle giant, has been widely recognized as one of the transformational leaders of Africa in modern times to such an extent that when he was leaving office in 2009, he was invited and honored with an unprecedented banquet by Her Royal Highness, the Queen of Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth II, at Buckingham Palace. In addition, US President then, George W. Bush of the USA, also invited him for a banquet in Washington, the first African head of state to be so honoured.
Joaquim Alberto Chissano – Mozambique
President Joaquim Alberto Chissano was born on 22 October,1939 and was the second President of Mozambique serving from 1986 to 2005. Chissano studied Medicine at Lisbon University but he quit to go to Tanzania to join the liberation war. Chissano is credited with transforming the war ravaged Mozambique into one of the best democracies in Africa.
Chissano took over from Samora Machel after the latter died in an air crash in a mountainous terrain near the South Africa border with Mozambique on his way back from a meeting with Dr. Kaunda and other front line states. Chissano ended the brutal civil war in 1992 by negotiating a peace treaty in 1992 with the Renamo rebels.
President Chissano negotiated with the G8 to write off GBP20billion of Mozambique’s debt in 2005.During his Presidency, almost 3 million people which amounts to about 15% of the population were removed from extreme poverty, he also achieved a GDP growth rate of 8% for Mozambique, decreased child mortality for children less than five years by 35% and increased by 65% primary school attendance.
In 2004, Chissano declined to run for a third term in spite of the fact that the Constitution allowed him to do so. On his 68th birthday in 2007, he was awarded the prestigious and inaugural $5million prize for achievement in African leadership by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. There have been very few winners of the coveted prize since then and these include Festus Mogae of Botswana, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde and Hefikepunye Pohamba of Namibia.
Levy Mwanawasa – Zambia
It is widely believed by independent and objective Zambians that Levy Patrick Mwanawasa is the best President the country has ever had based on his record. Levy Mwanawasa was the third President of Zambia and was born on 3 September,1948. Mwanawasa studied law at the University of Zambia in Lusaka from 1970 to 1973. He formed his own law practice in 1978 and became vice-chairman of the Law Association of Zambia in 1982.
Mwanawasa has been known to be a very brave and principled person who when serving under Kenneth Kaunda’s one Party dictatorship in 1985–86 as a solicitor general, he did the unthinkable then, and resigned in Kaunda’s face. In 1989, he represented the former Zambian Vice President Lieutenant General Christon Tembo who was implicated in a coup plot and he won the treason case for General Tembo.
As Vice president of Frederick Chiluba’s Government, he resigned on principle for being sidelined on major issues by Chiluba in preference to Minister without portfolio
Michael Chilufya Sata
When he took over the Presidency, he launched a vigorous anti corruption campaign coupled with fiscal austerity measures which endeared him with Western donors and the Zambian population. He started investigating the former President, Frederick Chiluba for corruption despite the fact that he is the man who anointed him President – a lesson that even if people help you to ascend to power, you are not eternally indebted to them as the country is bigger than the individual. Mwanawasa’s anti corruption crusade and focus on improving the economy to create jobs for Zambians resulted in his popularity rising.
The other acts of bravery and principle by Mwanawasa include the following: refusing the Genetically Modified (GMO) maize as aid from Western Donors, condemning Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe’s misrule, human rights record, lack of rule of law and famously referred to Zimbabwe as a “sinking Titanic” which upset Mugabe. He also openly disagreed with the arrogant and egoistic Thabo Mbeki, the former South Africa President on SADC policy towards Zimbabwe.
Mwanawasa took on the mines and renegotiated some of the unfair contracts. He also passed the Mines and Mineral development act 2008 which was meant to benefit Zambia from the country’s mineral wealth as most Mining houses were not paying any income tax and were involved in transfer pricing schemes that denied government revenue from mining operations. He was able to convince the Mines about paying more tax by increasing Royalty tax from 3% to 6% . He also imposed a windfall tax based on copper prices exceeding certain trigger price levels starting with $5,512 per tonne, then $ 6614 and above$ 7,716. This helped to build foreign exchange reserves at the Bank of Zambia. On taking over, President Rupiah Banda inexplicably reversed the progressive windfall tax and since Mwanawasa’s death, the mines call the shorts and decide the tax they want to pay by threatening to lay off employees or relocate if the government did not capitulate. The mines and multinationals feared Mwanawasa as he was very knowledgeable, read widely and did not entirely rely on advisers on issues. He could personally take on the Mining houses’ Chief Executive Officers and owners without any inferiority complex.
On the political front, it is widely believed his election of 2001 was rigged by the Chiluba administration on his behalf and had been stolen from the UPND’s late Anderson Mazoka but instead of being preoccupied with his apparent illegitimacy within the Party, the MMD having been imposed by Chiluba, and within the country having won through a controversial and an alleged rigged election, he concentrated on turning around the economy. He ignored the taunts from Michael Sata who called him “cabbage” but instead of getting annoyed, he said that he was actually steak and not cabbage and so the attack did not stick.
The magnanimity, maturity ,tolerance and lack of hate and vengeance of Levy Mwanawasa was best exemplified when, his nemesis Michael Chilufya Sata was on the point of death with a heart problem. And against all expectations, he arranged his evacuation to a South Africa hospital for treatment and thereby saved the Opposition leader and his nemesis’ life. It was from that act of statesmanship that made Sata change his general attitude towards him and became an objective critic of Levy. Michael Sata was highly indebted to Mwanawasa for saving his life until his death. This was the best example of mature and not petty behavior in politics.
There is no doubt that Zambians enjoyed the best economy and good governance during Mwanawasa’s Presidency. As a farmer himself, he transformed the agriculture sector which resulted in surplus grain which Zambia still enjoys. He also tolerated press freedom with no intimidation and closure of any critical independent press despite being called a cabbage. The kwacha exchange rate also appreciated tremendously during his rein resulting in low inflation.
Festus Mogae – Botswana
Botswana’s Festus Gontebanye Mogae was the second winner of the prestigious $5million prize Mo Ibrahim Foundation for achievement in African leadership after Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano. The Former Botswana President was born on 21 August,1939.
Mogae studied economics in the United Kingdom, first at University College, Oxford and then at University of Sussex. He worked as Bank of Botswana governor, Finance Minister and director at the international Monetary Fund(IMF). He was Vice President before taking over from Sir Kitumile Masire in 1992.
During his tenure as President, Mogae fought poverty and unemployment and won several awards as a model of democracy and good governance. One of his signature achievements was to stem Batswana deaths of AIDS during the 1990s which threatened the future of the country. He oversaw the creation of the National Aids Coordination Agency(NACA) which became the centre of fighting AIDs and introduced free ARVs in hospitals when Thabo Mbeki in South Africa another Sussex economist and graduate was in denial of the AIDs pandemic. Mogae’s AIDs programme saved so many Batswana lives and was one of Africa’s the first and most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with the disease. Mogae followed in the footsteps of his predecessors – President Seretse Khama and Masire – in contributing to making Botswana a middle income group. He is one of the few winners of the prestigious Mo Ibrahim award for good governance.
The current leaders in Zambia and Africa as well as those aspiring for leadership positions are advised to read biographies of some of the above leaders in this article and other great politicians to have a broad view of what public service entails .The poor reading culture in many African countries including Zambia especially among politicians is one of the major reasons why we have very poor quality leaders who are making poor, emotional decisions because they lack the knowledge on which to base rational and informed decisions. They do not understand that politics is a competition for ideas for public service and like in any competition you need to have opponents who you need to beat in a fair game and not enemies in a war.
The six leaders I have picked are entirely based on my own opinion and i expect some people in their respective countries to disagree with my views. The undeniable fact is that they were human and did make mistakes and i do not in any way claim that these leaders were angels or infallible. But, the reality remains that they had many more positives than negatives and they left their respective countries better than they found them. There is no doubt that they and their descendants can move freely in the streets of their respective countries with their heads held high and not consigned in some foreign countries in exile after they leave office
The distinguishing factors of all of the above leaders are that they were in politics to serve their countries and not themselves and they willingly handed over power. They also ascended to office with sound resumes and did not enter politics after being failures in life and for the purpose of accumulating wealth through corruption. These exemplary leaders were tolerant of the opposition, humble, independent thinkers, had no hatred for opponents and exercised restraint in the exercise of state power. They also kept their eyes on the prize – the economy- with a clear vision of what they wanted to do for the country in order to make a difference.
The question our African leaders should be asking themselves is whether they want to be remembered in the same realm as the following disgraced leaders after they leave office : Mobutu Seseko, Idi Amin, Augusto Pinochet, Zine El Abine Ben Ali, Ferdinand Marcos, Saddam Hussein, Blaise Campaore,Hosni Mubarak, Kamuzu Banda, Laurent Gbabo, Sloban Milosevic, Papa doc and Baby doc, Samuel Doe, Nicolae Ceacescu, Jean – Bedel Bokassa, Yahya Jammeh, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Charles Taylor, Sani Abacha and other despots who were drunk with power or they want to emulate the above and other exemplary leaders that i have not mentioned.
Zambia’s current political crisis
There is no doubt in my mind that Zambia has been on a downward spiral in terms of leadership quality since Mwanawasa’s death and there is a leadership deficiency in the country at the moment.
In regard to the situation currently obtaining in the country, following the closely contested and disputed 2016 election results, which has now ended up with the accusation of treason of HH, my advise to the parties concerned is that true leadership involves reconciliation, forgiveness, consultations, negotiations and compromise if we truly are a Christian nation.
My take is that the Christian nation claim, national day of prayer, Ministry of guidance and religion creation etc are all political posturing, hollow, smoke screens and meaningless as the behavior of our leaders is contrary to the values of the Christian faith. The major responsibility to unite the nation and start negotiations lies with the President of the country and the ruling Party just like Apartheid South Africa government did by engaging Nelson Mandela in prison even though they were in a very strong position militarily and politically compared to the ANC.
There is no doubt that the conduct and conclusion of the 2016 elections were shabby to say the least. I believe that the ruling party , the PF given their experience in the past, as an opposition for ten years and the main opposition, UPND should agree that the credibility of the Electoral Commission, Judiciary and the Constitutional court has been severely damaged in recent times.
The starting point for talks, therefore, should be areas of agreement. It follows, therefore, that the talking points on the agenda should be discussions on the creation of an independent electoral commission, the reconstitution of the disgraced Constitution Court, the role of the Public media, the Public order Act which were the major causes of the current problems . If these can be resolved and sorted out as part of negotiations, then similar election problems in the future elections may be avoided and not disputed.
To conclude, I would like to quote Nelson Mandela in his “Long walk to freedom” biography about the importance of negotiations, compromise and the role of true leadership when there is an impasse.
“My solitude gave me a certain liberty, and I resolved to use it to do something I had been pondering for a long while: begin discussions with government,” he wrote about him being separated from other political prisoners. “There are times when a leader must move ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people in the right way. As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular or whose results will not be known for years to come,” he added.