Photograph — Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation

Former President of Botswana, Sir Ketumile Masire has died at the age of 91, the government of Botswana announced a few hours ago declaring a 3-day national mourning. Sir Masire was the second president of Botswana. He served the country for 18 years, 1980 to 1998, and was a leading figure in the independence movement and the new government.

In October 2015, Sir Masire had an exclusive interview with Ventures Africa on the state of governance in African countries based on the Ibrahim Index on African Governance. In honour of his life and work, here are a few highlights from that interview.

Ventures Africa (VA): What is the significance of the Ibrahim Index on African Governance?

Sir Ketumile Masire (SKM): The significance is very great because it does show those who are running the country what the shortcomings are in running the country. And also where they perform well to see where they can continue to improve that or make sure they keep at that and don’t fall down. But at the same time, it is also helpful to members of society who may not know precisely where to put the blame, to have the performance articulated and to come out in figures, to ensure that they can squarely meet the government and those that are running the country, where their shortcomings are. And this is not in just absolute terms but is also in relative terms and relative terms to that past performance as against current performance in relative to how other countries are doing in the same sector in various parts of the 54 countries in Africa.

VA: The index indicates a stall in good governance in Africa, despite improved living conditions, what do you think is the reason for this?

SKM: As conditions improve, there must also be getting accustomed to how to practice in the new development. Some people find it doesn’t quite happen the way they think it was going to happen and therefore don’t perform in keeping with how the development … it’s expected they should behave that way.

V.A: How do we get out of this state? What can be done to improve governance in Africa?

SKM: I think, as they say, the best approach to any problem is to try a new angle; we must keep on trying to improve. And if we try to find how to improve, we are more likely to find a way than if we merely just sit satisfied saying we are doing well, and this is where the statistic can also come to – shifting the target because that is what all life is, to know whether you are moving to the right or to the left, and therefore make your efforts accordingly.

 VA: How is the trend in governance over the years different from your time as the Head of State of Botswana?

SKM:  Well I am afraid it’s difficult for me to judge now that I’m outside. I don’t know what sectors are now affecting it, but it is a pity that in some areas it seems to be going down, we have not held our position consistently, we are beginning to slip on quite a number of ways in the governance scheme of things.

A young Masire

V.A: Botswana is one of the countries that registered a decline in the progress of governance in the four categories of assessment. Though you’ve been out of office for quite a while, what has changed? What do you think is the cause for the deterioration in governance?

SKM: I think it’s because of the style of leadership. It’s also because people are becoming more critical, more educated, the press is livelier and the factors are changing and therefore the product changes in accordance with the changes that take place. Primarily, I’ll say it’s the style of leadership … I think there was a general realisation in the country that we are coming from virtually nowhere, and we are in pursuit of an objective and everybody got geared to that. We were looking at the merits. In our leadership of meritocracy, there was not a question of my cousin or my friend, it was just a question of who can do the best. And whoever could do it the best out of all of us was the right person to do it at that time; sometimes in assessing ourselves and finding that we can’t find among ourselves the right people and looking outside to see if we can get somebody to do the job.

 VA: So what you are saying is that God-fatherism – which is what we call it in Nigeria – is a responsible factor for the stalled progress of governance in the continent?

SKM: Yes, that can be devastating wherever it happens.

Sir Masire also played a crucial role in facilitating and protecting Botswana’s steady financial growth and development. He was also involved in a good number of diplomatic initiatives in African countries. His good deeds did not go unnoticed as he received a number of awards and honours. He was awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger in 1989. And was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. Until his death, he served as a board member at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

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