The world is mourning the loss of one of Africa’s greatest political leaders after the recent announcement that former President of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire passed away on June 22 at the age of 91. Although Masire may not have been a household name in the West, history will remember him as the man responsible for turning Botswana into one of Africa’s most stable and most prosperous nations.
Who Was Ketumile Masire?
Ketumile Masire was born July 23, 1925 in the city of Kanye in what was then the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland where poverty was rampant and the only available work was herding cattle or becoming a migrant laborer in the Cape Colony mines in present-day South Africa. Despite this, Masire excelled in school and eventually earned himself a scholarship to study in South Africa.
After returning to Bechuanaland and setting up a secondary school, Masire quickly came into conflict with the local tribal chiefs. These conflicts basically forced Masire into politics, and in 1961, he helped to found the Botswana Democratic Party along with Sir Seretse Khama.
Botswana’s Independence and Masire’s Legacy
The Botswana Democratic Party campaigned tirelessly for independence and in 1966 their dreams were finally realized as the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland officially became the independent nation of Botswana. With the BDP controlling 28 of 31 seats in parliament, Seretse Khama was named the country’s first president, with Masire serving as vice-president. Khama continued to hold the role of president until his death in 1980, after which he was succeeded by Ketumile Masire.
Upon taking the role as Botswana’s president, Masire used the country’s diamond mine revenues to improve the overall quality and length of life for citizens by building roads and schools, improving farming and agriculture techniques and increasing access to fresh, clean water and healthcare.
At a time when much of the Continent was beset by corruption, famines, abject poverty and civil wars, Ketumile Masire transformed Botswana into a prosperous, model nation free from the ills that plagued most other newly-formed African nations. As a former British colony, Botswana is part of the British Commonwealth and in 1991 the United Kingdom officially recognized Masire’s contributions through knighthood.
Ketumile Masire eventually stepped down from his role as president in 1998, but only after having helped to back numerous independence struggles throughout the region and also working to mediate crises between other southern African nations.
Masire is remembered for his dedication and commitment to democracy and also for the way he was able to negotiate with fellow leaders, most notably the relationship he was able to form with the rulers of apartheid-era South Africa—despite the fact that Masire was outspoken in his opposition to the apartheid system of racial segregation.
All of these factors made Sir Ketumile Masire one of the leading lights in the struggle for African independence, and for this reason, it is only right that the world celebrates his life and mourns the loss of a truly great political leader.
In announcing Masire’s death, the government of Botswana designated three days of mourning for the country, at which time flags will be flown at half mast. The government also announced that a state funeral will be held for Sir Ketumile Masire on June 29, while there will also be a lying of state on June 27 to allow the public to pay their respects to their former leader.