June 19, 2013
Who is Mogae?
Posted on Apr 10, 2009
Almost everyone in the United States or indeed anywhere else in the world knows about Zimbabwe’s sit-tight president, Robert Mugabe. But who is Mogae? Who is Chissano? Who is Kikwete? And who is Kufuor? Sadly, very few people outside Africa recognize these names.
Festus Gontebanye Mogae is Botswana’s former president, and he is probably as little known as his country. Botswana, acclaimed as Africa’s brightest star, rose from the ashes of grinding poverty to middle-income status in a generation. Its elections are peaceful, its politicians retire voluntarily, its civil society is vibrant and its natural resources are not a curse but a blessing shared by all.
Mogae recently attracted meager attention when he won the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The annual prize was established by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and launched in October 2006 as an African initiative “to strengthen governance and affirm the importance of nurturing outstanding leaders on the continent.” The prize aims to encourage leaders like Mogae who dedicate their tenures of office to surmounting the development challenges of their countries, improve the livelihoods and welfare of their people and consolidate the foundation for sustainable development.
The Mo Ibrahim Prize is the world’s largest annually awarded prize. Mogae will receive $5 million over the next 10 years and $200,000 per year thereafter for the rest of his life. Over the coming decade, the foundation may also grant another $200,000 a year to causes of Mogae’s choice.
Even though Mogae is known to maintain a modest lifestyle, the windfall should come in handy for the Oxford-trained economist. According to the founder of the prize, Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim, “the fact that African leaders are able to steal billions of dollars doesn’t mean that those who don’t shouldn’t have any money.”
As president of Botswana, Mogae also made a mark with his defense of civil liberties and the rule of law, as well as his anti-corruption and transparency measures. But by far his most enduring legacy is the progressive and comprehensive programs he put in place for dealing with Botswana’s galloping AIDS figures. Botswana has one of the world’s highest known rates of HIV/AIDS infection. Approximately one in six Batswana has HIV, giving Botswana the second-highest infection rate in the world after Swaziland. In 2006, it was estimated that life expectancy at birth in Botswana had dropped from 65 to 35 years due to AIDS.
His government took drastic measures to tackle the pandemic, such as free anti-retroviral drug treatment and a nationwide Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission program. Botswana became the first sub-Saharan African country where free anti-retroviral drugs are widely available. As a tribute to his astuteness in dealing with the crisis, anti-retrovirals are known in Botswana as “Mogae’s tablets.”
Mogae was selected for the Mo Ibrahim Prize by a six-member panel led by Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations. The award committee paid glowing tribute to his anti-AIDS efforts: “President Mogae’s outstanding leadership has ensured Botswana’s continued stability and prosperity in the face of an HIV and AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country and his people.”
The panel based its judgment on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranks the quality of governance in sub-Saharan Africa based on economic and social development, peace and security, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The index was developed under the direction of professor Robert Rotberg of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The Ibrahim Index aims to promote debate not just in Africa but around the world on the criteria by which governments should be assessed.
The panel also noted that Mogae’s economic management produced “remarkable growth, stymied inflation, attracted investment and allowed him to pursue diversification away from diamonds, while simultaneously using tax revenue to fund investment infrastructure, health and education.”
Botswana has been a leading light in African democracy. Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name when it gained independence in 1966. The country boasts four decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership. It has never had a coup and has had regular multiparty elections since independence.
Botswana also boasts one of the most dynamic economies in Africa. The country has maintained one of the world’s highest economic growth rates since independence, though growth slowed to about 5 percent annually in 2006-08. Mineral extraction, primarily diamond mining, dominates the economy. Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds. Through sound management, its diamond wealth has transformed Botswana from one of the world’s poorest countries to one of the wealthiest in the Southern Africa region, with a per capita GDP of nearly $15,800 in 2008. Botswana has Africa’s highest average income. By one estimate, it has the fourth-highest gross national income at purchasing power parity in Africa, giving it a standard of living equal to that of Mexico or Turkey.
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