April 1, 2008

Seretse Khama inaugurated new president

President Festus Mogae has retired after nearly a decade in power to hand over to Seretse Khama Ian Khama, 55, first-born son of Botswana's hugely popular founding president, Seretse Khama. The president is also paramount chief of the Bangwato, the biggest ethnic group in the country.

Thousands of people, dressed in the national colours of black, blue and white, attended the short ceremony where Festus Mogae stepped down after serving two five-year terms. Some have criticised the fact that Ian Khama is inheriting his father's mantle, without an election - as parliament appoints the president. But MPs recently rejected a call for the president to be elected directly by the people, so Ian Khama will lead the ruling party into elections in 2009.

During his inauguration on April 1st, Ian Khama made a Biblical allusion to his dynastic roots. "That night, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and asked him, 'What would you like me to give you?'" he said, quoting from 1 Kings. "Solomon answered: 'Oh Lord God, you have let me succeed my father as king, even though I am very young and don't know how to rule. So give me the wisdom I need to rule your people with justice, and to know the difference between good and evil.'"

By virtue of his birth, Ian Khama is a paramount chief of the Bamangwato people, the largest ethnic group in Botswana. However, although made a chief in 1979, he has never assumed the responsibilities of traditional leadership in his village. He has bucked tradition too, by not marrying, something culturally expected of paramount chiefs.

Khama was born in 1953 in the UK, where his father, had married an English woman, Ruth Williams. Their romance scandalised both nations and Seretse Khama was deposed as Bangwato chief and exiled by the British. But the family returned in 1956, 10 years before Botswana gained independence.

Ian Khama attended school in his father's village of Serowe, in the central district, before proceeding to study in other countries including Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, Swaziland, Switzerland and the UK where he graduated from the Sandhurst Military Academy. After completing his studies he began a long and distinguished military career which saw him rise through the ranks. He is credited with playing a pivotal role in developing the army into a professional force, which participates in peacekeeping missions, disaster relief and anti-poaching activities. Wildlife, for which Botswana is renowned as well as diamonds, is his unrelenting passion, and he is also a fitness fanatic. Otherwise, he is said to be a quiet person.

Even those close to him in the ruling party have complained that it is difficult to know what he is thinking and what his next move would be. However, he says he will continue the policies of his predecessor - a man he described as a democrat who upheld the rule of law.

In the meantime, the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Botswana has shown concern about new president’s comments on the media during his inauguration speech. The institute said the fact that the media was mentioned in the category of discipline was indicative of how the new president viewed things. “He views the media as a social ill that needs his special attention,” Misa said in a statement. “It is even more worrisome that the president accuses the media without any substantiation or justification. “With the provision of legal routes on issues of libel and defamation, we are of the view that any gauging of their prevalence must be justified by documented evidence.” The institute said the office of the president had lately found it trendy to hit out at the media without provocation. “Outgoing president Festus Mogae recently indicated his discomfort with the use of pseudonyms but admitted he knew the people behind those,” the statement said. “We sense some systematic shaping up of a new view about the media, especially when the new president comes with warnings in his first address.” (Mail & Guardian Online, South Africa / Sowetan, South Africa)

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