Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Key Ingredients for Sustainable Socio-Economic Development

Ketumile Masire, former president of the Republic of Botswana, gave this presentation Oct. 20, 2005, as part of the William P. Laughlin Lecture Series.

I am addressing you on this occasion in my capacity as the Balfour African President-in-Residence at the African Presidential Archives and Research Centre (APARC) at Boston University. The purpose of APARC is two-fold. First, it provides Boston University and the broader community with access to African personalities with practical experience in the African political and economic dynamics.

Secondly, it provides a venue for a useful exchange of views and opinions between representatives of the both the American and the African societies. In this regard, I am happy to discuss with you the challenges of creating an environment that is beneficial for successful socio-economic development on the African continent.

Many African scholars have also observed that the legacy of Africa's colonial past has contributed to the conflict, disorder, and animosity among the many ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Historians have traced conflict and instability in Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere to colonial programmes of alienation, discrimination, social exclusion, and manipulation of ethnic identity intended to ensure domination and control over vast natural resources.

Africa's wealth in natural resources-which should be such a rich source of blessings-has sometimes become a source of tremendous suffering. The relationship between natural resources and conflict in Africa is very clear, and the two natural resources, diamonds and oil, are of particular concern.

Indeed there are many destructive forces that have robbed, and continue to threaten, the integral development of the peoples and nations of Africa. However, it is important to recognize the ongoing-and very significant-endeavours for self-determination by African peoples, based on their great human potential and rich natural resources.

Observers have commented that poor leadership and bad governance blighted a significant part of Africa's history since independence. But now, it is an acknowledged fact that, throughout the continent, good governance practices continue to take root. Political and economic reforms have brought a new ray of hope. There is evidence of growing transparency to the public and greater accountability to parliaments.

No doubt, institutional weaknesses and capacity constraints continue to limit the consolidation of good governance. The prevailing conflict environment still threatens to derail negotiated peace agreements and to destabilize the democratization process.

It is noteworthy that there is a strong quest for democracy throughout Africa. In recent years there has been evidence of periodic elections through the ballot in many countries, popular participation in the election process, an orderly succession, growing openness to the society, an independent judiciary, freedom of ownership, institutional pluralism, development of democratic culture, and respect for fundamental human rights.

Just to illustrate this fact, I have been called upon to observe the conduct of elections in Nigeria, Mozambique, Malawi, and Ethiopia. My remit was to examine whether the elections were conducted in accordance with minimum requirements prescribed for international standards. Despite the flaws that I have observed, I am happy to report that there is a strong wave of democratic transformation in some of the countries. There is a very keen desire to lay the foundations for the rule of law and for the delivery of the security of the state.

Africans now call for adapting democracy to fit their own specific conditions without compromising its fundamental principles of representation and accountability. They are now generating new ideas, and finding ways of implementing them. They are addressing the legacy of both colonial Africa and the post-independence era-when despotic leaders and unscrupulous politicians often employed the same colonial methods to satisfy their own narrow ends.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) sets out a new beginning for Africa. It has, as its central goal, the right of people to determine their own future. It prescribes the policy recommendations and actions that could create the conditions for a rebirth of the continent to occur.

While I do not intent to provide an overview of NEPAD, I would like to highlight some of its key elements encompassed in the framework for creating the conditions for development. These are:

  • Ensuring peace and security through conflict management and prevention,
  • Promoting democracy and sound political governance,
  • Instituting sound economic and corporate governance,
  • Agriculture, with emphasis on productivity and food security, and
  • Resource mobilization through capital flows and improved market access.

NEPAD is an indigenous initiative for resolving Africa's development challenges. It enjoys the moral, political, and diplomatic support of the international community. In addition, under the African Union, the African leaders created institutional arrangements necessary to deal with the challenges facing Africa. There are three specialized organs, namely:

  • The Peace and Security Council-the African Union's main mechanism for addressing conflict, including peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.
  • The African Court of Justice has the objective to function as the judicial organ of the AU, resolving the disputes and legal matters referred to it.
  • The Pan-African Parliament is expected to assume full legislative powers after functioning in a consultative and advisory capacity for the first five years.

The Pan-African Parliament's vision is to provide a common platform for African peoples and their grass-roots organizations to be more involved in discussions and decision-making on the problems and challenges facing the continent. The ultimate aim is for the Pan-African Parliament to evolve into an institution with full legislative powers, whose members are elected by universal adult suffrage.

I will use my country, Botswana, as an example. For us, creating a nation and establishing sustainable economy was, in many ways, a monumental task. Economic development is an essential component of building a successful democratic country.

The British neglected Bechuanaland's development completely, and no significant expenditures were made until the mid-1950s. The first government secondary school was not established until 1965. There were only six miles of paved roads in a country the size of France and Belgium combined. One-third of our men of prime working age had jobs in South Africa, not in Botswana. Half of our budget came from British grants since we had no economy to support taxes. Cattle and crops were our entire economy, and our climate is prone to drought and soils are fragile. When we asked for independence, some people said we were either very brave or very foolish.

To help our people improve economically, we had to establish schools, provide clean water and access to health care, and improve transportation and the markets for our cattle and crops. Eventually the private sector would have to take a major responsibility, but if we did not have trained people and basic infrastructure, no private investor would be interested.

We also wanted to be responsive to our constituents, so we asked people about their own priorities, and we largely adopted theirs as our own. We knew that if we disappointed the electorate, we would be turned out of office!

We sought resources from wherever we could, expanding the base of our donors, inviting foreign investors, and gaining the maximum benefit from the minerals, mainly diamonds, that were discovered after independence. Our strategy was to reinvest any increased revenues in social and physical infrastructure. We tried to be sure all our projects were sound. We avoided prestige projects, and we were prudent in our spending. From self-rule until my retirement in 1998, the World Bank statistics show that we achieved the highest economic growth rate in the world. This success sustained our democracy.

An organization called Transparency International rates all countries in the world each year on an index of "Perceived Corruption." I am happy to say that Botswana is ranked best among all African countries, and second best among all developing countries. Our commitments to open discussion, free speech, and free press, and our limitations on the powers of any one person are the main reasons we have been able to keep corruption in check. When there were transgressions, even senior cabinet ministers and civil servants, at times, resigned, were removed from office, or were prosecuted.

Presently, Botswana faces one very major challenge to both our democracy and our economic development. As you may be aware, the African continent faces an HIV/AIDS pandemic. Botswana has not escaped its effects, and every sector of our economy is affected. Thousands of skilled people are dying. AIDS also puts unbearable strain on communities and their ability to care for the ill and dying, the elderly, and the increasing number of orphans.

The capacity of the government to provide essential social services-health and education for instance-is being reduced. The combination of declining labour productivity and rising labour costs damages the country's competitiveness, future growth, and development prospects.

The government is being relentless in its campaign against the spread of infection and in caring for the infected and those affected. The issue is a very broad-based political and social one, not simply a medical or heath problem. My successor, President Mogae, has spoken out regularly and forcefully about the realities, and he has also been very effective in bringing partners from other countries to assist in combating the disease. However, HIV/AIDS is clearly our greatest challenge. I hope the future will show that we were up to that challenge.


Q: You've addressed that Botswana has essentially escaped the resource curse that has affected many African countries. Could you please go into more detail about why? What is it about Botswana that makes it different?

A: I think it is for various reasons. For one thing, we started off being very poor, and therefore are trained in the art of being frugal, and therefore a lot of it depends on the [money we gain from resources.] As I mentioned in my speech, we don't finance prestige projects. We try to be as down-to-earth as we possibly can, and assess the needs of the people and meet them. And know that the mines may [be empty] one day, and we must have resources kept aside…Here where you say you "save for a rainy day," but in Botswana, we should save for a sunny day.

Q: What do you think of organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and their effects on growing democracies in Africa?

A: I think, like all organizations and, in spite of the fact that they have been in existence for quite some time, they go through a learning curve because circumstances they are addressing are not the same all the time. They are changing circumstances. And sometimes they hit the bull's eye, and sometimes they make a mess of it.

Q: We congratulate Botswana for once more being chosen number one in Africa in terms of transparency, and my question is: What strategies are there to share the best practices that make this reality possible? … What strategies are in place, through NEPAD or through African Union, to make more Botswanas?

A: As I said, I think there is a ray of hope. Many African countries now are democratizing. Many African countries now have got a limit to the period for which one can be a president. Many African countries now are engaging in economic strategies that are likely to ensure economic progress. And all these things, of course, have mainly happened because of the thawing of the Cold War. In the past, even if you were a Mobutu, even if what you did had nothing to do with the people you are supposed to be caring for, so long as you were either a client of Russia or a client of the United States, all was well, and they would support you to the hilt, no matter how corrupt you were because…by that means there was money to keep you in their camp. But since the thawing of the Cold War, things have changed. People now realize they have to do what is good for their nations. They are becoming more democratic, and of course when you become democratic, then you are inviting members of the public to keep an eye on what you are doing and therefore you cannot afford to be indifferent or neglect what you are doing.

To cut a long story short, I think what happened a couple of years ago…when the African Union adopted NEPAD (which is both political and economic and…brings on board security arrangements), I think that it will make people follow the cause that Botswana has followed.

Indeed, when I retired form the presidency in 1998, I was just about alone….But this year…when APARC invited retired presidents, lo and behold there were 14 retired presidents. I was no longer alone. And so, things are changing and changing fast and changing for the better.

Q: What are the most useful policies that the U.S. and other developed countries could adopt that…would have helped you when you were president, or that would help other democratic leaders in Africa today? Are they aid policies? Trade policies? Health policies?

A: We need trade policies, because as I said, really it is difficult to maintain a democratic set up when there is no economic progress that you make. You can't make progress unless there are investments. You can't make progress unless the locals see the local primary products being beneficiated in the country, so that they become tradable commodities that you can exchange with the U.S., or with the E.U., or with Russia, or with China. One of the things we sorely need is investment in Africa. And we know that we…need to create an atmosphere that is conducive to investment, to put in legislation that welcomes an investor, to put in monetary policies that allows the investor to repatriate his dividends and his workers to repatriate their earnings, and make them feel at home in a foreign country. That is what we are trying to do.

Then of course, with AIDS, too, we need to be helped. We don't have the technical know how, we don't have institutions or firms to make vaccines, and find that they can be produced at affordable prices. We need help in all these respects.

And also in education. We are fortunate in Botswana that we have a policy that says 100 percent of our children of school-going age must go to school and cannot be refused a place in school. But there are many countries in Africa where only 50 percent of children of school-going age are going to school. Sometimes because the people cannot afford it-neither government nor the parents can afford it. And I think it is something that should be of international, international, interest that all people go to school. Because you cannot imagine a child born and raised in this time, living for 50 years, 60 years, 70 years-in 70 years down the line, if that child were illiterate, he would be closer to an animal than to a human being. And it is our human responsibility that we should all say children all over the world should go to school to develop their potential to the fullest possible.

With AIDS, not only do we need medicines, but there are countries that cannot afford to look after the orphans. If we all die of AIDS, at least our children should have somebody to care for them, so that at some point in the future it can be said these are the remnants of the people who disappeared as a result of AIDS.

So there are many ways in which developed countries can help us, America in particular.

Q: I am from Eritrea. I am really happy to hear positive things about Africa. Coming from a public health point of view, you were talking about AIDS affecting the economy and political situation of the country. Are you communicating or working closely with other countries like Uganda, whose models have been really effective in community-based programs?

There are two countries that are meeting AIDS head on: Uganda and Botswana. We are doing certain things that Uganda is not doing, and Uganda is doing certain things we are not doing. And we are trying to relate to see that our collective efforts should yield better results, perhaps, than our individual efforts. But we are also looking at other countries. And I must acknowledge here how much we have been helped here by some people in the private sector in America…such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given us a generous grant.

Q: What specifically has your country been doing to help stop the spread of AIDS? And do you think the aforementioned Christian background or influence has been helpful in that aspect or do you think it has been an impediment?

A: If I may take the last one first, I think that one of the mistakes we made, or shall I say I made, because I was the main actor, is that we did not involve the churches early enough in the fight against AIDS, nor did the churches recognize their responsibility early enough to give a helping hand, especially in combating the spread of AIDS. Now we are building up towards that. The churches are being alerted to say this is an area where we have collective responsibility-let us see how to jointly attack the problem.

As to what has been done by the government, we realized that the major problem was…the stigma. People did not want it to be known that they suffered from AIDS. It was neither good for them nor for the community, because while they hid the fact that they had AIDS, they went around and spread AIDS. Two, when they have AIDS and they did not acknowledge that they have AIDS, they cannot be treated so the disease can quickly take foothold in them.

So we have tried to say to people, look, AIDS is like any other disease. After all, one day, unfortunately, we shall all contract one disease or another, and we shall die. How unfortunate. But it is a fact of life. So if you have AIDS, you just happen to have contracted a disease. If you did not contract AIDS, you would contract another disease, and you'll die just as you would have died from AIDS. So …what's the hullabaloo about? So we have tried to do this, and we have had the cooperation of some good people who have suffered from AIDS who have gone public who have said "Here I am, and I have got AIDS, but because this was recognized early enough, I eat…healthy food, I have a regimen that helps me to lengthen my productive life."

The second thing was that when people ultimately succumb to AIDS and become bedridden, the government takes care of them. And because there are so many AIDS patients, they cannot all go into the hospital. A lot of them are being cared for by their families. The families are given basic, rudimentary…health care to make sure that they don't end up…contracting AIDS. Also they are given the wherewithal, monies in particular, to help them to look after those patients.

The orphans are looked after in two ways. Either they go to an orphanage, or they remain with members of their families, and members of their families are given an allowance that is sufficient to look after a child in every aspect, so that those children must not feel looked upon as inferior to any other children.

And for those who have got AIDS, we have an arrangement whereby there are clinics all over the country, and there is education, not only what people should do to avoid getting AIDS, but that people must go to these clinics. The slogan is "Know your Status." Find out whether you have AIDS or not. Even the president has gone to these clinics and was pronounced to be free of AIDS. And if he had AIDS, he would have been treated like everybody else. And those who have AIDS will see that…treatment is given to all and sundry.

These are some of the things that the government of Botswana is doing to try to tackle this very big challenge.

Q: I am from Eritrea. You mentioned that you observed an election in Ethiopia. How did you find it? Did you observe in the countryside or the cities? Is it really democratic? Because the way it is right now, the opposition party does not accept that as a democratic election.

My second question is-you mentioned conflict resolution. What is the African Union's opinion on the Algiers Agreement of Dec. 12, 2000? Is it still a crisis? Both countries, Eritrea and Ethiopia, are building up troops right now, and it is a very serious situation.

A: I will start with Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is a great pity….We never thought they would go to war together, one against the other, but unfortunately they did.

The African Union is doing its best to try to address that problem. The U.N. is also doing its best. In fact, Secretary General Anan has appointed…a representative in the area, and he has been there now for two years, and we wish and pray that this will come to an amicable resolution.

As regards to elections in Ethiopia, I have never seen elections that were more orderly. They were very orderly right through the day. There was a little more unhappiness toward the end of the day, because some of the polling stations were given more than could be handled in the allotted time. People who had come early in the morning, before sunrise, were there even after sunset, because once people were in the polling area, it did not matter if it went into the small hours of the morning, because the election officers kept at it. But you know, people did not readily recognize that there were so many of us. And in any event, it is not their fault if a polling station is overloaded with more voters than it can handle in the allotted time. But otherwise, I think they were very orderly.

True enough, after elections the following morning, there were people who cried foul, but we were not witnesses to foul play if there was any.

That is the unfortunate thing about us in Africa. We don't readily say to our adversary "Well done. You have beaten me in a fair game." Among other things, we shall learn that if there are two combatants, they cannot both win. One must win, and the other must lose. And the one who has won, we give him credit….

…Something that is being criticized which Meles did, which I fully support, that if there are chances that people will cry foul, then you must give a cooling-off period. Meles said for 30 days, there will be no political activities. And indeed, had he not done that, because the opposition had won 23 out of 26 constituencies…in Addis Ababa, they would have done what they did in Georgia and what they did in the Ukraine, where…mob rule takes over and they just say we have won and nothing more can be done. If people are prone to mob rule demands, then there must be a cooling-off period after elections.

I admire the Americans and the British, where not even before the man is declared to have won, as soon as the man in opposition realizes the other man has won, he sends him a telegram to say congratulations, well done. And I think we shall develop that culture in Africa as well.