02 Mar

Botswana’s President Speaks His Mind About Fellow African Leaders, and Trump

As most African leaders maintained a stony silence in response to Congolese leader Joseph Kabila’s determination to postpone elections and extend his stay in office, Botswana President Ian Khama’s government shot straight from the hip.

“Some political leaders refuse to relinquish power when their term of office expires,” it said on Twitter. “It is clear that such leaders are driven by self-interest, instead of those of the people they govern. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a case in point.”

A 65-year-old former army general who plans to step down next month after a decade in power, Khama has established a long-standing reputation for eschewing the niceties that are the trademark of international diplomacy.

He’s sniped at leaders from the U.S.’s Donald Trump to Sudan’s Umar al-Bashir. When Robert Mugabe was toppled as president of neighbouring Zimbabwe last year after almost four decades in office, he responded bluntly on Facebook: “Better late than never.”

Khama has some justification for taking the moral high ground. The United Nations ranks diamond-dependent Botswana among Africa’s most developed nations, while a foundation started by Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim has consistently rated it as one of the continent’s best-run. Its A2 credit rating by Moody’s Investors Service is the highest in the region.

Khama’s upbringing and military background may explain his no-nonsense approach. He’s the son of Seretse Khama, who served as Botswana’s first president after it gained independence from the U.K. in 1966.

The older Khama’s marriage to Briton Ruth Williams stoked outrage in neighbouring South Africa, where the apartheid government outlawed inter-race marriages.

After leaving the military, Khama served for a decade as vice president to Festus Mogae, replacing him as president when he stepped down in April 2008.

Months later he rejected the declaration of Mugabe as the winner of Zimbabwean elections that were marred by violence and intimidation, the only leader of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community to do so.

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