Africa needs no strongmen but strong institutions- Festus Mogae

.Moved by Rwanda’s post genocide recovery Festus Gontebanye Mogae is the former President of Botswana having ruled from 1998 to 2008), he stepped down after serving his constitutional two terms. Mogae is credited for his exemplary leadership in making Botswana a model of democracy and good governance. In 2008, he won the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in Africa Leadership and will receive $5 million over 10 years and $ 200,000 annually for life thereafter.The New Times’ Arthur Asiimwe caught up with Mogae who was in the country to attend the 59th WHO Regional Committee for Africa held in Kigali. He speaks on leadership challenges for Africa and his admiration for President Paul Kagame.
Festus Gontebanye Mogae
Festus Gontebanye Mogae

.Moved by Rwanda’s post genocide recovery

Festus Gontebanye Mogae is the former President of Botswana having ruled from 1998 to 2008), he stepped down after serving his constitutional two terms. Mogae is credited for his exemplary leadership in making Botswana a model of democracy and good governance. In 2008, he won the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in Africa Leadership and will receive $5 million over 10 years and $ 200,000 annually for life thereafter.The New Times’ Arthur Asiimwe caught up with Mogae who was in the country to attend the 59th WHO Regional Committee for Africa held in Kigali. He speaks on leadership challenges for Africa and his admiration for President Paul Kagame.

Your Excellence, I will start with the conference you are attending here in your capacity as a Chairperson for the group ‘Champions for an HIV-free Generation.’ While President, you are highly credited for putting your foot on the ground and ensuring that HIV/AIDS is contained in Botswana. What has been Botswana’s experience in as far as combating HIV/AIDS is concerned?

Mogae: Botswana like other African countries woke up to the pandemic when it had already engulfed us. We kind of reacted with panic. We were groping in the dark, we didn’t know what to do, and we didn’t know what had hit us.

In about 1999-2000, many people were dying including young people and that was before the invention of anti-retroviral drugs.

When there was this discussion at the UN in 2000 about setting up MDG’s, as Botswana, we reported that we wouldn’t have any difficulty maintaining MDG’s but at that point in time, we were a country seriously affected by HIV.

We were losing out manpower, our projects and plans were being disrupted by this epidemic.

There was a debate at the time about the ARVs and who would have a chance to use them.

We argued our case about being the first people to use them if they were available but we also told them that the prices quoted at the time were very high and we could not afford them.

But as the drug research progressed, the pharmacies and companies were anxious themselves to market and so they gave us substantial discounts.

We worked with UNAIDS and WHO to receive the first consignment of AZT to be used in the prevention of mother to child transmission. Of course our health facilities were overwhelmed.

There were patients everywhere and the problem was only controlled when we started home-based care.

We said some people who were sick could stay home and be looked after by their relatives if they are many, we would provide the drugs and other necessities from their homes.

That’s how bad it was and that’s how we started. Later we were able to procure ARV’s after negotiating a substantial discount. We said we would endeavour to provide these ARV’s to all citizens who were in need of them.

We distributed these for free. I think at present we have hundreds of thousands of  people on full anti-retroviral therapy. I think today HIV/AIDS has become a chronic disease. It is no longer the death sentence it used to be.

So are you seeing figures come down in Botswana?

Mogae: I think figures have been coming down since but now, because people are no longer dying, some are relaxed when its comes to prevention. We have found that new infections are still taking place and that is my preoccupation now---emphasising prevention because we have set ourselves the target of no new infections by 2016.

We go out and tell the citizens that while AIDS is not the killer that it used to be, it is still there and people should continue to be careful. We are focussing on prevention because it is the most cost-effective, the most sustainable way to fight AIDS.

So tell me about this new group “Champions for an HIV-free Generation”

Mogae: This is a new group. We are a group of former Presidents including me as the chairperson, Benjamin Mkapa from Tanzania, Joachim Chissano from Mozambique, Kenneth Kaunda from Zambia and prominent personalities like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the President of the constitutional court of South Africa, Leila Kabede, the Supermodel from Ethiopia who lives in New York, Dr. Speciosa Kazibwe, former Vice President of Uganda and others.

We work in collaboration with any agencies dealing with the problem of AIDS, for instance what I hope to do is to persuade as many retired presidents as possible to get involved.

Your Excellence, when you look at all these good initiatives and think of the 2016 target of no new infections, are you optimistic that you can pull this off?

Mogae: Yes, because we will have done something about it. I don’t think if we sit back we will have things done. That’s why I want us to shout about it. You see, when AIDS attacked, we were scared, and we were frightened.

People were dying. We had to respond and the population also responded, that is why we were able to stabilise prevalence rates.

Mr President lets turn away from the question of HIV/ AIDS to broader issues on the African continent.You have been credited as indeed one of the true African statesmen, you have driven your country forward towards macro-economic stability. You made sure that you left behind a very good legacy for your successor. Critics say Africa’s problem is its leadership. What’s your take on this?

Mogae: Well, first let me say yes it is true. The most important factor in our performance is leadership.

In some respect we have been unlucky. In the other respect, it was the impact of what we were before. That’s why it has taken time for good leaders to emerge, but they will emerge.

For example corruption and ethnicity seem to be a challenge for many African nations. Countries that have natural resources seem to do worse off than those that don’t have, which has made some people come up with the so called resource curse- the DRC, Angola etc. Resources tend to be the cause of communal strife.

But I think things are changing for the better

What gives you this hope?

Because of a number of emerging good examples. Rwanda, after its tragedy has pulled itself out of that horrible mess. Now Rwanda is one of the leading lights in Africa.

In the 70s it used to be said that Botswana, Senegal, Gambia and Mauritius were the only true multiparty democracies.

But the list has grown; Rwanda, Uganda, S. Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and others. That is what makes the hope that things will change and change for the better.

We are no longer looking for strong men, we are looking for elected leadership and we are looking for transparency.

But there still remain very bad apples. We still have leaders driven by greed and corruption, dictatorial tendencies and war mongers ?

Mogae: I agree, but we have not given up. I chair an initiative, an outfit called Coalition for Dialogue in Africa based in Addis-Ababa, supported by the Africa Development Bank, the Economic Commission for Africa and to a lesser extent the AU Secretariat, the membership included Mo Ibrahim, Dr Kaberuka, myself, the former Canadian Prime Minister and so on.

We are trying to push democratisation, openness of the society. I also go around giving lectures on resource management.

I am not an expert but one thing I know is that when you have a natural resource, you need capacity to negotiate with foreign investors. We have never used the resources we have the right way.

They must be used for the benefit of people as a whole. Transparency is needed.

I am a member of Transparency International and now we have formed a side group called “Extractive Transparency International” whereby we have published a list of countries with natural resources such as oil, gas and minerals and we will be producing a report to their own citizens and to the rest of the world.

We will try to persuade a number of Presidents in our countries which produce oil and other minerals to sign up to transparency and show how much they are receiving, how much they are spending and on what.

They can still keep their secrets, but tell us we spend 20 percent on defence and at least let their people know.

We have a history of Presidents diverting such revenues for their family spending or to fulfil their selfish desires of clinging on power.

We should be transparent; we should use the natural resources for the economic development of our countries so that we are not dependant on foreigners.

You mention minerals and how they have been a curse for some African countries. Botswana has diamonds but they have not been a curse for you. What has been your strategy?

Mogae: I think there was an element of luck. It stretches back into the history of Botswana. We had proper legal and administrative system under the traditional chiefs up to the time of independence.

When we became independent and why I say that there is an element of luck, one of traditional leaders who was educated became the President.

He decided that they would go to all the tribes and they agreed to find out which areas had minerals or not. He agreed with all the tribes and chiefs that all minerals found will belong to the country as a whole and they would be used for the benefit of all people.

The terms were agreed before they could see the benefits. Maybe had they first waited to see the benefits, it would have been more difficult.

It was also agreed that even in private farms, if minerals are discovered, you can only be compensated for the farm as a farm, not the royalties for the minerals. The law was passed and this went into practice ultimately when the minerals were discovered.

We started mining and when revenues were made, they would be declared in parliament.

So Botswana was lucky to have an honest man who laid the foundation?

Mogae: Yes and another honest man to succeed him that is Sir Ketumile Masire, the one I succeeded. He ruled longest for 18 years and during that time, democracy was expanded and entrenched and the utilisation of mineral resources was handled transparently and therefore it continued. It has become a traditional for us.

And you have been running surplus budgets?

Mogae: Yes, for many years but not this year.
The most important thing here is putting natural resources of the country at the disposal of all people.

We are caretakers of the resources of the people including the land, not to grab.

It happens very slowly but it has to happen. Of course when you hear news about a coup in Madagascar, a coup in Guinea etc, you get disappointed.

When you hear the news about all these coups in African states, sitting Presidents wanting to amend constitutions to remove term limits, do these give you sleepless nights? Do you feel cheated?

Mogae: Yes, they do, they do…yes, because they hold up the progress that we would otherwise be making. We can’t entirely blame colonialism for our demise.

What ever happened during colonialism, that was about 40 or 49 years ago, we can’t continue to use that as an excuse.

There is another thing which we should also be worried about. The phenomenon where good men do good things for their nations but they later want to stay forever.

They can’t believe that anybody can do those things other than themselves. When that happens, good men become rogues.

Sekou Toure was a good man, he could have been a Mandela, Kamuzu Banda could have been a Mandela, Robert Mugabe could have been a Mandela but power has blind-folded them.

The people who were born when you were taking power 20 years ago, they are now big people, thinking, aggressive young undergraduates and you can’t be as good 20 years after you usurped power. We ought to let some young blood takeover.

It is the good men who would have become idols, icons but who later turn into rogues.

I think that is one of the biggest challenges Africa is faced with?

Mogae: Yes it is. For the moment what we can do is to tell them that people who over stay their welcome, destroy their legacy and destroy their countries.

There is nothing sacrosanct about 2-3 terms but I think there should be some term limits. Of course there are special cases but really after about 20 years, the system must ask itself about the possibility of somebody taking over.

I think in essence, if after 20 years you still want to run for office, if you could say ok, this is the last time am running, you will give people hope that you will one day pass the baton to someone else.

There is this new debate going on about Aid flow to Africa. Critics say Aid promotes and abates corruption and it has undermined Africa’s speed in development. What is your take on this issue of Aid to Africa?

Mogae: It is the same phenomenon like that of natural resources. If you are determined to help your people to reconstruct, to develop the economy, you will use aid for what it’s meant to do.

But if you allow yourself to be corrupted then aid will be useless.

Yes, there is an element of truth that aid has abated corruption in some ways but that is not to say that without aid there would be no corruption.

As to the judgement, whether it has done more harm than good, I don’t know.

I would say that that’s certainly not the case in Botswana and certainly that is not the case in some of the other African countries that I know where aid has been put to proper use.

Finally, on several occasions, you have talked very good things about President Paul Kagame. You have talked much about this nation. What do you see as the most outstanding aspect of President Kagame and the stride that this nation has taken?

Mogae: Well, the situation he inherited and by whatever means was one that was the most challenging that any leader can inherit anywhere in the world or at anytime in history.

The state in which this nation was when he became President, it is a miracle-looking at what has happened.
Everybody takes their hat off for him.

To decide when; people had been killed---their parents, brothers, sisters, toddlers--- and say no---this is not what we fought for. We are not going to kill, we are not going to punish those who have done this and we are not going to kill innocent people.

That is one big important decision. The temptation for revenge must have been so great, even the pressure for revenge was so great.

After the First World War, the French in particular were bent on revenge against Germans. They wanted to destroy Germany. They made Germany pay reparations.

But I also think that there is also an element of luck to have a man like Kagame.

A man who has done a lot, first by resisting the temptation of revenge and then embarking on re-building a shattered nation. 

That is just wonderful. That is almost superhuman. Not only me but the whole world takes the hat off for him.

The other part is that of economic management and governance. Today, I went around, normally when I visit countries, I want to see the parliamentary building, the High Court- maybe because I am a bureaucrat.

I want to see the university, I want to see the high end residential, medium housing residential areas and where the people live in general.

I did that today and there is new construction going up everywhere and lots of buildings which have been put up since 1994.

That was possible because of focussed leadership, transformational leadership of President Kagame.


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