Khama Steps Down as Botswana President, Masisi Steps In

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Abimbola Akosile with agency report

Retired army general Ian Khama Saturday stepped down as president of Botswana, and handed the diamond-rich country to his deputy, Mokgweetsi Masisi, after a decade at the helm.

Masisi, 55, according to reports, becomes only the third leader to take charge of the southern African nation outside the Khama political dynasty that has dominated national politics since independence from Britain in 1966.

He inherits a country that has for decades been heralded as a beacon of African democracy and sound economic management but faces a huge task of reducing the country’s dependence on diamonds.

“I am not sure about his competency in as far as the economy is concerned, but if he has the respect of his ministers then he should be able to make them deliver,” political analyst Ndulamo Anthony Morima said.

Masisi, a trained teacher who has also worked for the United Nations Children’s Fund as an education project officer for eight years until 2003, was elected lawmaker in 2009.

He served in the president’s office as a minister of public affairs from 2011 until 2014 when Khama named him minister of education, a post he held until appointed vice president in 2017.

“The business community sees him as being more business-friendly so that should work well for the economy. He seems to be more likely to come up with regulation that enables more economic activity,” RMB Botswana economist Moatlhodi Sebabole said.

Masisi takes office over a year before the election under Botswana’s constitution that restricts the president to serving two five-year terms.

Khama, son of Botswana’s first president, Seretse, also took over from Festus Mogae a year before the 2009 election.

Botswana, one of the world’s poorest countries in the 1970s, transformed itself into one of the fastest-growing economies by harnessing around $3 billion a year in diamond sales, to become one of the world’s biggest producers, and gained middle-income status.

However, dependence on its wealth from the diamond industry might be catching up with the landlocked country of just two million after the collapse in commodity prices in 2014 tipped its economy into recession three years ago.