Biography of SERETSE KHAMA of BOTSWANA

Khama was a politician of immense skill and integrity, and he was the founding father of modern Botswana (previously the Bechuanaland Protectorate). Born in 1921, Khama was a grandson ofKhama the Great and the undisputed heir to the powerful B amangwato chieftaincy. When his father died in 1925 Seretse was only four years old; his uncle Tshekedi was made regent until Seretse came of age and completed his education. While reading law at the Inns of Court in London, Seretse married a white woman, Ruth Williams, in 1949. Although his marriage was accepted by the Bamangwato, the British government, under pressure from the newly elected nationalists in South Africa, banned Seretse and his wife from his homeland and stripped him of his hereditary rights to the chieftaincy.

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Although this action devastated Seretse at the time, it played an important part in his later political success. He maintained his enormous traditional prestige in the country, where his people continued to regard him as their rightful leader, but he was never encumbered with the very considerable but essentially mundane day-to-day duties which went with the chieftaincy. Khama emerged as a modern, well-educated leader who gained widespread support, not merely local tribal loyalty. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which he was instrumental in founding in 1962, won sweeping victories in every subsequent election and has proved itself a truly national party. Khama was a traditional leader who used his prestige to transfer the traditional powers of chiefs to the new democratically elected central government. And he was also the leading Bamangwato who reduced inter-tribal animosities and encouraged his people to leave tribal loyalty behind and to identify with the new national state. Seretse Khama was president of Botswana from independence in 1966 until his death in 1980. Under his leadership this period was one of quite remarkable progress. Economically the country was one of Africa’s success stories: real national per capita income tripled as both agriculture and mineral extraction boomed. A unified, efficient and non-corrupt state srructure was created to replace the loose aggregation of tribes, held together by a tenuous and half-hearted colonial administration. During his tenure the political system continued to be both stable and democratic with a full range of civil liberties and regular free and fair elections. Seretse’ s personal abhorrence of racial discrimination and apartheid led him to pursue a successful policy of nonracialism within the country, and relations there between black and white were marked by an absence of tension. Khama also emerged as an international statesman of great repute and as a force for moderation among the frontline states. He played an important role in solving the Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe crisis. His commitment to human rights did not extend merely to attacks on white racism. He was one of the few African leaders who openly criticized theruleofldi Amin in Uganda while Amin was still in power. As a protest against the atrocities of the Amin regime, Khama refused to attend the Organization of African Unity summit when it was held in Kampala. Khama was always a skillful politician, never a tyrant, and he was a natural conciliator. The extent of his success is all the greater when seen in the context of Botswana’s distinctly unfavorable locationland-locked and surrounded by strife-torn southern Africa. Khama’s greatest legacy to Botswana was to have made himself dispensable and to have built up a system that could survive his departure. Since his death from cancer in July 1980 Botswana has remained a democratic and prosperous state, running on the lines he laid down.