6 pm Mountain Time
In an April 10th article on Truthdig.com, Nigerian journalist Gbemisola Olujobi asked the question, “Who is Mogae?” And why, we might ask, has he received a five million dollar bonus? Is it because he’s a corrupt politician, a stereotypical African despot swindling his own people?
As Olujobi writes, “Almost everyone ... knows about Zimbabwe’s sit-tight president, Robert Mugabe. But who is Mogae? Who is Chissano? Who is Kikwete? And who is Kufuor? Sadly, very few people outside Africa recognize these names.
“Festus Gontebanye Mogae is Botswana’s former president [and an Oxford-trained economist].... Botswana, acclaimed as Africa’s brightest star, rose from the ashes of grinding poverty to middle-income status in a generation. Its elections are peaceful, its politicians retire voluntarily, its civil society is vibrant and its natural resources are not a curse but a blessing shared by all.
“Mogae recently attracted meager attention when he won the [$5 million] Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The annual prize was established by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and launched in October 2006 as an African initiative ‘to strengthen governance and affirm the importance of nurturing outstanding leaders on the continent.’”
Olujobi’s article continues: “The prize aims to encourage leaders like Mogae who dedicate their tenures of office to surmounting the development challenges of their countries, improve the livelihoods and welfare of their people and consolidate the foundation for sustainable development.”
Of course, anyone with such accomplishments is likely to be a complicated figure, and former president Mogae is no exception. As you’ll hear in his address tonight, he’s fulsome in his praise for the Bush administration’s role in Africa, and silent about its role elsewhere. He voiced no objection to the controversial aim of the US government to locate a military command base—Africom—inside an African country. And his position on labour conditions inside Botswana would likely raise the hackles of many union activists at home and abroad.
Nevertheless, Mogae’s achievements cannot be denied, especially on a continent so ravaged by imperialism and neocolonialism, and their destabilising effects upon nearly every aspect of social, political, economic and human development. Kofi Annan praised Mogae for his “outstanding leadership [which] has ensured Botswana's continued stability and prosperity in the face of an HIV/AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country and people.”
Festus Mogae spoke on September 21, 2007, at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, as part of its Statesmen's Forum series, on “Botswana's Future: Reflections on HIV/AIDS, Democratization, and U.S.-Botswana Relations." The event was moderated, and President Mogae was introduced, by Stephen Morrison, the Africa Program Coordinator of the Centre.
Read the transcript here.