Ex-President of Botswana Ian Khama: Ascents and Reversals in the Political Career of a Former Pilot


Liubov Prokopenko


The article shows the development of the political career of the ex-president of Botswana Ian Khama, a son of the country’s first president Seretse Khama.

The article analyzes domestic and foreign policy of the government of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) headed by Mr. Ian Khama, whose first term in office coincided with difficulties of the global economic crisis that began in 2008. It is noted that during Mr. Khama’s presidency the West-oriented foreign policy of Botswana was well-balanced, pragmatic and aimed at attracting investments. It was rather bold and independent, which was largely due to the independence of Botswana, a major exporter of diamonds to the world market, as regards donors’ assistance. At the African level Mr. Khama’s image has been that of a consistent critic of authoritarian and despotic regimes, he also adhered to a consistent firm position regarding the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, calling on Robert Mugabe to transfer power.

Mr. Khama is an extraordinary political leader. The style and methods of his leadership (harsh bureaucratic methods, frequent decision-making without coordination with the government, disdain of opposition’s criticism and of public opinion) led to accusations of authoritarianism. The author makes an attempt to define its nature which was somewhat different from the authoritarianism of other African leaders. The issue of corruption and nepotism in Botswana is also discussed. During the ten-year period of Mr. Khama’s rule (2008–2018), the problem of nepotism was especially often the focus of the criticism by the local opposition and media. This had a negative effect for the president’s political image and for that of the authorities in general. At the same time, Mr. Khama’s government managed to maintain stability of the economics and of the internal political situation.

The properties of the situation in the Botswana Democratic Party, which has ruled the country for almost 55 years and still holds a central position in the country’s political landscape, are shown.

Despite a number of mistakes in governing the country, President Ian Khama managed to preserve and strengthen the authority of Botswana in the eyes of the international community for its commitment to the international law, its respect for human rights, good governance and active foreign policy.

It is pointed out that Mr. Khama, respecting the Constitution, peacefully transferred power to the country’s vice-president Mokgweetsi Masisi whom he chose as his successor. However, a conflict arose between them very soon, and their confrontation led the ex-president to supporting the opposition at the general elections in October 2019.

The events of recent years in Botswana serve an important evidence of the problematic issue – insecurity of democracy in the context of a long dominance of one political party. The unexpected emergence of Khama-Masisi confrontation questioned to a certain extent the tradition of early power transfer from the head of state to the vice-president which established in the country in recent decades. However, this confrontation did not go beyond the framework of the electoral struggle and did not lead to serious tension in the internal political situation.


traditional leader, military career, politics, successor, president, independent foreign policy, export of diamonds, stability, authoritarianism, nepotism, confrontation




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