The world today is governed by two types of leaders – born leaders and imposed leaders. Imposed leaders spend their time in power trying to find ways and means of acquiring more authority. They are never satisfied with the power they have, and even after acquiring more, they still want more and more.
Such leaders try hard to force people to respect them and they believe so much in their own propaganda to the extent that they don’t accept any form of criticism as constructive. These authoritarian leaders prefer to be feared than to be loved because they believe that fear lasts longer than love. It is this fear that they use to build totalitarianism; a system which eventually keeps them in power for as long as they breathe.
But born leaders believe differently. They never worry about gaining more power. They use the little authority they have to build an empire. These leaders don’t shoot down opposition views; they regard critics as partners in development. They don’t fight to stay in power forever. Instead, they plan their exit way ahead of time and prepare the next generation to take over. These are the people who make great leaders.
Great leaders lose sleep over what the people will remember them for. They worry about their legacy, not their wealth. Such leaders believe that a good legacy lives longer than a good fortune. To great leaders, it doesn’t matter what situation they are born in, they always shine. In fact the worse the situation, the greater their impact.
The Southern African region today is talking about one such leader, born in one of the landlocked poor countries called Botswana. When he joined the Army, he rose through the ranks until he became commander of the defence forces of his country. After retiring from the army, his tribesmen eagerly waited to install him the chieftaincy, as he was next in line. But Khama, wanted to lead a nation in Africa and not a village in Bostwana, so he renounced his chieftaincy in order to be eligible for the country’s presidency. Many feared that Khama would easily turn into a dictator because of his military background.
Indeed, you could understand the people’s apprehension because Botswana has that weird electoral system where citizens, few as they are, don’t have an opportunity to elect the President. It is rather the majority, by party representation in the National Assembly, that decides who leads the country. This kind of democracy can be debated back and forth, but the fact is that it leaves so much room for a dictator to emerge.
But at a time when presidents in the region are clinging on to power, Khama chose to step down as President, one year ahead of a scheduled election. This is what Africans want – Presidents who come and go. The President of Botswana came and now he is going. In this act, the ougoing president has demonstrated that good leadership does not end at good deeds, but the willingness to step aside for others to rule.
Even though president Khama was not initially elected to the presidency, which some political critics see as a flaw in the electoral system in that country, he governed as if he was a popularly elected leader. When he came into office in 1998 he ran on five models – democracy, development, discipline, dignity and service delivery.
President Khama proved to be very innovative in the fight against environmental degradation. He looked at how he could conserve the environment for the benefit of various domestic animals and wildlife, which were key drivers of his country’s economy. Khama worked hard to move Botswana away from its over-reliance on diamonds. Introduced reforms to diversify the agriculture sector and boosted tourism.
President Khama redefined Botswana’s role in the SADC region. He turned himself into a voice of reason for the continent, and the positions he took resonated with many Africans. He publicly condemned those many African leaders who have shown unwillingness to step down despite their time in office coming to and end.
“Some political leaders refuse to relinquish power when their term of office expires. It is clear that such leaders are driven by self-interest, instead of those of the people they govern. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a case in point,” Khama recently said in a direct condemnation of Joseph Kabila’s rule.
Earlier, the 65-year-old bachelor president went for U.S. President Donald Trump over a slur against African countries. He took the American Ambassador to task over Trump’s “shithole” remarks. In 2008, the straight-talking president Khama refused to recognise the Zimbabwean government until Robert Mugabe conceded to a coalition with Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC after disputed polls. The following year, Khama broke ranks with the continent again when he said Sudanese president Al-Bashir deserved to be sent to the International Criminal Court to face trial for his role in atrocities committed in the western Darfur region.
On Saturday, president Khama said his goodbyes to his people and the continent at large. His time is up and he has left the mantle to the next in line. Just like that, Khama has gone down in the history books as a hero. Power never became too sweet for him. He was born a leader, and he has left a legacy for which the continent will remember him.
Our politicians in Zambia have a lot to learn from the leadership of president Khama. Those in power must strive to leave a positive impact on the people they lead. Leaders who are in pursuit of personal interests never succeed because wealth is never enough. If Nelson Mandela chased after riches, South Africa would not have been liberated.