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African Leaders Urged to Emulate Botswana's Political Transition

As Zimbabweans await the final results of their election and whether or not President Robert Mugabe, who has already served 28 years, will have another term in office, its neighbor Botswana witnessed yet another smooth transition of power Tuesday. President Festus Mogae gave up power to his vice president before the end of his second term. So what lessons can the rest of Africa draw from the Botswana's political transition?

Modesi Maphanyane was until this week the director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Botswana Chapter. He told VOA Botswana’s smooth political transition has its roots in the country’s past.

“One of the reasons is that Botswana began its history from a very challenged economic situation. It was a country that was influx by foreigners and colonialists. And therefore when they left in 1966, there wasn’t that much to show for their presence in our country. And so Botswana has created a country out of nothing. And as such they created systems that will allow themselves to deal with their democracy the way they saw it. And because of that we are different from other African states,” he said.

Maphanyane said people in Botswana were worried about what is happening in other African countries, especially in its neighbor Zimbabwe.

Festus Mogae, who handed power over to his vice president before the end of his second term, reportedly advised other African leaders in similar situation a farewell rally to leave when the time has come for them to leave and be embraced with love by their people.

Maphanyane said it is about time that Africa comes to terms with the issue of presidential term.

“Once they have set a tune in their country as to how long a president term would be, they must stick to it. There has been a number of African states, including Namibia, Zambia, and Malawi where the stated period was intended to be tempered with by the incumbent. And that unfortunately has created a culture of entitlement to presidents who want then to disabuse the citizens of the provision of the constitution. I think what President Mogae was saying to them was that, you have your constitutions, live by them and leave when the time comes for you to leave,” he said

Some of Africa’s longest serving leaders like Paul Biya of Cameroon have argued that their stay in power is at the urging of their people. But Maphanyane said he has heard such comment over and over.

“I want to say this as an observer of politics and media in Africa, that there is no president that comes as a president. All presidents come in to learn to be president. It is uncalled for for presidents to think that once they have come in, they become the gods for that country, and no one can substitute them. It is the feeling of the greed that exists in some of our leaders that think they have no right to be taken out. They will choose when to go. It is a greed that Africans must stand up and challenge,” he said.

Some have criticized the Botswana political transition as a process that has the tendency to create a dynastic. Maphanyane agrees the system has its shortcomings.

“It has its shortcomings, and I think any way it allows the political power in power to practice presidency before they go to election. Therefore putting the opposition at a disadvantage. But if you look at it, elections are just 18 months away in 2009 and the proper selection of a president would take its normal course. So it is not really an aberration that people should make too much noise about,” he said