Inspiring Sir Ketumile Masire
Gabriel C Banda
OVER the years, many a time I told friends that I found Sir Ketumile Quett Masire an exceptional and inspiring person. Botswana’s second president was a living good example of how to relate to other persons. A few times I have met him and interacted with him.
He has been one of those rulers, former rulers, and leaders in politics, governance, and business that do not let positions make them have some aloof attitude towards other human beings others will consider lesser.
My Big Man Sir Ketumile Masire was just himself, without imposing airs. He had the calmness of those that have true strength and are therefore comfortable with themselves and do not need to degrade other human beings in order to lift themselves up.
The problem of abuse of authority is not confined to presidents and ministers. It happens in various positions of life. Some people will demean and dehumanise the house servants they employ to perform vital functions in the household. Some persons will reach positions of director, permanent secretary, minister, and president, and begin to push around others they consider having low positions and status.
A major part of growing and maturing as a human being is to handle our positions with respect and without degrading other persons performing other roles. You must do your role, however high it may be considered, without falling into arrogance. A leader or ruler must first be a servant.
In the early 1980s, my Brother and friend Theo Samuheha told me that those who visit Botswana were sometimes surprised that the President could be seen crossing a road, walking alone, to buy some items. In Botswana was some stable, secure, and relaxed politics and governance.
In 2002, I was in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, living there as a Special Assistant to Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, who was then the African President in Residence at Boston University.
In April 2003, some former heads of state of Africa came. At one time the team members witnessed the famous Boston Marathon. This was around the finishing point. This was the point that ten years later, in 2013, there was a bombing.
But that time, in 2003, at some point President Ketumile Masire and his team visited us at our Bay State Road residence. And at some point, Sir Ketumile was in conversation with me. We spoke for some time. He inquired about some things. He listened to what I said. Sometimes he asked further. But he was a keen listener. Later, he made a major decision which seemed to have considered what I had said in our conversation.
Over the years, I met him again. One time, in late 2003, we were in Swaziland at the Commonwealth SMART Partnership meeting. There was some urgent item that Sir Ketumile and President Chissano, Mozambique’s Second President, wanted to work on with President Kenneth Kaunda.
President Masire saw me walking near the hotel gardens. “Angel Gabriel!” he cheerfully called out to me. After a brief discussion, he said we should immediately go to “KK,” Dr Kenneth Kaunda. He held my hand in a friendly way. Walking together, we meandered through the hotel premises, passing through gardens, party groups, diners, and others.
Dr Masire moved, oblivious of the persons around him. I do not think many persons knew he had been Botswana’s second president, the one who had succeeded the late Sir Seretse Khama and for 18 years was well known as President.
We moved on, just the two of us. I do not think many persons we passed knew he was Quett Masire. Eventually, we reached Dr Kaunda. So, incognito, Ketumile Masire could move and do his needed work in many places.
Ketumile Masire was a person of immediacy. If something needed to be done or you needed to go to a place, you made it happen by doing it. Some friend of mine has said this about Mahatma Gandhi. If something to be done was discussed, it was to be implemented and, if needed, done immediately.
At various time, if he and Dr Joaquim Chissano felt they needed to meet Dr Kaunda, they would just come, without notice. Both of them had great respect for Dr Kaunda, who they had worked with closely during their presidencies when Dr Kaunda was chairperson of the Frontline States team. It seems that in that closeness, they felt they were a family with KK and did not need to give notice to meet him.
Over the years, at various times, I saw how President Masire gave respect not only to Dr Kaunda, but others in various situations. He respected those who worked with him and those who met him.
In group meetings, Sir Ketumile Masire would appear reserved, yet thoughtful and expressive in his thoughts and beliefs. He calmly expressed himself. He could take independent positions and was not afraid to speak his mind, but still politely.
Sir Ketumile, who was also well respected for his interest in farming, responded in informal manner to other persons. He was lovable. He was not one to show power over another person, even if that person did not have a highly rated position in society.
We are fortunate that there are actually other former leaders from Africa that are available in the field of humility. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia respects those persons he meets and in return is loved by many all over the world.
Another is the Mozambique second president Joaquim Chissano. I have met him. He calmly listens and analyses situations. He will listen to others, whatever their position. He reaches out to others. He does not forget those he meets.
President Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela’s successor of South Africa, is also an analytical listener and very polite to persons of various positions. I have spoken with him and can testify his respect for others. Ali Hassan Mwinyi of Tanzania is also another person that has great humility. I have spoken with him a few times.
On the topic of listening, I am reluctant to begin talking about Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe because his fierce critics will be annoyed to learn that I found that, in personal one-to-one discussion, he actually pays close attention to what you are speaking with him, and remembers.
Like President Ketumile Masire, I am sure there are other rulers and former rulers that show great depth in their relationship with other persons.
Actually, there are many others, in various roles of life, who, even unknown by many, are great persons that are quietly doing their part, without showing off. Sir Ketumile Masire was clear example of those persons that practically live by the principle of respect for others.
Born in 1925, Ketimule Masire was an activist for Botswana’s independence. As minister, Vice President, and President July 1980 to March 1998, he greatly influenced economic, social, and political programmes that helped build current Botswana. He passed away in Gaborone in the night of June 22, 2017. Burial ceremonies have been scheduled for Thursday, June 29th, 2017. Mrs Gladys Olebile Masire passed away in 2013. Dr Ketumile Masire’s humility and service have remained shining for all to note.
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– GCB, June 2017, LUSAKA.