Botswana’s recently President Ian Khama won his second term in October 2014, along with his ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party.
The election marked the highest number of seats won by the opposition since the country gained independence in 1966. Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party won 37 of the 57 seats in Parliament compared to the 45 seats won in 2009.
This may highlight disappointment in Khama’s leadership, especially among young voters and the urban middle class.
To select a president in Botswana, the winning party needs to win 29 of the 57 parliamentary seats in an election. In the October 2014 election, the Umbrella for Democratic Change party won 17 seats, and the Botswana Congress Party took three seats.
Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Ian Khama, president of Botswana.
His parents were banned from Botswana
Seretse and Ruth Williams Khama settled in Croydon, England, after being exiled from Botswana for their interracial marriage in 1948. They lived in exile until 1956.
Seretse met Ruth while he was attending law school in England. A former WAAF ambulance driver from Blackheath, London, Ruth was working as a clerk for Lloyd’s of London at the time. Seretse became Botswana’s first president and Ruth served as the inaugural first lady of Botswana from 1966 to 1980.
Seretse and Ruth had a daughter and three sons. Ian and Tshekedi Khama became prominent politicians in Botswana. Ian became the president of Botswana in 2008.
The marriage was grounded in love
One of Africa’s most respected figures, Julius Nyerere described Seretse and Ruth Khama’s relationship as a great love affair. When the marriage was announced, Ruth was fired from her job, her father kicked her out of the house, and 14 of Seretse’s 15 most important royal blood relatives opposed the marriage. The marriage resulted in tribal division and a political uproar involving Britain, South Africa and then-Southern Rhodesia.
He has a royal heritage
Ian’s grandfather, Sekgoma II, his great-grandfather, Khama III, and his great-great-grandfather, Kgosikgolo Sekgoma I, were chiefs of the Bamangwato people. Ian’s father, Sir Seretse Khama, ascended the throne upon his own father’s death. Sir Seretse Khama went on to become one of Botswana’s foremost independence leaders and served as president of the country from 1966 to 1980.
Khama moved straight from a military position to the Vice Presidency
Ian Khama announced his retirement as Commander of the Botswana Defence Force on Dec. 16, 1997, the same date then-President Quett Masire retired. He was selected as the new vice president by incoming President Festus Mogae. Since Khama did not hold a seat in the National Assembly, he could not take office immediately, but won a by-election several months later and was sworn in.
Khama had to renounce his hereditary chieftaincy when he was sworn in as vice president
When Khama was appointed vice president by Festus Mogae in 1998, he had to renounce the hereditary chieftaincy he head of the Bamangwato people. A constitutional law in Botswana prevents constitutional monarchs of the country from actively taking part in party politics, however, many traditional Bamangwato continue to recognize Khama as their chief.
His stance on alcohol has been one of his least popular policies
When he first assumed the office of president, Khama ruffled feathers by announcing his intention to impose a 70-percent alcohol levy to combat excessive drinking throughout the country, especially among youth. Resistance from the brewing industry, bars, and drinking establishments forced Khama to shift his focus to alcohol education and prevention, though he later imposed an extremely unpopular 50-percent tax.
Khama remains unmarried, and has reportedly dispatched several presidential aides to find a suitable match
The fact that Khama remains unmarried is of general concern to the country, as marriage is a requirement of tribal tradition. Khama has so far defied this, worrying many Bamangwato people who continue to view him as their chief. Khama has made controversial comments regarding his bachelorhood, including that he’s too busy running the country to find a wife, and that he will only consider a tall, slim, beautiful woman. In a political party meeting in 2010, he reportedly pointed to Botihogile Tshreletso, an assistant minister of local government, and said, “I don’t want one like this one. She may fail to pass through the door, breaking furniture with her heavy weight and even break the vehicle’s shock absorbers.”
He continues to pilot Botswana’s presidential plane on official trips
Khama, a certified pilot and former army commander, personally flies the presidential airplane on official trips. He attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where he received his qualifications, the same place where the British Army trains its officers. Khama still insists on being addressed as lieutenant general in many instances.
Khama has received criticism for perceived restrictions on free speech
The Media Practitioners Law, put into effect by Khama’s administration, was meant to encourage a more professional journalistic standard, but many criticized it for putting that standard at the discretion of the government. A sedition charge against journalist Outsa Mokone, and his subsequent arrest in September 2014 further fueled accusations against Khama for a crackdown on free speech. Journalism and opposition groups have expressed outrage and concern over the lack of media freedom.
Khama got international praise for condemning Africa’s worst authoritarian leaders
Unlike many African leaders who refuse to publicly condemn abuses of power across the continent, Khama has denounced leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe for his dictatorial tendencies. He refused to recognize Mugabe’s government until it included members of the Movement for Democratic Change headed by Morgan Tsvangarai. Khama has also condemned actions of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Darfur, along with other leaders including Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and Zambia’s late Levy Mwanawasa.
Following his re-election, Khama attempted to change the vice presidential election process
In a move viewed by many as undermining Parliament, Khama petitioned the court to change the voting process from a secret ballot to a show of hands for electing the vice president. Critics included members of the opposition as well as his own party. In Botswana, the publicly elected members of Parliament elect the vice president, speaker, and deputy speaker. Botswana’s court is currently deciding whether or not a show of hands is constitutional. Meanwhile, Parliament is at a standstill until a decision is reached.
Khama was not born in Botswana
In many countries, constitutional law requires presidential candidates to be born in the country they hope to lead – and often several generations must be born there too. Botswana has no such a law. Khama was born in Chertsey, England in 1953. His parents were in exile in the U.K. by the Botswana colonial government for his interracial marriage.