A Tribute to a True African Leader - Festus Mogae

Wednesday, March 4, 2009 - 14:12
At a time when African leadership is rife with corruption and poor governance, Jonathan Mundell pays tribute to former Botswana President Festus Mogae who, he argues, can be celebrated as a true African leader. Mogae is travelling in Southern Africa as part of his ‘Champions for an HIV-Free Generation’ tour, through which he is calling on Africans to fight against the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
In February 2009, during a visit to Mozambique as part of his ‘Champions for an HIV-Free Generation’ Southern African tour, former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, called out to Africans across the continent to keep on fighting the HIV and AIDS epidemic, and not to give up in their struggle towards an AIDS free society. During a press conference, Mogae pinpointed a few important issues that he feels need to be addressed as a top priority, such as male infidelity and male circumcision, and challenged leaders to start taking the epidemic more seriously. He acknowledged Africa’s recent progress in attempts to address HIV and AIDS, but emphasised that much more work is still required.

Despite his resignation from the Botswana Presidency in April 2008, following a successful decade as ‘top dog’ of the country, Mogae has continued to make a significant impact on the continent, leaving deep, resounding footprints on the uphill path towards African triumph. For more than 10 years, Mogae has set a critical high standard in leadership, particularly in the field of HIV & AIDS, not only for the African continent, but internationally. Recently named “Africa’s Man of the Year 2008” by Africa Today magazine, and the winner of the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur and the 2008 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, the ex-Botswana President is an inspiration to leaders across the globe, and in fact to us all. At a time when African leadership is rife with corruption and poor governance, this months’ HIV & AIDS newsletter serves as a tribute to a man that can undoubtedly be celebrated as a true African leader.

A decade of dedication

Festus Gontebanye Mogae, born on August 21, 1939, studied economics in the United Kingdom, at the University College in Oxford and at the University of Sussex. He then returned to Botswana and very soon found himself working for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and then the Bank of Botswana. In 1992, at the age of 53, Mogae was appointed Vice-President of the Botswana, where he quickly made an enormous impact, and assisted his party (Botswana Democratic Party, BDP), to regain power in 1999. In Mogae's first few months in office, he announced a major programme to improve Botswana's infrastructure, using the country's revenues to build schools, medical facilities, and offices. He served as President for ten years, stepping down in 2008, and succeeded by his vice-President, Lieutenant General Ian Khama. Throughout his political career, and to this day, Mogae has been fully committed to the eradication of poverty, unemployment and HIV & AIDS, which he has pledged to stamp out by 2016.

Mogae’s decade in power personified good leadership; Botswana rose from strength to strength in a number of areas, including HIV and AIDS. Despite the heavy burden that HIV placed on the country from very early on in the epidemic, strong leadership and dedication made Botswana one of the few African success stories, showing significant progress in its response to the disease. Botswana was the first African country to implement a national AIDS treatment programme, and by 2007 had successfully delivered treatment to more than 90 percent of those in need. The country also made significant strides in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and the care of AIDS orphans. During Mogae’s tenure as president, mother-to-child transmission of HIV decreased from 40 percent to four percent. Botswana also became a leader in the expansion of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services, with HIV testing in all health care settings being offered as routine since 2004. Mogae also placed a high priority, contrary to the example of many other governments around the world, on providing care and support services to people already living with HIV, in order to ensure their continued contribution to their country, their community and their family.

As per the country’s constitution, Mogae stepped down from his position as President after the completion of his 10-year term, passing on the responsibility to his vice-President. During his reign, Botswana set a good example for its neighbours, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, who could learn a great deal from Mogae, and the leadership style and politics of his country. Botswana is considered a leader in Southern African politics, and is ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. In his final State of the Nation address, Mogae described the principles that guided his time in office as “prudent, transparent and honest use of national resources for your benefit”. These are principals of a true leader, which are unfortunately so rare in today’s power-hungry world of politics.

Stepping down from office, but still up to the task

Following his resignation, Mogae continued to work passionately towards his vision of an HIV and AIDS free country. He also continued to call out those who posed a threat to progress in this regard. Speaking at the first meeting of the National AIDS Council (NAC) on 30 May 2008, shortly after his resignation, Mogae, also the NAC chairperson, openly criticised organisations, bodies and individuals that claimed to have a cure for HIV and AIDS. He emphasised that such claims have the potential to impact negatively on the country’s attempts to overcome the epidemic, directly effecting treatment adherence for example. During the same meeting, Mogae also announced that he had been asked to chair the Council of Elders, which was established with the aim of approaching governments to assist in HIV and AIDS efforts.

Eager to expand his efforts further, during the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico, on the 5 August 2008, Mogae launched ‘Champions for an HIV-Free Generation’, a group of African leaders calling for their peers to step up efforts to prevent the spread of HIV. The group is partnered with the World Bank, UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and PEPFAR, and aims to put some pressure on politicians whom they believe have not pulled their weight sufficiently in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Mogae stated during the launch that campaign members hope to engage governments in discussions about behavioural change, unsafe sexual practices, stigma and discrimination against women. He also announced that he aims to establish a small technical office in Botswana in an effort to develop HIV and AIDS prevention programs. Following the International AIDS Conference, dignitaries around the world applauded Mogae for his commitment to the HIV and AIDS fight; including Kenneth Kaunda, former Zambian president who hailed Mogae for his extraordinary work in rousing African leaders to come together to tackle HIV head on.

Mogae has also shown exemplary dedication to women’s issues in Africa, specifically in Botswana. During the month of his resignation, women commended his efforts across the country, and the continent. Speaking the launch of the Women Sector of the National AIDS Council, Chairperson of Botswana National Council on Women (BNCW), Hermetinah Mogami, stated that, “We would like to express our gratitude towards the respect that our leader has showed us during his leadership…There has been, over the years, a surge for gender equality and equity worldwide and we have seen positive changes at home under your governance…The Botswana Government became, during your time, a committed partner by finding equal ground for both men and women in different aspects of the society."

Superior leadership honoured

In addition to a long list of awards received during his time as President, which include a Global Market Place Award, an assortment of AIDS leadership awards and the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur, Mr Mogae has recently been honoured with two rather significant awards, demonstrating the massive impact he has made on Africa. In October 2008, Mogae was awarded the 2008 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, and will receive US$ 5 million over a ten-year period, and US$ 200,000 annually for life thereafter. In addition, over the next ten years, the foundation may grant another US$ 200,000 annually to causes of Mr. Mogae’s choice. During the ceremony, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that, "President Mogae's outstanding leadership has ensured Botswana's continued stability and prosperity in the face of an AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country and people". According to Dr Peter Piot, “the former President of Botswana has demonstrated what leadership – and perseverance – can achieve in the face of extreme challenges. The Ibrahim Prize represents a pinnacle in Mr Mogae’s efforts to stop the spread of HIV, not only in Botswana but throughout Africa. He is a true visionary and an exemplar to other leaders around the world”.

Africa Today magazine then named Mr Mogae as ‘Africa’s Man of the Year 2008’, early in 2009. The award, given either to a sitting or immediate past head of state, is aimed at enhancing democracy and good governance, and stimulating sustainable development, regional integration and cooperation. Mogae was chosen from a shortlist of outstanding African personalities. The magazine cited that Mogae came into office at a time when Botswana was threatened by the scourge of HIV and AIDS, but he managed to ensure that the country remained stable and prosperous through the effective management of the country’s mineral resources, and by enforcing strict anti-corruption measures. In addition, Mogae displayed leadership in responding to the HIV and AIDS threat by combating HIV-related stigma and establishing one of Africa’s most comprehensive and progressive programmes for addressing the epidemic. The magazine also noted that the former president continues to be active in the fight against HIV.

A true African leader

While there is far more that could be said about the achievements and ambitions of Festus Mogae, a point that must be stressed is that the example that he set from his very first day as President of Botswana, the superior leadership that he displayed throughout his tenure, and the continued commitment that he has shown to important causes such as HIV and AIDS and poverty, must not simply be admired and applauded. These are qualities that should be worked towards by anyone in a position of power. The leaders of this world have the power to make a difference, as has been shown by Mogae. It is simply a matter of priorities and motivation. In the words of Mogae, “One more day of delayed action is a day too late for our people…Our people are crying out for help. Let us respond while there is time”.

Jonathan Mundell is the Director: HIV & AIDS Unit at Consultancy Africa Intelligence. Write to him at jonathan.mundell@consultancyafrica.com

The March edition of the HIV & AIDS in Africa Newsletter is republished here with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political, and economic happenings in Africa. For more information see http://www.consultancyafrica.com or http://www.ngopulse.org/press-release/consultancy-africa-intelligence. Alternatively, visit http://www.consultancyafrica.com/promo2 to take advantage of CAI’s free, no obligation, 3-month trial to the company’s Standard Report Series.