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Botswana President Endorses Zimbabwe's 'Long Overdue' Change in Leadership

Zimbabwe New President
Zimbabwe New President

Botswana President Ian Khama has publicly applauded the resignation of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who he has blamed for the country’s “huge deficit in democracy,” and the lack of development in the 37-years of independence, which he said “have been lost.”

President Khama, who has been among the few African heads of state who had openly questioned and challenged President Mugabe continued leadership, despite his age and deteriorating economy, said Mr. Mugabe’s resignation Tuesday was “long overdue.”

In a phone interview with VOA’s Peter Clottey following his attendance to the inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who assumed the presidency of Zimbabwe, Friday, Mr. Khama gave his reasons for why he was not saddened by Mr. Mugabe’s departure from the political scene.

“Because for too long has he presided over poor governance in that country which has resulted in the state it finds itself in today, and with millions of its people having to seek opportunities in other countries,” explained Khama.

Zimbabweans have left their country in huge numbers to seek better opportunities in other countries, including Botswana. Khama said, like many other heads of state who continue to cling on to power, way after their mandated years or effectiveness, Mugabe had stayed due to “self-benefit, self-interest,” losing sight of “why they were put in those positions.”

Said Khama, “Like in a case like Mugabe, he was prepared just to see his country going to ruins and he was just blind to that fact, just to stay on in power.”

Referring to Mugabe’s expected resignation speech, in which he instead spoke of how he would improve things, Khama said that that was yet another sign of Mugabe’s detachment from the reality.

“If you heard that statement that he gave the other day, that evening, where he was going to announce and say now we are going to make a new start and fix things and he’ll preside over his Congress in December, you just knew that this old man had lost it.”

With a new president now at the helm in Zimbabwe, Khama said he is hopeful for a better life for many Zimbabweans, including those who have left. He said he hopes to see them return to rebuild their country.

“Like I said earlier on, they’ve [Zimbabweans] been long suffering and I know being a neighbor that that country has immense potential, and I am pretty sure if [President] Mnangagwa really sets his sights on encouraging investment through providing a window of opportunity, embracing democracy, you are going to find domestic and foreign investors coming back to that country in a big way. And I think very soon they will be back on their feet again,” said Khama.

Khama said there is no going back for Zimbabweans who demonstrated in huge numbers leading up to Mr. Mugabe’s demise, that they wanted a better life and accountability in government.

“I think they have tasted, even if it’s just been for the week, they have tasted what democracy can bring them,” said Khama.

“They have been able to go to the streets without being beaten up, they have been able to voice their opinions about President Mugabe when he was still in office, without any crackdown, the papers have been able to write whatever they wrote, so they experienced it. So I would say to them, they should hang on, for their lives to this, what they have already tasted, and they should build on it and not allow politicians to ruin the lives of what was happening in the past.”

Using his own country as a model, Khama said if Zimbabwe’s government under Mugabe had shed its years of “political intolerance,” allowed more open and even dissenting views, then its image of a legitimate government, would not have been questioned.

“If, I think, they had embraced democracy, and done for the people what I have really tried to do here, I hope we have been successful in doing that, then they would have been rewarded, by winning elections without having to resort to rigging them.”