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Book Review – Masire: Memoirs of an African Democrat

Posted on | August 11, 2009 | Comments Off on Book Review – Masire: Memoirs of an African Democrat

Title: Masire: Memoirs of an African Democrat

Author: Quett Ketumile Joni Masire

Pages: 368

Who would like it: People interested in African politics, nation building, democracy, and Botswana

Who wouldn’t like it: People that get bogged down in details

Memoirs of an African Democrat is the autobiography of Botswana’s first Vice President and second President, Sir Quett Masire.  Akin to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Masire played a major role as a founding father of Botswana.  In his autobiography, Masire provides a detailed, eloquent, and forthright account of Botswana culture and politics from gaining independence, nation building, and the trials and successes of his time as Vice President and President of Botswana.  His autobiography takes you through his childhood and young-adulthood living in Kanye, Botswana under his chief and British colonialism.  Masire was then part of the Legislative Council, the transitionary government between colonial and independent rule, where he met Seretse Khama.  From there Masire was a key in the political and economic development of Botswana as Vice President (1966-1980) and President (1980-1988).  Masire then embarks in the world of international politics, helping to mediate some of Africa’s most challenging crises including the Rwandan Genocide and Congo collapse.

Personally, I really enjoyed the book.  There is a lot of detail of names, dates, places, and events.  I got a bit bogged down in some of the economics chapters, but I really enjoyed his chapters on nation building and international relations and the book as a whole.  I appreciate the honesty and detail with which Masire wrote.  He really holds nothing back in his opinion of people, be it nice or not so nice.  You get the impression that you are reading truly how he feels, which is rare among politicians.  He is quick to admit where he made mistakes and equally stubborn in voicing how his opinion differed and was not followed.  You feel like you’re having a conversation with a real person, and I really appreciated his honest tone.

Botswana has a really unique history, especially in Africa.  It has had a stable, multi-party democracy since independence, which was achieve peacefully.  Shortly after independence, diamonds were discovered.  This wealth was directed into the government, which was then spent on education, infrastructure, and health care.  Now there is nearly a 100% literacy rate, and, while the country continues to battle with HIV/AIDS, retrovirals are covered 100% by the Government.  Corruption is basically non-existent.  Masire’s autobiography is a fascinating account of how a country, being one of the poorest in the world with virtually no experience in democracy and international politics, can carve a space for itself, surrounded by apartheid southern Africa and turn into what it is today.  It boggles the mind to think about how one would make choices having no experience in democracy and international relations.  From simple things like what should the flag and shield look like to deciding how many representatives should be elected, drafting a constitution, and how to deal with being a landlocked country in the middle of apartheid.  The economic decisions made by Masire are clearly why Botswana is where it is today.  Masire’s account of how he made these choices, what he learned along the way, and the accounts of how the country grew are fascinating stories.

Masire also gives an intimate portrayal of Sereste Khama, the first president and beloved son of Botswana, who was exiled for marrying an English woman.  For more on Khama’s story, check out The Colour Bar.  However, Masire gives the perspective only a life-long friend could give in his remarkably honest style.  I actually preferred Masire’s more honest approach than Williams’ in Colour Bar, as she tried to dance around many of delicate issues of tribalism and race.  I feel Masire’s honest approach to the issues of race and tribes allows the reader to be more honest with themself and gets straight to issues, rather than dancing around political correctness.

As a whole, I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in African politics, nation building, democracy, and Botswana.  If you’re likely to get bogged down in details and just don’t care about WHY something happened, this is likely not the book for you.  But, if you like to understand the why behind how things are, you’ll appreciate Masire’s style.

On Masire: Memoirs of an African Democrat


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