Sir Ketumile Masire, Nelson Mandela and the free market foundation

Former president Nelson Mandela. PHOTO: AFP

Ketumile Masire (2001): “This is the time to demonstrate to the world that, as fellow Africans, we are capable of working together so that we can all enjoy peace, freedom and dignity.”

FMF was saddened to hear of the death last week of statesman Sir Ketumile Masire, President of Botswana from 1980 to 1998. Masire is widely credited with transforming Botswana’s economy, and promoting democracy and inclusivity.

Sir Ketumile Masire was the recipient of the FMF’s 2000 Free Market Award for his “exceptional contribution to the cause of economic freedom”, presented in April 2001 at an event attended by Nelson Mandela.

Michael O’Dowd, then-FMF chairman, presenting the award, said: “Some people may think it strange that a free market organisation should be honouring somebody for his acts as the head of a government, but this is not so. It is true, unfortunately, that free market organisations spend a lot of time criticising the actions of governments but they are not opposed to governments as such. On the contrary, we fully realise that free markets can only exist under the aegis of a good government.”

In accepting the award, Masire said: “One of the key initiatives that I took before leaving office was to put in place the process of charting a long-term vision for Botswana.” Critical elements of Masire’s vision included: “…an educated and informed nation; a prosperous, productive and innovative nation; an open, democratic and accountable nation; a moral and tolerant nation…” He added: “This is critical for fostering an environment in which free and uninterrupted economic activity can take place.”

O’Dowd: “Over 35 years, Botswana has had the highest rate of economic growth in Africa … Botswana has proved that there is nothing about Africa, neither in the character of its people, nor in its traditions, nor in its history, that closes to them the prospect of joining the first world.”

Masire pointed out that an important factor that contributed to Botswana’s sustained economic growth was an “unflinching commitment to public sector reform” He added: “There is indisputable evidence that … the absence of bureaucracy in the public sector enhances private sector development.”

“Standard international comparisons show Botswana as being the freest economy on the continent of Africa”, noted O’Dowd. “What then did Botswana do right? Botswana maintained all the institutions and practices which constitute a free market economy. It consistently protected and respected property rights and nationalised nothing. This is crucial. It upheld a proper system of law under which contracts are dependably enforceable. It refrained from interfering with the day to day operation of the economy by means of controls and it refrained from setting up grandiose state enterprises as the old South African government did. This has been the road to success followed by every successful economy in the twentieth century, and it was the road followed by Botswana.”



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