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Mogae and McDavis

His Excellency Festus Gontebanye Mogae, the former president of Botswana, (left) and Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis (right)

Photographer: Pat Oden

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Former Botswanan president speaks at Baker


His Excellency Festus Gontebanye Mogae, the former president of Botswana, spoke to a packed house at Baker University Center Monday, Sept. 27, as part of a three-day tour of Ohio University’s Athens campus.

Flanked by the U.S. and Botswana flag at the ballroom’s podium, the charismatic African leader, 71, lectured on the subject of African leadership and socioeconomic development, as well as the crucial requirement for the success of a nation:

“The quality of leadership is the most important variable in the development of a country,” he said.

Mogae is living proof of this rule.

As the third president of the Republic of Botswana from 1998 to 2008, his democratic government fought against poverty, unemployment and the spread of HIV/AIDS. He helped pull Botswana’s people from poverty to middle-income status, mended the constitution to better represent the country’s ethnic groups, and encouraged the development of a free press.

In 2008, Time magazine called Mogae “Africa’s good leader.”

“We as Africans must admit a great many things went wrong,” he said. “But I must admit, not everything went as bad as the press said it did.”

Mogae discussed the resource curse of developing African nations, and how Botswana avoided it: When neighboring countries started discovering precious minerals, Botswana anticipated their own finds by drawing up a transparent investment plan.

“We agreed that if we discovered minerals, they’d be used for the development of the country as a whole,” Mogae said, alluding to Botswana’s diamond mines. “Education and training would be priority number one when we spend our minerals, and that’s exactly what happened.”

An honors graduate in economics from Oxford University, Mogae held positions in Botswana’s Ministry of Finance, the International Monetary Fund, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He is currently the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change.

During the question and answer segment of the lecture, Mogae was asked about Botswana’s reaction to the election of the first African-American in the Oval Office, U.S. President Barack Obama.

“We reacted to the election the same way as when Ghana made progress at the World Cup,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience. “But I think he has a difficult act to follow, because (former U.S. President George W.) Bush has done more for Africa than any president in modern times.”

Mogae’s visit to Ohio University is being sponsored by the Center for International Studies, College of Business, Office of the President and the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education and Human Services.