Botswana’s bachelor President Ian Khama is rated the most popular head of state in southern Africa, at least according to a sub-Saharan African countries Gallup survey from last year.
The 59-year old leader scored an 81 per cent approval rate, ranking sixth in the entire continent behind Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, Yayi Boni of Benin, Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, Francois Bozize of Central African Republic and Mahamadou Issoufou on Niger.
“The findings suggest that while local economic conditions do matter, other factors may be more significant drivers of leaders’ ratings, although a deteriorating economic environment can worsen residents’ assessments of their political leader’s performance," states the Gallup report.
"Governance issues, such as the honesty of elections and the judicial system, seem to matter much more in the eyes of most Africans. Other factors, such as political apathy, may play a role as many may not be interested in political affairs and tacitly approve of their leader’s performance,” report says.
The results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted last year in over 35 African countries.
Boitumelo Goodwill Mathe of Ramakgwebane, a village in the northern part of Botswana, suggests accessibility as the reason for Mr Khama’s approval.
“I think he is accessible to the masses,” Mathe told Africa Review.
He added: “Every village has had more than one visit from him and the visits have clearly not been for political gain, but on a social basis.”
Man of the people
Mr Khama's popular President's Housing Appeal where he continues to build houses for destitute persons across the country has earned him so much praise especially with the rural population.
“Obviously the fund for the less privileged was always going to make him popular because it shows he gives himself time to interact with the ordinary Motswana at a social level,” said Kaelo Dintwe of Gaborone.
Interestingly, at some point, Mr Khama would interact with his ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) followers on social network Facebook.
On three successive Sundays, Mr Khama responded to posts on the BDP page which averaged 4,000 visits a day at the time.
The move easily won the 59-year-old leader the “man of the people” title.
“I think it’s an example of the way governance has come closer to the people and the way in which the president is willing to use new media such as Facebook and social platforms like football and other sporting events to demystify the office of the president and to put his finger on the pulse of the nation,” said Joel Ntima of Gaborone.
A fortnight ago, Mr Khama was at the University of Botswana stadium in Gaborone watching army side Mogoditshane Fighters play league leaders Mochudi Centre Chiefs.
“It’s quite interesting because President Khama is one leader that you will see watching football at a stadium with no bodyguard or even riding a bike in the streets of Gaborone and he’s not chauffeured like most leaders,” Ntima added.
President Khama is son of Botswana's founding president Sir Seretse Khama and the fourth president since the country’s independence from Britain 42 years ago. Of the four men, he is the only one who has stayed single through this reign as leader of the diamond-rich nation.
And early this year, he admitted that his regular walkabouts would be a thing of the past if he ties the knot as family would demand time.
Perhaps his bachelorhood could be the reason he is popular among Batswana.
But, while many think Khama’s accessibility may have earned him the kudos, Botswana’s opposition this week reacted strongly to the Gallup survey.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana National Front (BNF) argue the survey is not a true reflection of the mood on the ground.
BCP secretary-general, Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang, says Khama’s purported approval rating of 81 percent is too good to be true.
He is convinced Botswana’s high level of unemployment, high poverty levels, increasing corruption by high profile people, draconian laws, the longest industrial strike this country has ever had - the consequences of which are still being felt, especially in the health and education sectors - should be enough to discredit Khama.
“The country’s global competitiveness has significantly declined during Khama’s term of office,” Gobotswang told The Gazette newspaper this week.
“People are generally unhappy with Chinese domination of the construction industry and also jobs associated with that industry.
“The people are also not happy about the land appropriation policy, where people’s plots are being confiscated by the government because they cannot develop them. These are some of the things that Batswana are not happy with.”
BNF spokesperson Moeti Mohwasa also questioned how the survey was conducted.
“We don’t know the methodology used. The situation on the ground does not reflect what the survey says,” Mohwasa said.
Mohwasa pointed out that the way President Khama treated government workers during the strike last year, his consultation process in general and how he handled the Trade and Liquor Act did not endear him to many people.
“These things showed that Mr Khama is not a messiah as some people believed.
“The intentions of this type of survey (are) to boost his image. We don’t know who these people are and where they come from. Are they credible?”
The Gallup poll is the division of Gallup that regularly conducts public opinion polls in more than 140 countries around the world. Gallup polls are often referenced in the mass media as a reliable and objective audience measurement of public opinion.
In 2005, Gallup began its World Poll, which continually surveys citizens in more than 140 countries, representing 95 per cent of the world’s adult population. General and region-specific questions, developed in collaboration with the world’s leading behavioural economists, are organized into powerful indices and topic areas that correlate with real-world outcomes.