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Page last updated at 07:53 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 08:53 UK

Botswana's new high flyer

Seretse Khama Ian Khama

By Letlhogile Lucas
BBC News, Gaborone

Botswana's new president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, is a man who likes to fly high.

A general and pilot in the army before he entered politics, he insists on flying military aircraft himself when on official trips.

It is an issue that caused much controversy during his 10-year tenure as deputy president of arguably Africa's most successful country.

The official opposition has bitterly complained, as by law only serving officers should fly military planes.

You have let me succeed my father as king
Seretse Khama Ian Khama quoting from the Bible at his inauguration

But Mr Khama, the son of Botswana's renowned first leader Seretse Khama, has stuck to his guns and still take the controls.

During his inauguration on Tuesday, Ian Khama made a Biblical allusion to his dynastic roots.

"That night, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and asked him, 'What would you like me to give you?'" he said, quoting from 1 Kings.

"Solomon answered: 'Oh Lord God, you have let me succeed my father as king, even though I am very young and don't know how to rule. So give me the wisdom I need to rule your people with justice, and to know the difference between good and evil.'"

Thousands of people, dressed in the national colours of black, blue and white, attended the short ceremony where Festus Mogae stepped down after serving two five-year terms.

Some have criticised the fact that Ian Khama is inheriting his father's mantle, without an election - as parliament appoints the president.

But MPs recently rejected a call for the president to be elected directly by the people, so Ian Khama will lead the ruling party into elections next year.

And the crowds joked about how the smooth transition of power bucked recent African history and was in marked contrast to the current dramas in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Bucking tradition

By virtue of his birth, Ian Khama is a paramount chief of the Bamangwato people, the largest ethnic group in Botswana.

A tourist in Botswana
Wildlife is Ian Khama's passion

However, although made a chief in 1979, he has never assumed the responsibilities of traditional leadership in his village.

He has bucked tradition too, by not marrying, something culturally expected of paramount chiefs.

Mr Khama was born in 1953 in the UK, where his father, had married an English woman, Ruth Williams.

Their romance scandalised both nations and Seretse Khama was deposed as Bangwato chief and exiled by the British.

But the family returned in 1956, 10 years before Botswana gained independence.

Fitness fanatic

Ian Khama attended school in his father's village of Serowe, in the central district, before proceeding to study in other countries including Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, Swaziland, Switzerland and the UK where he graduated from the Sandhurst Military Academy.

After completing his studies he began a long and distinguished military career which saw him rise through the ranks.

He is credited with playing a pivotal role in developing the army into a professional force, which participates in peacekeeping missions, disaster relief and anti-poaching activities.

Wildlife, for which Botswana is renowned as well as diamonds, is his unrelenting passion, and he is also a fitness fanatic.

Otherwise, he is said to be a quiet person.

Even those close to him in the ruling party have complained that it is difficult to know what he is thinking and what his next move would be.

However, he says he will continue the policies of his predecessor - a man he described as a democrat who upheld the rule of law.




SEE ALSO
Law enrages Botswana bar owners
16 Feb 06 |  Africa
Country profile: Botswana
29 Mar 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Botswana
29 Mar 08 |  Country profiles


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