Botswana’s Ian Khama was sworn in for another term as president today after a landslide election victory in the world’s largest diamond producer.
Khama, the son of the southern African country’s founding president, took over the top post last year and will serve for a 5-year term after the governing Botswana Democratic Party extended its parliamentary majority.
The BDP has won every election since independence from Britain in 1966.
The party swept 45 of 57 constituencies, and about 54 % of the popular vote, against just over 20 % for the Botswana National Front.
Khama, 56, overcame divisions within his own party but faces a tougher task to revitalise an economy battered by a global crisis that has seen demand for diamonds, which account for 40 % of the economy, slashed.
Also known for its sprawling wildlife reserves and Kalahari desert, the country of just 1.8 million people faces another double-digit contraction in the 2009/10 financial year.
In an inauguration speech outside parliament in the capital Gaborone, Khama urged the private sector to work with the government to boost growth.
“While optimistic about our future, I remain conscious of the challenges brought on by the global financial crisis,” he said in front of ambassadors, after deciding against a lavish ceremony to try save costs.
“In this connection, the private sector must redouble its efforts in a spirit of partnership with government to grow the economy.”
Botswana’s economy is expected to rebound as diamond demand recovers in 2010, with investors looking for a return to the prudent financial management that made it one of Africa’s gems, in a sharp contrast to neighbouring Zimbabwe, which is crippled by political and economic turmoil.
Khama, an ex-soldier and vocal critic of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, appealed to communities to help fight poverty and vowed to stick to principles of democracy and freedom.
“We will work with our SADC (Southern African Development Community) colleagues to ensure that these ideals become a culture in our region and the continent as a whole,” he said.
Botswana has long been considered one of the least corrupt nations in Africa and, before the crisis hit, had the highest sovereign ratings on the continent.
It has won wide praise for its battle against one of the worst AIDS crises in the world, offering drugs and other treatment to contain an epidemic estimated to have infected one in three adults.
However, the downturn has seen debt soar, and concern about human rights linger.
Botswana faced international scrutiny in 2006 when its highest court ruled it had illegally forced its San Bushmen off their ancestral lands, and in 2007 the government banned 17 people, mostly foreign journalists and human rights activists from the country.
Pic: President Ian Khama of Botswana