Botswana has inaugurated Mokgweetsi Masisi as its fifth president, in a ceremony designed to highlight a smooth transition of power in one of Africa’s strongest democracies.
The ex-vice president took over on Sunday from Ian Khama, who stepped down after his term limit – 10 years – was reached. Elections are scheduled for next year.
In his first address to the nation, Masisi vowed to focus on tackling unemployment, which stands at about 20 percent.
“Botswana faces a myriad of challenges, such as unemployment, poverty, crime, HIV/AIDs, alcohol and drug abuse, amongst others,” he said.
“Therefore, my top priorities as a president of this country will be to address the problem of unemployment, especially among the young people who constitute the majority of our population.”
Donald Rasikela, one of those unemployed listening to that speech, told Al Jazeera that he hoped the president would live up to his word.
“My expectation is that he will improve government efficiency in order to create job opportunities for the youth,” he said.
“I hope he will improve social services to deal with employment.”
Some opposition members of parliament skipped the event, partly because of a rare corruption scandal that involves the national petroleum fund.
Those who did attend say they need to keep the president and his government honest.
“We are going to continue playing our oversight role, continue to seek more clarity from the president in terms of the way forward … how he intends to deal with unemployment because this country has been experiencing what we call jobless growth,” Phenyo Butale, an opposition politician, told Al Jazeera.
Vote next year
Masisi has 18 months to assert his authority within the ruling Democratic Party before national elections in October 2019.
Botswana gets to choose its members of parliament and then the party with the majority of votes, in turn, elects a president. Masisi hopes to be that man.
“Many people are saying that they don’t think that the new president is going to move very far from former president Ian Khama’s socialist policies,” said Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Botswana’s capital, Gaborone.
“Khama was concerned with poverty eradication, particularly in rural areas. So people expect that President Masisi will keep in line with that, but they also hope he’ll have his own ideas and vision.”
His first test will be this week when he names his vice president and cabinet.
Botswana has enjoyed strong economic growth and a stable multi-party system since gaining independence from the UK just over 50 years ago.
It is one of the world’s largest producers of diamonds, but Masisi believes the country is too reliant on the gem and wants to diversify trade.