NAIROBI, Kenya Dec. 6, 2010— -- The slim, fit-looking president of Botswana -- considered one of Africa's most eligible bachelors -- says he is finally ready to get married but made it clear that overweight women need not apply.
President Ian Khama, 57, has never been married, but at a political party meeting last month he said his top requirement for a future wife is that she needs to be tall, slim and beautiful – in a country known for short, heavy set women.
To drive the point home he pointed to the Assistant Minister of Local Government Botlhogile Tshreletso and said, "I don't want one like this one. She may fail to pass through the door, breaking furniture with her heavy weight and even break the vehicle's shock absorbers."
The crowd, including the minister who had been singled out, reportedly laughed at the president's comments.
Khama claims he's been too busy running the country to find a wife, and has dispatched presidential aides to find a suitable mate.
The president's status as a bachelor is of general national concern. Khama, elected in 2009, is not only president, he's also the chief of the Bamangwato people, Botswana's largest ethnic group. Marriage is a requirement of tribal tradition, something that Khama, so far, has defied.
Khama's standing as the president as well as a prominent chief has virtually ruled out scolding him for his attitude towards women, and no womens' groups in the country have publicly criticized him for his comments.
The chairwoman of the woman's wing of Khama's ruling party even proposed he marry current Miss Botswana, Emma Wareus, a runner-up in the Miss World pageant. Others said his comments were simply meant to be a joke.
But there is much discussion of whether Khama's remarks.
"The angle everyone cared about was that he was looking for wife," said a journalist who works for the national newspaper Botswana Gazette, who covers politics and asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the president's personal life. "Some were saying it was a joke. Some were saying it wasn't a joke. He meant what he said."
But critics say joke or not, the president's comments were uncalled for and sexist.
"There were some critics that said he shouldn't have said the assistant minister was fat," the reporter said. "He should withdraw his statement because it's negative against women."
Khama has always been a bit of a rebel in following traditions. A certified pilot and former army commander, he flies Botswana's version of Airforce 1 on official trips. He's also known to be somewhat of a fitness fanatic. Even his birth was controversial. His father, Seretse Khama was deposed as the Bamangwato chief and exiled by the British in 1951 because he married Khama's mother, a white British woman.