In eight weeks, leaders of 53 Commonwealth nations will choose a new secretary general from four candidates, among whom is Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, one of the country’s brightest governance exports. Mmegi Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI, speaks to the mother of three as she ramps up for the biggest stage of her career
“I was born in Kanye and grew up in Gaborone. My education was in Gaborone up until I went to the United Kingdom for my first degree. I come from a family of six, three boys and three girls.
Because we grew up at a time when the family was moving to Gaborone, I grew up with a lot of cousins and other relatives and that has always been an important part of who I am.
My father was the president of Botswana and a lot of guidance and day-to-day support we learnt from my mother.
She never held political office but she helped shape our political interest and our development path.
I was married in 1990 to Trevor Mwamba who later became the Anglican Bishop of Botswana.
We have three children, the first being Eno who has just finished his Bachelor’s degree and is now working in the UK at Barclays, as well as twin daughters, Seneo and Lukwesa, who are both starting their tertiary, also in the UK.”
“My degree was a bit unusual; Electronics and Physics. There were very few women in that, let alone such a combination! A lot of people would ask me ‘what do you do with that’. What I did do was that I gave effect to both parts and the first job I had was working for a renewable energy project called Botswana Renewable Energy Technology. BRET was focused on the use of solar power and the appropriate technology for energy efficiency. Among others, we focused on reducing deforestation through promoting energy efficient cooking. It was a very hands on job, looking at energy and in particular energy management in our own homes.
After that, I gave effect to the electronics when I joined the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation as an assistant engineer.”
Into the public eye
“When I joined telecomms, the thing that appealed to me was not only the technology, but what you could do with it. Communicating and engaging with people, even those outside the country. Following which, the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA, now part of BITC) caught my attention because I could communicate more closely and directly to the outside world for economic development.
My tenure with BEDIA spanned a five year period beginning in 2003. The Authority had three activities, which were first taking Botswana to the world and showcasing investment opportunities. Second, advocacy in terms of engaging government and the private sector as well as promoting governance and exploring the impact of policy on business. Thirdly was promoting the ‘Botswana is open for business’ concept to help investors come into the country and engage with us.
The Commonwealth is an organisation that focuses on democracy and development. My varied experiences prepared me for the role as Deputy Secretary-General.
The deputy SG position went beyond what I had done before. It required me to engage more in the fields of politics, human rights, youth development and legal affairs. That was the platform from which I engaged with the member states across the Commonwealth.”
A deputy SG’s experience
“One of the areas that left a mark on me was the whole notion of youth development. We promoted youth engagement and participation going beyond youth participation. Young people though appreciative of the many conferences and representatives, had no real say in the decisions. The coming of social media, has allowed young people to give expression to their views about how things should be done and facilitated ready engagement.
At various Head of Governments meetings, I fostered dialogue between the youth and Commonwealth leaders. Young people typically see leaders as being far removed from them but we developed very lively and engaging fora.”
The Office of the Commonwealth
“The Commonwealth was formed about 50 years ago; how does it keep up with modern trends and challenges? One of the challenges in the Commonwealth is that not enough is known about the organisation. Research shows that a lot of people are ignorant about it. It needs to redefine its relevance and look at how it engages the global community and have a meaningful role to play in the development agenda.
Campaigning for the top
The way we have approached the campaign has been to first of all to engage Member States. We have been attending high-level meetings such as the last United Nations General Assembly as part of the Botswana delegation and also the African Union in Johannesburg, where the Council of Ministers endorsed my candidacy.
The campaign has gained momentum and we look forward to the people of Botswana rallying behind it. The starting point was a corporate event we held recently and the growing media interest.
Outreach events to engage the youth and women of Botswana are also planned.
We will shortly be embarking upon our next round of international travels and we will be calling on the African Union, Asia and hopefully the Caribbean and Europe before we go to the elections.
Through these high-level visits, we hope to hear and appreciate the voices of the Commonwealth Members on their views and to solicit their support for the election.
An election in November
“The elections are going to be held at the end of November during the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Malta. The voting is done by the heads of state. Thus far, there are three other candidates from the Caribbean, of whom one is a woman. They are all strong and credible candidates.
From Team ‘Mma-Skay’ we believe that we too have a strong and credible candidate and whichever way the election goes, the Commonwealth should have a sturdy hand to lead it into the future.
Given that the elections are held at head of state level, that makes it difficult to predict the outcome at this stage.
It’s important to send a signal to the global community to say we have a candidate that we believe in. Here’s someone that understands the challenges and opportunities of the Commonwealth.
A torch for bomme
We have so many Batswana women who are doing amazing things in the international space such as Sanji Monageng at the ICC, Mehmooda Ebrahim-Carstens at the UN and Sheila Tlou at UNAIDS. It would not be novel that a Motswana woman has reached this level, but it would reinforce that we have the ability and are playing a role in both local and regional efforts.
We have Batswana women, at different levels, some working in very difficult and challenging situations and it’s something that we want to support.
This would be one way of championing and celebrating their success. More and more Batswana women are putting themselves up for international positions and there’s an important lesson that you may not always get the position. We also have to fight for these positions just like our men have done. That’s why our campaign is not on the gender card, but readily appreciates the support that we would bring to this global issue.
In terms of being Motswana, 2016 is a milestone year for us and getting this international position in 2016, the same year that the country turns 50 would be incredible. That probably explains why we have gained much support from Batswana. One of the strong pillars of the Commonwealth is democracy and human rights and as a country, we have achieved very significant milestones that we need to continue to invest in along with the rest of the world. We are not going to the Commonwealth saying we have all the answers. We are going as a country that has committed itself to the values of the Commonwealth to see how to enhance our proposition.