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Mma Mohohlo: Four decades of diligence

MBONGENI MGUNI
Fallen luminary: Linah Mohohlo and President Masisi PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE
As the presidency leads an effort to reinvigorate the civil service under the Reset agenda, Linah Mohohlo, who passed away last week, is remembered as an icon of diligence and excellence in public duty. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports

In those days in early 1976, when Linah Mohohlo joined the civil service, coming from the private sector, there was no such thing as ‘system e down’.The Republic was barely 10-years-old and in need of dedicated builders at all levels, an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.

The Bank of Botswana (BoB) that she was joining to provide secretarial duties, was barely a year old, having been established in 1975. In those years, the bank was located in the Main Mall at Embassy Chambers, far removed from the sprawling complex many know it as today.

In her farewell speech five years ago, Mohohlo remembered this early period.

“Documents were first hand-written, then copy typed on typewriters, no laptop computers, no Internet.

“Corrections were made using Tippex and the like, calculators were in use, no spreadsheets. “Everything in hard copy, no email.

“It was tedious and time-consuming, hence concentration and accuracy were paramount and became ingrained in the system.

“It was from these vintage processes that we acquired hands-on experience on some key operations and policy aspects of the bank.”

In her early 20s, the Ramotswa native had joined the BoB as secretary to the Deputy Governor in the then Administration Department but would rise through the ranks on sheer diligence and a hunger to learn as she realised the critical mandate the central bank had to play in building Botswana.

“Make no mistake, although we were pioneer employees, promotions were not a matter of simply being in the right place at the right time,” Mohohlo recalled at her farewell in December 2016.

“We worked hard every step up the ladder of career progression.”

Using every opportunity for training provided by the bank, she climbed the ladder quickly, rising to board secretary by 1982, before later being promoted to deputy director of the Research Department in 1988 and spearheading the establishment of the Financial Markets Department in 1989.

By the late 1990s, she was deputy governor and in 1999 when the late Baledzi Gaolathe left to become Minister of Finance, she was appointed the governor of the BoB, the first woman in such a position for many countries around the world.

Mohohlo’s rise from the ground up, the grit she had to learn and the experience at all levels of the bank’s hierarchy and departments, from a typist to Governor, moulded her diligence in the top office. Her approach would rub some the wrong way. They felt the new governor was too strict, too particular. Too detail-oriented. Too old school. She was building a new organisational character and culture. Some feathers were naturally being ruffled. Her proponents would, however, praise those same characteristics, after all, she was ultimately in charge of billions of pula as government’s banker. One lapse in judgement over policy or even numbers could cost the country dearly.

Former BoB board chair, Gordon Cunliffe gave some insights on the former governor at her farewell. “Over the years, Ms Mohohlo has made a significant impact on the bank as a practical but visionary leader, inculcating a high-performance culture embracing and demanding the highest standards of loyalty and devotion to duty.

“No doubt she would, if anyone dropped the ball, explode and take a very hard line on issues she deemed to be important and she always defended her position with a certain amount of vigour, conviction and perseverance.  “Ultimately, however, this uncompromising attitude towards perfection has always been directed in the very best interests of the bank.” Also at the farewell, Mohohlo’s successor and current governor, Moses Pelaelo noted that the former governor was a proponent of delivery in service.

“As an administrator, Governor Mohohlo is a strict disciplinarian; a stern, business-like, demanding and uncompromising goal-setter with a penchant for tangible and practical delivery.  “It is not the number of names that define an administrator of that

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mettle, but the end result,” he added: “With her familiar expression of ‘chop-chop’ to demand haste in performance, Governor Mohohlo instilled the positive fear of failure to perform that motivates success and, once again, we have to remember that we are what we believe ourselves to be.

“If discipline makes us feel like victims, victims and failures we shall be; but if we seize opportunities of correction and mentoring to grow, we become victors.”

This week, Oduetse Motshidisi, who worked with Mohohlo for 27 years, many of these as deputy governor, told Mmegi the former governor was unrelenting in inculcating a culture of high performance at the bank.

“Mrs Mohohlo presided over the bank at a time of significant institutional, structural and other changes,” said Motshidisi, who is now the CEO of the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority.

“She confronted the challenges by recruiting world-class experts, identifying and investing in the training of talented young Batswana who rose to positions of leadership, not only in the bank but across the entire financial sector and other sectors.

“I remember her as a steadfast, dedicated leader who upheld and demanded the highest standards of excellence.” Motshidisi said the establishment and running of the country’s foreign exchange reserves management function within the bank was Mohohlo’s crowning achievement. “The bank is held in high regard in all aspects of central banking, but especially for its foreign exchange reserves activities.

“In that regard, several central banks in the African region and beyond came for benchmarking visits and usually learned useful lessons for their institutions.”

Mohohlo had a significant impact on the people around her. In her farewell speech in 2016, she gave special thanks to her long term executive assistant, Lefhoko Kgoboko. Kgoboko paid the late governor a special tribute this week. “Mmagwe Tumie was a lady of note,” Kgoboko told Mmegi.

“She taught me to never settle for less, to be confident in whatever I do, to never cry in front of my enemy, to dress well no matter the circumstances, never to allow anyone to put you down. “A hard worker, go-getter, good dance moves, especially mmino wa dikhwaere, she knew mogolokwane very well (electrifying one). “She loved her kids and grandchildren.

“Her legacy will forever be remembered.

“She had the soft side and was also fragile like all of us. May her soul rest in eternal peace.”

Former BoB spokesperson and renowned local author, Andrew Sesinyi also recalls the former governor’s softer side. In his blog, he recalls the 2011 Monetary Policy Statement launch where Mohohlo wore a “spellbinding” outfit.

“I was the director of ceremonies for the first time since joining BoB six months before. I lost my reticence and said to her: “YOU LOOK SPLENDID GOVERNOR.” I won myself a smile and a “Thank you Andrew.”

Mohohlo’s diligence in public service earned her a glowing tribute from President Mokgweetsi Masisi on her passing. Mohohlo’s impacted three presidencies, with Festus Mogae appointing her governor in 1999, Ian Khama appointing her Selebi-Phikwe Revitalisation Coordinator in 2016 and Masisi appointing her the first female Chancellor of the University of Botswana in 2018.

“Her leadership skills and policy-making insight will be greatly missed,” Masisi said.

“She played a pivotal role in refining the banking sector to what it is today.

“As a born and bred Motswana, who craved to see her country’s economy excel, she wrote reports on governance and finance, advising government and the corporate sector.”

Masisi added: “The nation celebrates the extraordinary life of a remarkable woman. There will never be enough words to describe the immense and sterling contribution Mrs Mohohlo made to the development of this country.” Commentators are agreed that Mohohlo leaves a legacy of diligence and excellence in public service, something that the presidency is today fighting to revive in order to spur delivery.



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