She sits up there; on a pedestal with the greatest women to have emerged from this country. The modest and down-to-earth Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba is on the verge of landing the highest international position by a citizen should she be elected the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. Endorsements are coming thick and fast. KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO reports
She is among the most highly sought after women in the world at the moment. Africa wants her to be the next Secretary General of the Commonwealth and close observers are convinced that not only does she have what it takes to succeed; she has some slight edge over three other contenders.
At her offices in block three, Gaborone on Friday morning the radiant, glowing and relaxed woman we meet is anything close to what we had expected. Donning a contemporary German print blue dress with a matching semi-formal royal blue blazer, the beautiful woman who ushers us into the offices oozes confidence and sheer zeal, that is as contagious to everyone around the small office as it looks on her.
She immediately invites us to a secluded corner in the office, which by presentation looks like it’s her usual place of high level meetings and formal engagements. Without wasting time, Masire-Mwamba assumes her best posture, signalling her readiness to begin to tell her story.
Hot off the press this week is that the African Union has endorsed Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth.
The decision although made at the African Union summit in South Africa in June was only made official on Friday and a computer mouse click into the African body’s website confirms this. There, written in black and white under decisions on African candidature with the international system by the AU Executive Council, the AU states that it endorses: “For the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth for the period 2016-2020 during the elections scheduled to take place in November 2015 in Malta, the candidature of Mrs Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of the Republic of Botswana”.
Masire-Mwamba is the only candidate from Africa so far. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has also thrown its weight behind her at its summit held in Gaborone recently.
The government of Botswana has also taken the decision to support and sponsor Masire-Mwamba as Botswana’s candidate for the position. This trust and immense support bestowed upon Masire-Mwamba by not only her countrymen but by fellow Africans is overwhelming and could tempt anyone into concluding that victory is certain, but flattering as it may Masire-Mwamba is leaving no stone unturned in her quest to get to the top office of the 53-member organisation. “The challenge now is how to convince other countries outside of Africa that I am the right candidate for the job,” she said.
Getting to the top
Masire-Mwamba, who is seen as a favourite by some observers (three other candidates have so far joined her in the race) served as the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General under Kamalesh Sharma for six years. Her portfolio included advising the Secretary General on matters of political, human rights, legal and youth affairs. But in addition, she also assisted members to oversee projects in those areas.
The Deputy General post gave her an opportunity to work in a diverse organisation which not only exposed her to opportunities but also bring forth challenges, the two of which nurtured her leadership skills and grew her. “I have to learn to cope and adjust to the new environment,” she said. She lauded the high level of professionalism that she was exposed to in the Commonwealth, saying part of what enabled her to succeed in her position was the concentrated efforts and commitment to pull through together as a team that is the norm in the organisation.
As a woman, holding such a big position as the Deputy Secretary General had its own challenges. She had to balance family commitments with work. As a mother, she had the challenge of ensuring that her children received the much needed guidance and support from her as young adults who were discovering life. Difficult as it may have been, sacrifices and adjustments were made which she says not only enabled them to pull through as a family but also made her.
Secretary General Position
In her own words, Masire-Mwamba says she thinks she is ready to be the Commonwealth Secretary General. However, she does not by any chance undermine the challenge ahead. Having overseen most of the organisation’s critical programmes, she says, she has gained an appreciation of the challenges facing the Commonwealth and insights into the potential, portfolio of the organisation.
Her vision for the Commonwealth is to initiate and promote initiatives, which will enhance the relevance of the organisation and ensure support and effective engagement with member states.
Masire-Mwamba says she believes that the experience and exposure she got while serving as the deputy SG makes her the most suitable candidate. She believes that even as the Commonwealth pursues its political values, it should lend a credible voice in the discourse of global development issues and play a special role in championing the issues affecting small states and vulnerable communities.
As an African, she says, it is good that the continent is at an interesting point whereby it’s working hard to promote peace and stability among member states and says should she ascend to the Commonwealth’s top office she will advance this cause further. She is also happy that the continent is making strides in other areas of developments as breakthroughs in certain fields like ICT continue to be reported.
“My role will be to champion the success stories of Africa and address its challenges,” she says.
According to Masire-Mwamba, as a woman there is no how one can enjoy being successful without sacrificing at home and for this she is forever grateful for the role and support her family has had in her journey to the top.
Should she ascend to the top office Masire-Mwamba says she plans to promote the Commonwealth, giving visibility to the numerous initiatives that it undertakes for its members. She is worried that big as it is the Commonwealth is not really a known entity. “Among the key areas I plan to address is the issue of advocacy and publicly talking about the Commonwealth and what it stands for,” she says.
As a 50-year-old organisation, the Commonwealth should highlight and heighten its purpose and relevance in the contemporary world, she says.
SKILLS & EXPERIENCE: HIGHLIGHTS
2008 – 2014 Deputy Secretary General, Commonwealth Secretariat.
2003 -2007 Chief Executive Officer, Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority
1999 – 2002 Botswana Telecommunications Corporation: Assistant Engineer to Group Manager
1998- 1999 Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, London: Business Development