Saturday, October 24, 2020

A fresh flower blooms in Parliament

There have been a lot of words used to describe Bogolo Kenewendo in the last few days and even previously – fresh-faced, impressive and articulate. She certainly seems to be all those things. On Friday mid-morning, SUNDAY STANDARD business editor VICTOR BAATWENG chit-chatted with the newly Specially Elected Member of Parliament who also remains one of the few locals featured by Bloomberg.  

When Speaker of the National Assembly Gladys Kokorwe called out names of nominees for the two Special Elected Members of Parliament (SEMPs), one them was that of Bogolo Kenewendo ÔÇô a budding trade economist who has now landed herself a job as the youngest member of the 11th Parliament. 

Following the nomination and subsequent solemn declaration on Thursday, we made a quick and urgent request to interview the “fresh” honourable MP. We both settled for Friday before noon, to allow her to attend other pressing matters thereafter. 

As agreed, we met just outside buildings shortly after the Friday session of Parliament which convenes in the morning. The interview of course happens after a few stops of meet-and-greet by well wishers, members of the public, her fellow MPs and journalists as we walk from the main Parliament building towards the library located at Parliamentary Annexure II. 

Described by many as one of Botswana’s keenly watched rising thought leader, our interest was to find out why this young lady accepted to become a Special Elected Member of Parliament. What made the offer so irresistible? 

But before we could even ask that question, as we reach the library, we first seek to understand who Kenewendo is and what makes some people liken her to the likes of UK Prime Minister Theresa May and US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Having made it from the dusty backwater of Boteti to the corridors of power in Gaborone, Bogolo seems to also have drawn her motivation from her parents, Baletlanye and Kgalaleo Kenewendo. The duo, which still lives in rural Motopi, has their family leadership roles which impress the young Kenewendo. 

She starts by explaining that she is the last-born of three children from Motopi – a tiny village in the Boteti Sub-District. The nearest town to this village is Maun which is 80km away while a ride from it to Gaborone is an unforgiving 700+ kilometres. 

Kenewendo admits as we start our conversation that she owes part of her world outlook to an upbringing in the rural Motopi. Perhaps that explains why she indicated that as she finally arrives in Parliament through special nomination; her constituents would be none other than rural areas dwellers. As expected, she also wants to be the voice for women and youth – a rather marginalised group in Botswana over the years. 

Kenewendo strongly believes that there is low representation of women in leadership and decision making positions across the spectrum, which sometimes delays and limits girls’ ability to dream. She then goes on to share that part of her reason to accept the nomination of SEMP was to ensure that she did not want to appear to be not “walking the talk”. 

“What would be the use of advocating for youth and women to be considered for decision making positions and then when an opportunity for me, as a youth and woman comes to do just that then I chicken out?” Kenewendo rhetorically asked. 

While prophets of doom and armchair commentators might predict her career fall before she even starts, Kenewendo does not foresee any downfall. She is positive in every sentence she makes. Her eyes are focused on building an inclusive growth for everyone through an improved legislation. Although she confirms that she is a card-carrying member of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Kenewendo says she does not regard herself as a politician but rather a legislature. She sees herself following in the footsteps of current Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo who is hardly seen at political rallies. 

“I have always maintained that I am into policy making … and there is no better place to make policy related decision than Parliament”. 

Kenewendo’s academic and professional record speaks for herself. She holds an MSc in International Economics from the University of Sussex in the UK. That was after she completed her BA in Economics at the University of Botswana (UB). While at the University of Botswana, Kenewendo also studied with the Pitzer College in the US. She studied European Integration at Tor Vergata at the Jean Monnet international Summer School in Rome, Italy, and did Economic Freedom Philosophy at the Foundation for Economic Education.

She is also an alumna of several prestigious programmes including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office International Leaders Programme 2016 designed to forge links and build cooperation with international leaders from around the world and a Chevening Scholarship alumni 2012/13 group.

Following her encounter with the US First Lady Michelle Obama during her Yale pre-Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2011, she formed the Molaya Kgosi Women Empowerment. 

As our conversation swings between developmental challenges that women and youth in this country face, to her decision to become an MP, Kenewendo is quick to note that she does not have any ambitions to stand for a political office ÔÇô at least for now. 

At the same time, she has ambitions to become a Cabinet minister. She singles out her top three ministries where she feels her skills would be useful. 

“I am a trade economist. So obviously I would like to serve either at trade or finance ministries. But then again, I am more into youth matters, so the ministry of youth will also be ideal,” she said.

Shortly thereafter, Kenewendo put it to our face that such an ambition should not be mistaken as a plan to topple current ministers. She explains that, such is just a wish like any other, further stating that if the President was to appoint her to one of those ministries she would, however, gladly accept.  

Before her return to Botswana, Kenewendo worked in the ministry of trade and industry in Ghana, and was previously employed as an economic consultant at Econsult Botswana.

With a smile, a chuckle and a little bit of youthful earnestness, she ends our interview by indicating her intentions to open up her social media pages to the youth for better interaction. Once she is settled in her new job, Kenewendo looks forward to social media chit-chat with her “constituents” as she put it. 

Top on her list is likely to be some of the most complex high level economic stuff such as government budgets, public debt, international trade as well as everyday life challenges such as unemployment that the youth and women in Botswana face. 

At the age of 29, and the youngest MP to date, Kenewendo will seeks to address such issues going forward … and if President Ian Khama was to decide to reshuffle Cabinet and elevate Kenewendo to a position of minister or junior minister, she would then become both the youngest MP and Cabinet Minister. 

Currently the youngest member of Khama’s Cabinet is 40-year-old Minister of Tertiary Education, Research Science and Technology and Research Dr Alfred Madigele while Botswana Congress Party (BCP) MP for Selebi Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse was the youngest MP at 32 years before Kenewendo claimed her spot in Parliament. 

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