The exuberance of youth might be just what the doctor has ordered for Africa. There is no doubt that the zest this minister has for her responsibilities will take the continent far.
Bogolo Joy Kenewendo has hit the ground running in her role as Botswana’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, while making history as the youngest person to be appointed in the position. She, however, takes it all in her stride as she has always wanted to impact people’s lives. Kenewendo’s outlook injects a fresh perspective on how she, and her counterparts in strategic positions, intend on enriching a continent brimming with possibilities. She shares her views on education, finance, empowerment as well as traditional practices.
Q. Are you Africa’s youngest minister, and how does it feel to be “a first” in your career path?
A. I’ve heard rumors that I am the youngest but I have no confirmation. It’s been a great surprise and an honor. I was so humbled by all the good wishes and cheers from around the world. I, however, say youth leadership was the flagship of the political independence and revolution, and so it should be for the economic independence revolution that I believe our generation should lead.
Most of the revolutionary leaders who brought Africa its independence were younger and some of the same age [as me].
Patrice Lumumba was 29 when he was, unfortunately, assassinated as Prime Minister. Kwame Nkrumah, Sir Seretse Khama and Julius Nyerere were in their late 30s, early 40s. Graça Machel was 30 years old when she became Minister of Education in Mozambique.
Q. Why did you choose politics?
A. I have always wanted to do something that I felt could have an impact on people’s lives. I studied Economics and worked as an economist because I believed it was a good choice for those looking to interrogate policy and make informed adjustments to the benefit of all. Where I am at the moment, I get to be part of the highest decision-making body in the country that directly affects people’s lives.
Q. Being young, African and a woman, what does representation mean to you?
A. Representation is very important. We all need to be reminded of what is possible in the world. People from what is termed “backwater villages” need to see the girl from Motopi and be comforted in that you don’t need to come from big cities, or have a “known name”, or be of “a certain age”. If you work hard and represent yourself well, someone will take note. The world is always watching.
Q. Describe your academic/career path and the plans you have for Botswana.
A. I have a BA in Economics and MSc in International Trade and I’m pursuing some more higher learning.
My team and I have plans of making Botswana the startup capital of the region and we are repositioning Botswana as a gateway into the rest of southern Africa.
We are doing so by working on our business reforms, to enable doing business in Botswana and working on a one-stop border post services with our neighboring countries.
We are also investing in transport and ICT infrastructure and of course, providing incentives, including a competitive corporate tax rate of 5% in designated and reserved areas, as well as, government offtake agreements with manufacturers who meet government needs most importantly. We offer hospitality that is synonymous with our proudly Botswana culture, all premised on Botho, democracy, accountability and peace.
Q. Africa has a prominent rural population that often has less civic participation because of lack of resources. What would you say to them?
A. Living in a modern economy doesn’t mean we should abandon some traditional ways of engagement and accountability. We should enhance them and demand for governments to notice them for the purposes of inclusivity.
No government should wish for a disengaged population, it’s in their best interest to ensure inclusivity and, therefore, such efforts should be rewarded. In Botswana, the government holds the rural and traditional courts highly and uses them as a key consultative and engagement/ participation platform.
The kgotla system has now been copied and exported by thought leaders, recognizing Tribal Management of inclusivity, a community spirit and ensuring that each gets the chance to voice his or her opinions, every stage along the way. Echoing the true meaning of lekgotla, “I am because we exist,” which in the West is democracy, ‘for the people, by the people’.
Q. Share your highlights and the most challenging moments you’ve had so far.
A. Leading this ministry and working for the people of Botswana is an everyday highlight. Every moment has been quite intense because I’m aware that the hopes of many rely on this ministry and our cooperation with the rest of government.
I thank God every day for the strength, wisdom and joy (especially in the face of adversity) he gives me to do this role.
My first international engagement following my appointment was to chair a SACU Ministers of Trade meeting which had some high temperature issues. There was no easing into the job.
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It felt like I was David thrown into the ring, before sizing up Goliath. Fortunately, as it did for David, it went well for me. I am currently coordinating and chairing trade agreement negotiations on behalf of SACU+Mozambique with the UK (to deal with the potential trade disruptions due to Brexit). It is a landmark event and, as a result, so is this agreement.
At home, our investor after-care company visits bring my team and I so much joy as they show us what’s possible – the productive capacity in Botswana. These as well as removing roadblocks for companies and seeing them flourish. In this short space of seven months, we’ve seen great progress and this is reassuring.
Q. What are your economic views of the Africa continent?
A. I am pan-African. I love Africa, I believe in Africa. Some say the ‘Africa rising’ story is no longer valid but I say ‘dismiss this beautiful continent at your own peril’.
I’m hopeful about opportunities, of increased intra-African trade, that will be unlocked by the AfCFTA [African Continental Free Trade Area] as well as Tripartite Free Trade Area.
Many more African leaders and up-and-coming leaders are alive to [the idea] that it’s only through our cooperation that we can pull ourselves out of our current debilitating state. And to that end in Setswana, we say “kgetsi ya tsie e kgonwa ke go tshwaraganelwa” (Together, we can do more).
Q. What message do you have for Africa’s girls and women?
A. Never let anyone make you believe that you are not enough.
You are enough.
Public spaces, leadership spaces, money spaces are female spaces too! The most important thing is to ensure we are not comfortable in being the ‘only woman’ at the table. Any space can do with diversity.
Please be your sister’s keeper, send the ladder down, extend a hand (a helping one, even a comforting one, will be most welcome).