Herdboy to ambassador
Collen Kelapile has come a long way since the days of his youth, which were predominantly spent looking after the family’s livestock in the dusty Central District village of Maitengwe.
Kelapile started school at the age of ten. He has not looked back since!
The newly appointed Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Botswana to the United Nations with concurrent non resident bilateral accreditation to Cuba and Jamaica, Kelapile is man with a vision.
Less than a week into his new role and the 50-year-old is already looking at possible areas of cooperation and collaboration that are mutually beneficial to Botswana and the two countries.
His name might be Kelapile but he is wide awake and bursting with energy.
The Voice Staffer, Daniel Chida posed questions to the man who will be tasked with facilitation of employment opportunities for Batswana in general and youth attachments to UN organisations.
Q. Congratulations on your new appointment – how will you ensure that Botswana gain from it?
A. As an individual that has amassed vast experience on multilateral diplomacy, my appointment as Ambassador to the UN guarantees effective representation of Botswana’s national interests at the UN.
It also ensures continuity in articulation of Botswana’s voice in all conversations amongst member states on global norm-setting.
To date, there is hardly any issue that is not on the UN agenda since the challenges faced effect almost every member state, including Botswana.
By being present at all times at the negotiation table, through its Ambassador, Botswana is able to advance and influence outcomes on matters touching on our national interests, including but not limited to attracting technical support and learning from experiences of others who are grappling with similar challenges.
Q. What are the other benefits?
A. It entails facilitation of employment opportunities for Batswana in general and attachment of the youths in UN organisations to acquire requisite skills as we thrive to become a knowledge based economy as per Vision 2036.
There is lot of potential for Botswana; it is a matter of talking to the right people!
Q. Tell us a bit about your role?
A. Ambassadors manage the affairs of diplomatic missions which are listening posts of the sending states on all matters of national interest.
At the UN, the Ambassador, with the support of the diplomatic staff, is expected to attend all meetings and events where any issue on UN agenda is discussed to ensure that Botswana’s position is known and taken into account.
Beyond meetings, the Ambassador engages on a wide range of other representational duties.
These include promotional activities by approaching other countries’ representatives at the UN and any businesses operating in the mission area on available opportunities that could benefit Botswana.
Q. What about your other duties to Cuba and Jamaica, enlighten us.
A. My concurrent non-resident accreditation to both Cuba and Jamaica is on a bilateral basis and focuses on matters that are country-to-country as compared to the UN forum which is multilateral.
I am expected to facilitate exploration of potential areas of cooperation and collaboration that are mutually beneficial to Botswana and the two countries.
With Cuba for example, there are also already ongoing initiatives including provision of needed support in sporting and health sectors, and these need to be regularly monitored and further strengthened.
Engagement with these countries can take many forms and is expected to be a two-way traffic that could for example entail exchange programmes in identified areas where each country has a comparative advantage.
Q. That sounds like a lot of work?
A. Yes it is because securing a national interest or a program in negotiations is not an end in itself.
We are today faced with pressures of all kinds especially from the major partners and financial contributors to cut down in spending on the operations of the UN globally.
In this context, as Botswana’s Ambassador it is my responsibility to ensure that any spending cuts are not arbitrary and do not negatively target areas of strategic importance to Botswana and fellow developing countries.
Of course such a result requires delicate persuasion on the part of the major contributors to see reason.
I am prepared to leave a legacy here that will benefit my country!
Q. Talk us through your journey to the top.
A. I joined the Botswana Foreign Service in 1995 at the entry rank of Foreign Affairs Officer III and was assigned the Desk Officer for the United Nations and all its specialised agencies.
I simultaneously covered the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (NAM) and the then Global Coalition for Africa (GCA), now known as Coalition for the Development of Africa (CODA).
My employment history and career progression spans some 23 consecutive years of multilateral engagement both as a member of the Botswana Diplomatic Service, including 15 years of active involvement in the United Nations’ intergovernmental processes and serving in an expert advisory role at United Nations Headquarters in New York, as well as direct employment as an official of the United Nations Secretariat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the past four years. Since August 2014, I presently hold a Director-level position as the Chief of Staff to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa.
Q. That’s quite the resume!
A. (Laughs) In 2003 I was nominated by the Government of Botswana and subsequently endorsed by Africa Group of UN member States to contest for one of the three elective seats allocated to Africa in the 16-member UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which is the main expert body that advises the member States, through the Fifth Committee, on all UN system-wide administrative, management, financial and budgetary matters. Following my successful election in 2003 and subsequent re election twice, I served in my personal expert capacity as a member of the ACABQ for three consecutive three-year terms, cumulatively amounting to nine years from 2004 to 2012.
Q. A rich history indeed! On a lighter note, how was your upbringing?
A. I was brought up by my grandmother while my mother was working in Gaborone.
I started school when I was ten years old, a year after my younger sister because I was looking after donkeys and cows. Again for some strange reasons they said I looked dull and was going to waste time in school.
Q. You certainly proved them wrong! So how do you relax?
A. I like reading, especially materials with global politics and international relations.
If I am not in my library I walk around in Broadway, it is the place where things are happening and it never sleeps.