She was appointed the country’s 21st female parliamentarian, becoming one of the youngest ever Members of Parliament when she joined the 10th sitting of the Botswana cabinet.
Next Tuesday, Bogolo Joy Kenewendo’s three-year term as Specially Elected Member of Parliament (SEMP) comes to an end, at least for now.
Still only 32, she has endured the stress of leading the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry with dignity and maturity.
Kenewendo sat down with The Voice staffer SHARON MATHALA this week, reflecting on her journey, pondering the future and clearing up some of the rumors about her private life.
With a warm, open smile – no wonder they call her Minister Bae! -she ushers The Voice team into her office at the Ministry headquarters.
Thank you so much for having us Minister. Your term as a specially elected MP comes to an end this week.How have you found the three-year journey?
I have only had two roles really in the 11th parliament. I was a back-bencher when I first joined in 2016 as a specially elected MP and then as a full Minister. It has been one of the best journeys of my life and very challenging – very unexpected kind of challenges but of course very fulfilling challenges. I have made a lot of long lasting connections.
When did you learn that you had been chosen as a SEMP?
It was a journey! I was first told somewhere around July 2016, finalisation September 2016 and was sworn-in in October. I had time to think about it, time to prepare and time not tell anyone and be eaten up by keeping the secret because most of the people in my life only got to know as the rest of the world – on the day! But I atleast told some 30 minutes before going to parliament so some knew half-an-hour before!
When you were appointed Minister at just 31, were there any moments of doubt? Did you truly believe you were the right person for the job?
Being on the back-bench teaches one what running a government means. You have better insight and it prepares you for the things you would like to see change. By the time I was appointed Minister, as nerve-wracking as it was, I was prepared. Though there was a moment of hesitation, I eventually accepted the position.
You head one of Botswana’s busiest Ministries. How would you describe leading the Ministry, especially as a woman in a male dominated field?
Almost every sector is male dominated but more so in politics because in the private sector you do find a lot of women in leadership roles. There are few women in politics so the pool of choosing a role model proved quite difficult for me because throughout my development path I have used mentors to help balance and guide me. I needed to find the best performing male in the industry so that I could find their best qualities and mimic them.
It was a complex time. I was young and female so when you spend more time with a male it is automatically assumed you are ‘exchanging favours’. At some point I was accused of having slept with the entire cabinet!
Fear not, we will get to that Minister! You joined politics at a time when there was transition from one leader to another. Was that a tense period for cabinet ministers?
I didn’t really have that much time with the previous administration. I learnt to operate as a Minister in this space. I think the challenges were the same as someone getting into a role for the first time. It has been an interesting time for our politics and democracy as it matures and I hope we continue to preserve as a country of peace.
But it stands to reason that when there is a change in leadership, people try to align themselves with the incoming chief. Would you say that was the case?
This is my first time being a Minister. It has been really interesting being in cabinet and learning about the direction His Excellency the President wants us to take. The President is quite spontaneous in his thinking; sometimes you are given a task to do on the spot and we really had a tight schedule. We were working the weirdest of hours – it was really hectic!
You took charge of a Ministry at a tricky time when the western world had their beady eyes on Botswana because of the human/wildlife conflict issue and the furore surrounding the country’s elephants. Can you take us through that time?
When you speak of investment we did not really see much change in how people responded to our strategy on investor attraction. People actually became more interested in who we are as a country and the agenda we are trying to push. Our message was that as Batswana, we have always championed conservation and we continue to do so. The animals just became too many and they destroyed the environment and we needed to find a balance in the ecosystem.
Would you like to return for a second term as a specially elected member?
I serve at the pleasure of the President and if the BDP wishes so.
Are you confident?
I am not. Nothing is given in politics.
Were you touted to replace the now Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane in the Boteti West constituency under the BDP ticket?
I have never been tipped to. I am very passionate about where I come from. I have always been active in trying to assist where I come from and have companies be more responsible, especially those that are based there. Everywhere I go I like to learn before I can say ‘I am challenging’, so that when the time comes I am ready.
So do you harbor any ambitionof eventually contesting for elections?
I really do enjoy what I am doing and I would like to create more impact. So yes, I would like to run at some point. I can’t say it will be in Boteti. I have lived all over Botswana; as long as I have the pleasure and opportunity to serve Batswana I will do so!
Will that be in the 2024 general elections?
I do not count my chickens before they hatch! I am intently learning, especially as a woman in politics.
Should you not resume your ministerial role, what will your next move be?
The world is my oyster! So many things it could be. I will start thinking about opportunities. Having created such a fantastic network, I believe that will direct what is next for me.
As you briefly noted, there is much interest in your private life, particularly your close association with Minister, ThapeloOlopeng…..
I have known RreOlopeng for quite a bit of time, I think dating as far back as when he became the Minister of Youth. I was the chairperson of the youth sector in Business Botswana, so that is where we really started our friendship. When I became an SEMP he was one of the faces I had been with before, you tend to gravitate to familiar faces.RreOlopeng was the first person I met before I went to parliament as SEMP. He was a good friend and a mentor.
But the word on the ground was that you were more than colleagues?
It was quite unfortunate for our relationship to be then referenced into something else. We did talk about it because this is a man with an entire family. You need to know the implications of this to his life. Fortunately I did not have a family that I had to answer to. People don’t know the gravity such insinuations can have on people’s private lives, but he took it like the champ he is!
Of all the rumors, which one gave you sleepless nights?
I think the insinuation that women can only become something if they sleep with a man is completely wrong. It bothers me but I have grown to have thicker skin. However, what really bothers me is the young girls that look up to me constantly hearing that they have to ‘give it up’ in order to be successful. That notion limits girls from dreaming that they can break the ceiling.
It did not bother me until last week when a young girl approached me about this. It hurt me that she was put in a corner over misconceptions about me which I have not addressed.
And your alleged relationship with Masisi?
There is no truth in that and I have known about this rumor, but I would like to leave the President out of this. I have always kept it to myself but once young girls start to think that they are limited in what they can achieve I had to do something.
I heard that you meditate during your spare time. What else does the Honorable Minister get up to?
Oh! I have fun. I have little time for myself so I really go all out and have fun. I am young after all!
We are going into the general election next Wednesday. What message do you have for Batswana?
It is important that as we go through elections we remember why we are doing this, this journey of our independence and the journey of our democracy. We need to safeguard our Botswana and ensure that whatever the outcome is the decision is respected. But ofcourse, I will take this time to ask Batswana to vote for RreTsogwane and the President Masisi.
So, what will you be up to this Friday?
I will be in Orapa and Kumaga attending a Kgotla meeting with the President.