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Saturday, January 19, 2019
GABORONE, Mar 11 2011 (IPS) - It would have been hard for a teenaged Margaret Nnananyana Nasha to imagine that she would grow up to become one of the most powerful figures in Botswana’s government.
In the early 1960s, as the country made the transition to independence, there were no women in Botswana’s government. Today, Nasha is the first female Speaker of the National Assembly and is among the three most powerful citizens of the country.
Michael Dingake, a former opposition MP and now columnist for the privately owned Mmegi Newspaper, describes Nasha as a “bold and assertive woman, whose calibre is scarce in Botswana”.
He says she “has stood the challenge of working with men for many years and is very open person”. He fondly remembers when he criticised Nasha in one of his columns. “When we met, there was actually no bad blood between us and today we remain good friends.”
Hard work and determination
Perhaps, on reflection, there were some early signs of her future elevation.
She was still a young girl when her father passed away. But, her mother made sure that she and her siblings all remained in school. Back then, Nasha says, education was not considered very important – especially for girls. At best, young women were sent to school to learn basic reading and writing.
“This was done to ensure that they could communicate with their husbands who were migrant workers in South African mines. The idea was that you should be able to read a letter from your husband and reply him,” Nasha explains.
Even in a family blessed with numerous cattle, Nasha says her mother often struggled to convince her elder brothers to sell one or two to pay for their sisters’ schools fees.
“They were very difficult and could not understand why cattle should be sold. They saw no importance in us getting education and always reminded us that we would get married to make it in life.”
But her mother prevailed, and after completing high school, Nasha moved to the capital Gaborone where she got her first job: at the Radio Botswana studios.
“I fell in love with broadcasting and this love relationship went on for many years, before I went to University of Botswana to read humanities.”
Upon completion of studies she headed back to Radio Botswana where she joined the newsroom. Her new job was covering politics and she was assigned the parliamentary beat. “It is here where I developed my interest in politics and felt that I could change things and do better,” she says.
Into government service
She did not enter politics directly, however – she first joined the diplomatic corps. “I did short stints in the diplomatic service and went on for about four years.”
She certainly did well enough to be noticed. She was nominated to parliament in 1994 – Botswana’s legislature includes four seats appointed directly by the president – and a few years later was appointed minister of local government, lands and housing – one of the most difficult ministries to run, as it serves as a quasi government for rural areas of the country.
Nasha did well there. In 1999, she won elections for Gaborone Central and retained her cabinet post.
The steady upward line of her career dipped for the first time when she lost her seat in the 2004 general elections, but then President Festus Mogae again brought her back to the House through special nomination.
“During this period, I felt that I should have quit, but I had a special interest in being a Speaker of the National Assembly, a position that has many challenges,” she says.
“To be elected to this position you have to lobby all candidates from the different political spectrum. “I did this for three years, phoning all candidates lobbying for their support,” she says.
There were only five female MPs in the 61-member parliament. But she could not count on their support.
“Women do not support each other in positions of power and once you indicate your intentions to stand for position, they start to gossip about you,” Nasha says.
Women forging ahead in business
Gender activists have long complained that the under-representation of women is a serious problem in all political parties in the country and demand major changes in the distribution of party positions. According to the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, EISA, out of a total of 61 seats only four them were women.
But Botswanan women are making rapid progress in the private sector. The country recently received praise from international business outfit, Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR). According to research from the 2011 report, “Botswana ranks highly in the league table amongst the participating countries on the participation of women in senior positions.”
IBR statistics shows an increase in women holding high positions in Botswana, from 25 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2010.
When Nasha was sworn in as Speaker of the National Assembly in 2009, she said she would love to make the Botswana National Assembly debates more lively, which many believe she has achieved.
She is well-liked and respected beyond the circle of legislators. One of the employees of Parliament describes working with Nasha as a blessing because of her “openness and readiness to assist others”. One journalist said, “you can call her any time to enquire about something and she will give you a response.”
As the former chairperson of the women’s caucus in politics, she feels that women should work hard, support each other and learn how to work with the media.
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