Currently in the US as a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, Njiramanda Mbewe-Boatey made the select 10% of the 700 fellows that has remained for another month to work there to further sharpen their professional skills. The founder of an anti-GBV organisation who firmly believes that “an independent woman is a liberated woman,” this young lawyer is becoming more resolute about making access to justice for ordinary people, especially in rural Botswana, a reality. Staff Writer GOSEGO MOTSUMI reports.
When attorney and founder of female-led Mbewe Legal Practice embarked on a 20-hour flight to the USA, Njiramanda Mbewe-Boatey had to be mentally prepared for six weeks of academic sessions, site visits and networking as a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young Africa Leaders 2023.
She was among the 700 selected from almost 4000 applications by the fellowship which was started in 2014 by former President Barrack Obama.
“It was important to be part of the fellowship because I was persuaded by people who believed in me and that I embodied leadership qualities,” she said in an interview. “Sometimes when you see the support of those around you, it is affirming.
The Presidential Precinct
“The fellowship can benefit my career through the skills, networks and experiences that I have been exposed to. I received intensive leadership training. I see things through different perspectives. I know my strengths, and my understanding of various sectors has deepened.”
During the fellowship, Mbewe-Boatey was the female representing Botswana at the Presidential Precinct. Unlike the other host universities, the Presidential Precinct is unique because it is a leadership organisation that ensured that she becomes a more refined leader who is more aware of her strengths.
“The Precinct engaged and inspired me in how to address the challenges in my country,” said Mbewe-Boatey. “They taught me how to be a visionary so that I can create a just and free society within my community. I also need to ensure that my focus project on access to justice comes to fruition.”
A letter from Kamala Harris
The end of the fellowship was graced by the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. who signed Mbewe-Boatey’s certificate. She also received a congratulatory letter from a woman who greatly inspires her, the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.
Asked what it takes for a young woman to be where she is resilience, assertiveness and hard work are the words that roll out of her mouth straightaway, adding that it also means young women need to have a deeper understanding of self and believe in themselves.
“Women should create their own opportunities, define themselves and be independent,” Mbewe-Boatey asserted. “An independent woman is a liberated woman. They don’t have to follow in my footsteps as they have their own paths. We are all built to shine and are stars in our own right. Women just need to identify their purpose and fulfil it fully.”
Urban Justice Centre
Not only was she selected as a fellow but has been fortunate to be part of the selected 10 percent of the 700 fellows to remain for another month to work in the United States to further sharpen her professional skills. The young lawyer is currently placed with the Urban Justice Centre, an organisation whose vision is in line with her focus project of access to justice.
“Working at the Urban Justice Centre means I can draft legal documents and consult with clients,” she explains. “I do not have right of appearance in the American courts yet. Thus far, the manner in which applications are made, especially in the department I have been placed in, is similar to Botswana.
“The only difference is that the right of access to justice by marginalised groups in America is advanced. I hope to emulate some of the work around access to justice in Botswana. It is worth stating that our system involves a judge making a decision whilst the jury makes the decision in legal proceedings here. The pace of work here is fast.”
Diversity and inclusion
Identifying the gaps that exist in Botswana, Mbewe-Boatey says the country needs more laws and policies on diversity and inclusion because the world is moving towards being more inclusive and recognising talent from people from diverse backgrounds.
“Botswana needs to ensure that we take access to justice to the people and support such initiatives as they have the potential in decreasing the high gender-based violence rate,” she pointed out.
The young attorney will be back in Botswana in late September or early October 2023 and plans to work more on her projects, taking access to justice to the people, especially in rural areas. Mbewe-Boatey is a pioneer in pro bono work and founder of an anti-GBV Network called Baagisanyi Network.
“I am also looking forward to invitations to speak in panel discussions and had started doing that just before leaving for America,” she said.