GABORONE - As a matter of affection, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila should be
nicknamed Mr "UNTAG" "OAUOMSA" "UNMEE".
These names may sound awkward but they are of more international acclaim and
carry more weight than his real ones. Legwaila is probably the only
person anywhere in the world who deserves to be given these names.
They are associated
with peace missions. UNTAG stands for United Nations Transition
Assistance Group, UNMEE for United Nations Mission for Ethiopia and
Eritrea and OAUOMSA for Organisation of African Unity Observer Mission
for South Africa.
ambassador to the UN, Legwaila always attracted the attention of
successive UN secretaries-general.
He has worked with
secretaries like Perez de Cueller, Butros-Butros Ghali and Kofi Annan at
the UN where he used to deliver powerful speeches on international
One of the most
powerful speeches he wrote was the one delivered to the UN Security
Council by former foreign affairs minister Gaositwe Chiepe following the
1985 raid on Botswana by South African Defence Force (SADF) troops.
Council did not only condemn South Africa, but it also sent a
fact-finding mission to Botswana to assess the damage.
that assigns an officer a diplomatic position expects the envoy to make a
good impression of his country and Legwaila has lived up to that
expectation. He probably performed beyond expectations, building from the
solid foundation laid by his predecessors in the likes of professors Z.K.
Mathews and Thomas Tlou.
At UNTAG, Legwaila
was the UN Secretary-General's special representative assisting Namibia
attain independence. African diplomats in Washington at the time, hailed
his appointment telling former president Sir Ketumile Masire during a
visit there that the secretary-general made the right choice in
"appointing Joe" to that position. They said "Joe is
capable and his appointment is unquestionable".
He and Marti
Ahtissari, who was under-secretary at the UN and later became president
of Finland, diligently discharged their duties and the UN body breathed a
sigh of relief that at last Namibia was free in 1990.
When South Africa
itself transformed into a democratic country, there was yet another call
on Legwaila. That time the call came from OAU secretary -general Salim
Ahmed Salim to head the organisation's observer mission to oversee South
Africa's transformation from apartheid to democracy, culminating in the
April 27 all-race elections.
Now as the head of
UNMEE, having been appointed by the current secretary-general, Kofi
Annan, to be his special representative, Legwaila has become part and
parcel of both Ethiopia and Eritrea. He regularly interacts with citizens
of both countries.
The Daily News
caught up with him at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa where his regular
visit coincided with President Festus Mogae's state visit to Ethiopia.
The UN has rented a suite in that hotel for him and a house in Eritrea.
He explains that he has to stay in both countries to dispel fears of
Legwaila arrived in
the Horn of Africa in 2001 at the head of that mission which boasts 4 200
troops. They have been there for 46 months, only eight months short of
four years. "We have been very successful in peace keeping",
adding, "there has never been war since I came here." He is
happy that both sides have respected the cease-fire. He says although
occasionally one or two soldiers may do the wrong thing, "there has
been models of compliance." The only snag hampering the completion
of Legwaila's mission is the Ethiopia Eritrea Boundary Commission, which
was set to determine the location of the boundary.
This is an area
over which Legwaila has no control whatsoever. Both sides had committed
themselves to respecting the recommendation of the boundary commission.
But they did not honour their undertaking. What frustrates Legwaila is
that after such undertaking, Ethiopia changed their minds saying they
"do not accept certain aspects of the boundary".
can only end when the demarcation ends", says Legwaila. The UN
troops are patrolling a 1 000km long and 25 km wide corridor, which he
created as temporary security zone. The corridor is inside Eritrea where
90 per cent of his UN staff are based. The rest are in Ethiopia.
While he shuttles
between Addis Ababa and Asmara on a peace mission, his family is
scattered in most parts of the world. His wife is in the country at the
foreign affairs and international cooperation ministry. Two sons are in
different universities in South Africa while the other is in the United
States of America (US) studying psychology.
peace missions. He says: "This is the kind of jobs I like." He
says UN secretary-generals have always felt "there is something this
Motswana can do".
He has served at
the UN for 21 years during which he served Southern Africa and Eastern
African regions. He says: "This is a satisfying career for me."
Legwaila adds: "When you tell people that they need peace to
develop, they understand what you mean because your country is