Legwaila: Global peace-maker
17 March, 2004

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.

As Botswana's 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 issues.

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.

The Security Council did not only condemn South Africa, but it also sent a fact-finding mission to Botswana to assess the damage.

Every government 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 favouritism.

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".

"My mission 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.

Legwaila enjoys 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 peaceful." BOPA



News Source: All local news stories were supplied by the Botswana Press Agency (BOPA)