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GOLDEN JUBILEE PROFILE - ELIJAH W.M.J. LEGWAILA (1939-2016)

Publishing Date : 08 August, 2016

Jeff Ramsay
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA

This morning, at his home village of Mathathane, the nation is burying one of its true statesmen, the late Elijah Legwaila, who passed away on the 27th of July 2016.

Our approaching Golden Jubilee celebrations is an opportunity for all of us appreciate the fact that that quality of Botswana's progress over the past five decades was not an accident of history. It was, rather, enabled by the leadership, wisdom and sacrifice of many remarkable men and women whose collective contributions towards nation building should serve as an inspirational benchmark for the rest of us moving forward.

Prominent among those to whom the nation is indebted, are the many committed public servants who devoted themselves to the immense task transforming what back in 1966 was a collection of Tribal Reserves, Crownlands, and concession areas that together formed the British administered colonial Protectorate, into a modern, united, proud and democratic middle income nation.

The late Legwaila stands out as one such individual; his four and a half decades of uninterrupted public service having, in particular, contributed significantly in the shaping our country's record, and corresponding global reputation, for good governance, public service delivery and respect for the rule of law.

His career highlights included his extended tenures as the Permanent Secretary to the President from 1989 to 1998 and Judge President of the Industrial Court from 2000 to 2011, as well as serving as a Justice of the Court of Appeal in his final years.

Yet notwithstanding the high positions he held and his many personal achievements, the late Legwaila remained a model of modesty and true practitioner of teamwork. As a leader he combined the qualities of firmness and determination with patience and the cultivation of mutual respect among his subordinates.

Elijah Legwaila was born at Mathathane in Bobirwa on the 8th of August 1939.  Early evidence of his lifelong commitment to community service can be found in this work as a  primary school teacher, prior to his completing his secondary school studies at Moeng College.

His scholastic aptitude was reflected in his subsequent academic training. After earning his law degree (L.L.B.), from the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland in 1972, he went on to further studies at Harvard Law School in the United States, where he was awarded a Master's Degree (L.L.M.) in 1980.

Thereafter, his legal brilliance can be seen in his rapid rise through the ranks of the Attorney General's Chambers, which he joined as State Counsel in 1972. By 1976 he had been promoted to the post of Assistant Attorney General rising to the position of Deputy Attorney General during the following year.

Besides giving general legal advice to Government, as Deputy Attorney General the late Legwaila was responsible for overseeing commercial contracts including the legal vetting of loans with international development institutions, as well as treaties and other international agreements.

Justice Legwaila's high level contributions during this period also included his professional leadership in the Botswana delegations involved in the Lome convention negotiations between Africa, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) counties and the European Union, and the Preferential Trade Area for Southern and Eastern Africa.

He also served as the Head of the Botswana delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a field in which he can rightfully be regarded as a local legal pioneer.

It was in recognition of the late Legwaila's outstanding qualities that, in 1989, he was appointed by then President Sir Ketumile Masire as Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP), succeeding Festus Mogae.

PSP a post whose mandate continues to include the major responsibilities of being the Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to Cabinet, as well as the senior official advisor to the President.

Justice Legwaila's decade as the country's senior public officer was marked by unprecedented growth and reform in Government, which was accompanied by expanded service delivery in such areas as health, education and social services, as well as the accelerated delivery of public infrastructure.

The outward success of Botswana's governance model, during his tenure as PSP, attracted increased global as well as regional attention, consolidating our county's international status as a benchmark for democratic development; as was evidenced in the achievement of high levels of socio-economic progress.

After stepping down as PSP in 1998 Justice Legwaila continued his distinguished service to the nation. Where others may have been tempted to rest or profit on their laurels he agreed to be appointed as a Judge of the Industrial Court, becoming the Court's Judge President from 2000 until 2011.

In December 2011, following his retirement from the Industrial Court, Justice Legwaila was further appointed to the Court of Appeal, a position he retained until the time of his death.

From 1998 until 2013 he also notably served as the Chairperson of the University of Botswana Council.

For all of his varied contributions the late Justice Legwaila will be fondly remembered a giant on whose shoulders others have had the good fortune of stand. May His Soul Rest in Peace.

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