PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Athaliah Molokomme, Ph.D.
First woman Attorney General (Botswana)
By Donovan Carter
Athaliah Molokomme is a woman who wears many hats. Serving as a lawyer, a women’s rights activist, an Ambassador, and an advocate, Molokomme has made incredible contributions to her home Botswana and the African continent. Born in December of 1959 to two school teachers in Francistown, a city in northern Botswana, Athaliah Molokomme’s honest background would become crucial to her success. Growing up in a house of nine children, where Molokomme was the second-born, would lay a great foundation for education while instilling her values of sharing, community, mutual respect, and justice.
After learning to read at the tender age of three, Athaliah’s parents would send her off to school. Despite her young age, Molokomme was a great student, spending formative years at primary school in Tchangati, Sebina, and Mathangwane. Molokomme’s secondary schooling began in 1970 outside Botswana’s capital city Gaborone, where she attended Catholic mission school, St. Joseph’s College Kgale, where she graduated with a first-class examination classification in 1975.Continuing a trajectory of academic excellence, Molokomme would receive several degrees and diplomas from all over the world. Molokomme earned not only a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Botswana and Swaziland, a Masters in Law from Yale Law School, and a Ph.D. in Law from Leiden University.
Molokomme’s love for education comes from her strong set of values, and these values greatly influence how she uses her legal education and expertise. In an interview with the Justice Leadership Group, Molokomme stated that “I think those of us that have the opportunity and privilege to study law have a special responsibility to make sure that law does what it is meant to do, and that is to deliver justice because it doesn't always [on its own].” Molokomme has worked very hard to hold true to her own ideals, seeking to deliver justice with various roles, positions, and methods. Between 1981 and 1996, Molokomme would return to her alma mater, the University of Botswana, to teach Law--following in her parents’ footsteps.
During an International Women’s Day Speech in 2014, Molokomme spoke to the value of education with the statement “In Setswana, we say ‘go ruta mosadi ke go ruta sechaba’ meaning that ‘to educate a woman is to educate a nation’.” Molokomme’s years as an educator, along with her extensive research on various legal topics like employment law, women in law, customary law, and family law have contributed greatly to the next generation of Botswana attorneys.
Naturally, Dr. Molokomme’s legal expertise, passion for justice, and time spent in various national and international positions have earned her a great deal of recognition from several groups and organizations. Women, Law and Development International granted Dr. Molokomme the Women’s Human Rights Award in 1993, and in 1999, she received the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service for Exceptional Service to Botswana. In July of 1998, Dr. Molokomme would serve as founding head of the Gender Unit at the Secretariat of the Southern African Development Community, until she was appointed Judge of the High Court of Botswana in May of 2003.
Two years after her appointment to the High Court of Botswana, Molokomme would be named the Attorney General of Botswana in 2005 and resigned from that position in December of 2016, where she left behind a better, fairer, and stronger system. Molokomme would maximize her new role as legal advisor to the government of Botswana, becoming quite involved in international affairs. She was later appointed Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Botswana to Switzerland and has participated in international events and like Assemblies of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, where she advocated for African nations’ membership.
Molokomme’s great feats all reflect greatly her strong values of fairness, justice, and equality. She has truly proved that determination, commitment, and a strong set of values can help one achieve any goal, no matter how challenging.