Mpule Kwelagobe is a Batswana model, philanthropist and social entrepreneur. She
is popularly known for the 1999 Miss Universe beauty pageant which she scooped
the title beating her close competitor from Philippines.
She became the first African woman to win the coveted trophy.
Mpule was born in 1979 in Botswana. While in high school, she auditioned for Miss
Botswana at the age of seventeen. Maleta Luna who was the Miss World Franchise
holder at the time in Botswana spotted Mpule at the auditions. “She struck me, out
of all the girls who were there. She really had something special about her and as it
happened, she actually won the Miss Botswana competition,” recalled Maleta.
Two years later, she won the Miss Universe beauty pageant bringing joy and pride to
her country. “You win, you’re crowned on stage and the minute the cameras are
switched off, there’s a team of people around you and you don’t even know them.
Immediately, your whole life is changed,” told Mpule. “It was amazing!
“Everybody wanted to touch her, talk to her. I’ve never experienced or seen
anything like that ever in my life and I’m pretty old,” told chuckling Maleta.
Many attributed her victory not only to her beauty but her intelligence as well.
“To be a beauty queen, is not only about beauty but the brains must be there. I think
she’s one of the pioneers of what we call beauty and brain”, told David Annobil –
Mpule’s former high school teacher.
Mpule used her platform to help in the fight against HIV/AIDs. Though her
involvement started when she was Miss Botswana, she got even more involved
when she became Miss Universe and continued even thereafter.
“The work that I do really came from the time I was seventeen years old when I went
as Miss Botswana to Zambia and Uganda and meeting women that had to become
leaders in their communities because of the HIV/AIDs crisis. So that was my first time
encountering these issues,” told Mpule.
In the 1990s the deadly disease was becoming more and more rampant in Africa.
“People would not talk about it but in order to stop a disease like HIV, you need to
educate people and that’s where Mpule came in. She really did so much, going from
town to town to talk about this, to open it up and allow people to talk about their
experiences and saying it’s ok,” said Angelou Lambrou – Mpule’s fashion designer.
Her efforts were recognized by the United Nations and she was appointed as UN
Goodwill Ambassador on youth and HIV/AIDs in the Sub- Sahara Africa. Apart from
focusing on health, Mpule also focuses on agriculture. Through her own
organization, Mpule Institute for Indigenous Development, she seeks to curb the
perennial droughts in Africa, one of the continent’s major problems. She traverses
Africa meeting various stakeholders especially women farmers. She has managed to
empower women and the youth in agri-business. From HIV/AIDs to sustainable
agriculture, Mpule is a model with a difference.