In 1999, 19-year old beauty queen from Botswana, Mpule Kwelagobe was crowned Miss Universe to become the first African-born Black woman to win the coveted title.
Born the youngest of three children on November 14, 1979 to Justice Mothusi Kwelagobe and his wife, Dibelang Montshosi; Mpule was just a 17-year old high school student when she won the Miss Botswana beauty pageant in 1997 to become the youngest winner of the national competition.
That same year, she represented her country at the Miss World competition, but was unplaced. But two years later, she became Botswana’s first ever representative at the Miss Universe contest after winning the first ever Miss Universe Botswana pageant.
At the 48th Miss Universe beauty pageant held at the Chaguaramas Convention Center in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago on May 26, 1999, Mpule became the first African-born Black woman to be crowned Miss Universe, beating 83 other delegates from countries around the world.
Representing the official cause of the Miss Universe Organization, HIV/AIDS, she became the first winner of the pageant to collaborate with the Harvard AIDS Institute and the period of her reign saw her visiting more than 20 countries in Africa, Europe, South America and the Caribbean. Subsequently, the UN made her Goodwill Ambassador for Youths and HIV/AIDS, a role which afforded her the opportunity to address several high profile gatherings like the US Congress, UN General Assembly and several others.
In November 2000, the MPULE Foundation was launched and she began touring her country to promote behavioral change among youths in a bid to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, while also advocating access to sexual and reproductive rights for women and youths.
Having been awarded a full scholarship to any college of her choice anywhere around the world, Mpule Kwelagobe enrolled at the Ivy–league Columbia University in the city of New York in 2002, and bagged a degree in Political Science (International Political Economy) four years later. She was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Global Leader for Tomorrow in 2003, and a Young Global Leader in 2006.
In 2011, Mpule established the MPULE Institute for Endogenous Development, an advocacy and public think-tank based in New York which champions green initiatives, sustainable development in agriculture, gender equity and women and youth empowerment. The institute launched a campaign “In Women’s Hands: Empowering the Next Generation of African Female Leaders” in 2012 to advance gender equality in agricultural and rural development on the continent.
Mpule Kwelagobe is on the international board of the Agriculture and Food Security Center of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. She was conferred with the International Association of Physician in AIDS Care (IAPAC) Jonathan Maan Health Human Rights Award. As President of MPULE Institute, she is head of the Network of Women Investing in Africa (NEW Africa) Leadership Program, and the African Youth in Agriculture, Rural Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (African Youth ARISE) initiative.
Afro Tourism salutes this vibrant, determined and outspoken beauty queen, model and human health rights activist, Mpule Kwelagobe!
For more information about her laudable projects and foundation, please visit:
Did You Know?
- Mpule is the youngest of three children born to her parents.
- She was born in Gaborone on November 14, 1979.
- She represented Botswana at the 1997 Miss World which took place in Mahe, Seychelles.
- When she won the Miss Universe in 1999, it was the first time the competition will have Black winners, in succession as she took over from Wendy Fitzwilliam of Trinidad and Tobago.
- Among the gatherings she has addressed are the: 4th UN World Youth Summit held in Dakar, Senegal; UN General Assembly in NY, USA; World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa and the 3rd UN Least Developed Countries Conference in Brussels, Belgium.
- Mpule is the first African-born Black woman to be crowned Miss Universe and the 3rd Black woman ever.
- 5 historic stamps of Mpule were launched by Botswana Post following her winning the Miss Universe crown, while she was awarded the Freedom of the City key to Gaborone, the capital city by the government.
- She also received Freedom of the City key to Port of Spain from the government of Trinidad and Tobago, Freedom of the City keys to Asunción (Paraguay) and New Orleans (Louisiana).
- Mpule was spokesperson for Miss Universe sponsors which include: Mikimoto, Oscar de la Renta Swimwear, Clairol, Sprint and several others.
‘Niyi David explores the beautiful and enthralling continent of Africa with Afro Tourism, capturing colorful memories of places, cultures and events in words and images”