Mpule Kwelagobe, Miss Universe 1999: When beauty is more than just winning a crown



Miss Universe 2015 has already started and I look back at the previous winners, Mpule Kwelagobe came to my mind instantly. It was the scene in Miss Universe 2000 contest during the introduction round where Mpule (assuming the role of a Goddess Aphrodite) sitting on a rock in the centre stage, was surrounded the by the contestants of Miss Universe 2000 with glow balls in their hands like they were paying tributes to the Goddess Aphrodite. Mpule looked every bit of a goddess Aphrodite. I just love that opening act. One of the best act of Miss Universe contest.


It isn’t just for that act I like Mpule Kwelagobe. There is more to her that I really love about her. She remains to these days someone who touched my heart from the first time I watched her at Miss Universe contest to these days. I couldn’t watch Miss Universe 1999 because in India there was no live telecast of Miss Universe then. Got to know about Mpule win from the newspaper. It was only after some months that I got to see the contest and thanks to Youtube I can watch it again.

She was terrific in Miss Universe contest. She was competing with so many favourites but in the end she charmed everyone with her splendid performance and by the end of the night the audience were enchanted by her subtle performance. Her reaction when she was called on stage as one of the top 10 finalists was epic. That was very spontaneous and she looked very much surprised to make it to the top 10 considering she was unplaced at Miss World 1997 contest. She couldn’t stop smiling.The look on her face was priceless. Next was interview round. In one of the activities – World Tour, she was paired with Miss Brazil and was asked about what she learnt from her. Here’s the interview questions and answers:

Your favourite place in Botswana is described as Africa’s last Eden. Where is Brazil’s last Eden, would you say?

I think the place where Brazil has, which is a natural history has to be the Amazon jungle. The reason why I chose Okavango delta as my favourite place is because it is very natural and undestroyed. And I think Amazon jungle has the same thing.

If you wanna bring more tourism to Botswana, what tips would you pick up from Brazil?

I’ll tell them about the beauty of the place. Botswana is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It’s very peaceful, it’s very relaxing, we when we’re there, we really feel secure and in paradise.

What do you do for fun (In Botswana)?

We go there to a cattle post. It is known that in Amazons, everyone has full of cattle post, full of cattle. So that’s where we go.

Boy! What a fun person she was. Such a bubbly personality and she had such a youthful charm. Her intelligence and exuberant nature were to die for. She was smart too. When she was asked about bringing in more tourism, she couldn’t understand for a moment and the host explained it to her. There was grace in her manner and her frank talk gave her an engaging charmed. She made it looked so cool. I just couldn’t stop admiring her for intelligence. What she did for fun resonate well with me. I used to play with cattle too back in my village. Someone who comes from a small town or village will understand this. She got 9.05 and came fifth in this round. I thought her rank could have been better.

In the swimsuit round, she brought out her youthful charm again and when she walked, she was sassy and full of energy. When she put her hands on her hips along with the slow, easy sway of her hips, she was very much in rhythm and in tune with the energetic and lively Limbo fire dancers. Next was the evening gown. In a gold ball gown embroidered on top, she looked serene and a true royal princess who was ready to wear a crown to become a queen that was only meant for her. From a spunky and very energetic person, she changed into a calm and composed woman who was at ease with herself in this round. It wasn’t surprising to see her in the top 5. And this time, she didn’t look surprised. No spontaneous reaction. Maybe, she was confident enough to be in the top 5 once she made it to the top 10. Nevertheless, she must have been nervous as hell. She had to face another interview again.

You’re the first in the history of Miss Universe from Botswana now Aside from that how would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a pioneer for young women. I was also the only girl in my class in Electronics and I want to be remembered in this field as a pioneer that I pave a way for young women both in my country and throughout the world.

You said you would like to be the first female president of your country. What would you do differently as  the President of United States?

A lot. First thing is If I was the President of United States, I would definitely make education compulsory especially in my country when you get into rural areas, some people are not going to school. They started school late and I think If I was the president, I would make it compulsory, but I think even the President of United states is capable of that as well.

Mpule really knows what she wants for herself and what her goals would be in the future. She was amazing and spoke so eloquently and articulately that you are convinced that she really meant what she said. It was like she was speaking in some international forum. Did you notice how she balanced her personality with her answers? Her questions were political and social, but she answered it so precisely to the point which was powerful enough to make us believed in her. Despite answering to relevant political and social issues questions, she was able to project her cheerfulness and vibrant personality.

From five finalists to the top 3, she was the last one to be called and it was such a huge relief for her. The crowd went crazy and was rooting her by now. The common question asked was “If Miss Universe becomes pregnant during her reign should she be allowed to continue as Miss Universe?” She replied, “Personally, I think, Miss Universe is a symbol of woman as well as she is celebrating her femininity. And I believe that if she should fall pregnant and it will not in any way interrupt her duties, I believe that as a woman she should celebrate her femininity.”

She was the only one who spoke so confidently without hesitation. Such a controversy question and her answer made us believed she was the representative of Miss Universe who was actually answering a real life situation. Of course, Miss Universe Org will never allow a Miss Universe to keep her title if she was pregnant. But Mpule was confident and boldly spoke her mind and heart. That was powerful enough and she delivered what was needed. I am sure she knew she gave her best but being the last one to be called and not being able to hear what the other two contestants were saying, it must have been nerve wrecking and tensed for her. Finally, when she was announced as Miss Universe, she gave a winning reaction which I would never forget. Just like we saw her in the top 10 announcements, that reaction was spontaneous, overwhelming and eccentric but one of the best reactions and/or lovely and priceless moment indeed. To this day, every time I see someone winning a crown, her reactions always flashes in my mind.

One of the best winning reactions and a treasured moment to cherish

One of the best winning reactions and a treasured moment to cherish.

After winning Miss Universe, she was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations, focusing on youth and HIV/AIDS. She has addressed the United States Congress (the United States House of Representatives Committee on Banking and Financial Services. Mpule has continuously and strongly spoken about the socio-economic impact of AIDS in Africa and proposed a bill to set up a World Bank AIDS prevention trust fund). Even after her reign as Miss Universe, she continued working with many international organizations that addressed International relations and world issues in general.


In 2001, during Lions Day at the United Nations Mpule was awarded the highest honour by the Lions Club International for her work as a member of the Leo Club (junior Lions) in Lobatse, Botswana. Before this award, she was honoured by the Lions Club UK and the Lions Club Botswana in 1997. In recognition of her accomplishments and academic goals, the Government of Botswana in 2002 granted her a full scholarship to attend any university of her choice around the world. She graduated from Ivy League institution, Columbia University in the City of New York, in 2006 with a degree in International Political Economy. In 2003, she was selected as a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum, which also selected her as a Young Global Leader in 2006. And her other notable works include attending and addressing.

• The 4th United Nations World Youth Summit (Dakar, Senegal),

• The United Nations General Assembly (New York, USA),

• The World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa),

• The 3rd United Nations Least Developed Countries Conference (Brussels, Belgium)

• Moderated an AIDS panel during the Congressional Black Caucus at the invitation of Congresswoman Barbara Lee.


True to what she said at Miss Universe contest, she is a living example of beauty queens who believe in the purpose of being given such a rare platform and opportunity.  Working relentlessly for what she believes in, she is a champion for everyone who believes in their dreams and goals. Like she said she wanted to be a pioneer who paved the way for people across the world, she uses her fame, status and beauty for that defined the new modern African woman who are very much part of the contribution that Africans played for their nation building and the whole continent. She is also into politics not merely for power but for the woman of Africa to give them a voice and opportunity. Mpule is a co-founder of Project Leverage, a women-led, women-owned agriculture accelerator fund that invests in youth entrepreneurs in Africa. Project Leverage combines finance, technology, innovation and business acumen to unleash agricultural productivity and entrepreneurship.


From becoming the first black African woman to win an international beauty pageant title to becoming a role model that everyone can look up to irrespective of where they come from, Mpule has been recognized and honoured as a human health rights activist, especially for her fight against HIV/AIDS and advocacy for youth and women. When she speaks, you are convinced that she meant whatever she said and she is going to prove it. That is because she is outspoken, determined and honest to herself and her work. She is one of the most eloquent Miss Universe and the fact that she continued to work for the masses shows the beautiful woman that she is – Radiant, classy, an achiever and a passionate person who believes in her dreams and dreams of others to realize their potential and be what they are supposed to be.

3 replies

  1. Just came up on this story of Miss Botswana. Yes her reaction to the win was iconic and I still have that picture pasted in my work place office. Its there because every time I get down on myself or frustrated at anything in my personal or professional life, I look at her and the surprised reaction of that moment and know I can do anything. Proves that even a man can look at a “beauty queen” (I don’t like that characterization for lack of the right words) and feel confidence in themselves. She was and is a perfect example of a woman of the world. Inspiration is her look: always and forever a fan!


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