Mmabatlharo Dihemo – Nono to her friends and colleagues – is a global citizen working in the service of some of the world’s most deprived and conflict-riven countries.
Originally from Ditsobotla in North-West, she grew up in Bodibe Village with her grandparents while her mom, a nurse, was working in Garankuwa Hospital. Her father abandoned them when Nono was just five years old. Nono is the middle child between two brothers who are fiercely protective of her. Nono grew up with her cousins, with whom she got into plenty of childhood mischief. She moved to Itsoseng with her mother and two brothers and enrolled with Wits in 1992.
It was too expensive, she had to work to save for her tuition and ended up registering with UNISA and studied part-time while attending school in Orange Groove (Boston City Campus). She was among the first students; who opened that Campus. It was an interesting learning experience.
Nono then decided to study at University full-time. She had saved enough money for tuition, her mom supported her as well. Nono received a bursary and student loan, and because her grades were high, she then received a full bursary.
She graduated with B.Proc and LLB degrees with credits from both UNISA and Wits. Nono then attended the school for Legal Practice in Pietersburg (Limpopo). She applied for a bursary to pursue an LLM in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa at University of Pretoria (Tukkies). It was highly competitive but, fortunately, she was accepted from among thousands of applicants from South Africa and other African countries.
She did the six-month coursework in Tukkies and the second part at the University of Ghana, where she developed the interest to work for the United Nations (UN).
After attending a training programme on peacekeeping and protection of civilians in Accra at the Kofi Annan Institute for Peace, Nono applied for the United Nations Volunteer Programme.
In South Africa, Nono worked for the Department of Justice in Pretoria, Human Rights Commission in Johannesburg and the Constitutional Court of South Africa at a particularly interesting time, when South African democracy was young and vibrant
Her application was accepted and was deployed to work with the United Nations Missions in Liberia (UNMIL)
When she told her then-supervisor, at the Dept of Justice, she was disappointed that Nono was taking up a UNV position. She explained the bureaucracy of the UN and wanted to groom Nono to move up the ladder because she saw Nono’s potential and did not want her to leave a Deputy Director’s post for UNV post.
But this was a stepping stone for Nono. Although she took a pay cut, she did not care. For Nono, it was not about the money but about serving humanity.
So, here she was: just had a baby, bought a house and a car. So, she let her house, bundled her daughter to Lichtenburg and tried to sell her VW Golf.
She started in Liberia in 2003 in the Electoral Section, and was based in Monrovia. It was challenging work, supervising more than 100 National staff. Liberia was not an easy place, coming out of a 16-year civil war. There was no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity.
Nono relied on a generator in her rented house she shared with other staff. She bathed in a bucket, without the luxuries of air conditioning or purified water at that time.
She met many fellow international workers in Liberia, including South Africans and made many long-lasting friendships, in different missions and training courses.
After elections in Liberia, Nono moved to the political office as a Political Affairs Officer and Analyst. After serving for almost five years as a UNV in Liberia, Nono applied for Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan in 2007. She received two offers: Lebanon and Iraq.
She chose to go to Iraq after consulting. Iraq was safe because of the presence of the international coalition and the fact that she would live in the Green Zone, a protected fortified area. The whole world was focusing on Iraq then.
Lebanon, on the other hand, would be complex. She would be going to work in the UN International Independent Investigation Commission investigating the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. High-profile people were being assassinated on a daily basis, so it was too sensitive, and she instead opted to go to Iraq rather as Political Affairs Officer at the P3 level.
She left Liberia in 2007 and joined the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)
She was based in Baghdad and worked on a range of issues related to Disputed Internal Boundaries, National Reconciliation and minorities in Iraq. In 2017, Nono moved to UNAMI’s Gender Unit, where she served as Gender Advisor.
It was another strategic move. Her role was to advise the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and senior mission leadership on strategies for ensuring effective implementation of UNSCR 1325 and subsequent resolutions on WPS. She advised the SRSG and Senior Management within the context of UNAMI’s mandate to support gender mainstreaming throughout mission activities and promote gender as a cross-cutting issue.
In 2018, Nono was promoted to the Senior Gender Advisor (at P5 level) within UNAMI and continued with similar the tasks elaborated above. She served for ten months until she moved to Afghanistan on 8 June 2019.
She is currently the Senior Gender Advisor for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, based in Kabul, Afghanistan
She is the head of the Gender Advisory Unit under the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG). She continues her advisory role for the SRSG and Senior management in the mission and the Government of Afghanistan and civil society on gender issues and implementation of the UNSCR1325 and subsequent resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.
Nono thrives in conflict zones, she is very adventurous, loves life and travels. And hard work
Her work featured in UN Department of Political Affairs (DPPA) magazines, and features regularly in UNAMI publications, UN websites and twitter feeds.