With nearly 64 per cent of the Namibia’s population under the age of 45, there is a significant opportunity to reap the benefit of the youth dividend- provided we make critical investments in quality education, gainful employment and meaningful engagement. But all these things will be meaningless if there is no investment in a good upbringing for the Namibian youth.
If the government chooses to ignore the ever-rising “youth cry”, the country risks a “youth time bomb” as inequality, intolerance and marginalisation deepen in our society.
If Namibia continues at its current growth rate in primary enrolment rate which stands at 1 per cent per year, it can only achieve universal primary education by 2039. It is paramount to also note that although quantity is critical; it is equally crucial to improve the quality of education in schools which will not only improve returns on education but will also drive quantity.
Improving quality is a major challenge because it takes time to improve the curriculum of a school and that it is not just about filling posts or distributing money but a sustained effort and the role of politicians as opposed to the distribution of money.
For example, on annual basis, over 70 000 individuals are entering youth working age. It means that in order to absorb the country’s rising youth bulge in the job market, the country will need to create between 10 000 to 15 000 additional jobs, every year. On the other hand, although increasing the number of jobs is critical, it is equally important to look at the quality of work.
I wish to underscore that a large number of people are currently doing poor quality jobs: 25 per cent of young people are in unstable low-paid jobs without any security or benefits, and 35 per cent are unpaid family workers – the majority of whom are women.
In addition to providing young people with access to quality education and opportunities to work, building young people’s social capital and creating spaces for them to meaningfully engage with their society and increase their exposure to those outside of their community is imperative in building tolerance and preventing them from joining violent groups in areas especially prone to social conflict. It is key to also highlight that engagement in community life is low and almost 70% of young people do not have access to recreational facilities that includes cinemas and sports grounds.
The youth need opportunities and platforms that could help promote social cohesion and pluralism for tolerance in society.
There are also positive indications of engagement through the political process as it has been proven that four out of seven eligible young people voted in the previous election, while more than 60 per cent of those surveyed by this columnist intend to vote in the upcoming elections, notwithstanding the fact that only 24 per cent of them are politicians.
One of the important findings of this columnist is that quality will drive quantity – if you find quality jobs, it will drive quantity. If you are able to boost the quality of education, you will drive quantity.
This is a very important finding for policymakers, it’s not simply about involving youth in politics, it is about giving them real decision-making in the process.
In the final analysis, it is imperative to consider the demographic realities of the youth meaning that taking part in decision making process must start from the grassroots level in the constituency development committees up to parliament and beyond.
George Hidipohamba Kambala is a radical youth activist and Co- author of Affirmative Repositioning: Awakening a Generation