Government is cognizant of the fact that young people have a significant role to play in the development agenda of Namibia, and with the appointment of a Presidential Youth Advisor in 2015, the importance placed on the youth by current President, Hage Geingob and Hifikepunye Pohamba, from whom he took over were clearly apparent.
Although not one to frequently hog the public space, Namibia’s first ever presidential advisor on youth matters, Daisry Mathias is passionate to be a soldier for the Namibian youth. Mathias Haufiku from The Patriot caught up with her last week about her views on the role of young people in the development agenda of the country, challenges facing the youth and how the current political and economic climate is impacting young Namibians.
The interview also coincided with the United Nation’s World Youth Day which was observed on 12 August 2017 under the theme “Youth Building Peace”. This year’s theme was dedicated to celebrating the role of young people in preventing conflicts, building inclusive societies and sustainable peace.
What, in your view, is the primary role of young people in the development agenda of Namibia?
Young people represent a large majority of typically passionate, creative, curious, energetic, risk-taking human resources who have the potential to push the frontiers of knowledge and development in our country. Young people are also a potentially productive labour force that can propel Namibia’s growth and development. Thirdly, young people are the future custodians of the country’s political, governance and socio-economic infrastructure.
Namibia’s development agenda endeavours to produce world-class, globally competitive citizens, products and services and to offer all residents a high quality of life.
The preconditions for our sustainable development agenda are peace, security, stability, effective governance and sustained investment to unlock potential.
There are in my view, three equally important roles for young people to fulfill in our country’s development agenda:
Develop their capacity and capabilities to lead, manage and implement.
This requires the full commitment and participation of the young person, as they are supported to realize their potential.
Add value, by expressing Namibian solutions to Namibian problems.
Young people are expected to contribute towards our homegrown development path, which responds to our unique local context.
Maintain focus on priorities, by holding elected representatives accountable.
Every democracy requires a healthy dose of scrutiny and discourse, to hold elected leaders accountable and in this regard a young demographic majority has a meaningful role to play. However we should remain mindful and respectful, that where the rights of one person end, the rights of the other begin.
The President has cast a forward-looking Plan, which outlines the principles for prosperous governance. The leader has dreamt and it is now up to the technocrats, the bureaucrats and stakeholders, all of us, the youth – to realize this vision. We have a shared obligation to participate and contribute because we all part and parcel of the vision of a strong, united, inclusive and prosperous Namibian House.
What would you say are the top 5 challenges facing young people in Namibia today?
The challenges facing young people in Namibia have been comprehensively documented in various, public research reports. The 2016 Namibia Status of the Youth Report has been approved by Cabinet as a Government baseline study, profiling progress made across thematic indicators of youth development. The report is due for launch by the line Ministry in due course. I would like to share my professional account of issues presented to me by fellow young Namibians, during day-to-day interactions. The following are some of the most frequently arising:
-Unequal access to information, networks and resources; which undermines equal access to opportunity.
-Difficulty for MSMEs to secure public and private market access, coupled with the twin challenge of access to development funding and business advisory services; Worth mentioning that in as much as access to finance is a barrier to entry for entrepreneurs, development-funding institutions have also indicated there is poor quality on the demand-side of funding. Poor business planning is indicative of the need to strengthen SME and business advisory services. Moreover the Public Procurement Act makes provision for the promotion of local content sourcing, empowerment of SMEs, with preference to women, youth and previously disadvantaged Namibians.
-The challenge presented to me on a daily basis as I interface with industry is the hurdle of collateralized lending; Namibia’s society faces the twin challenge of income inequality and a disproportionate wealth gap. The wealth gap was exacerbated by the historical, systemic exclusion, which disadvantaged some members of our society. As a result, parents had little wealth or material economic assets to bequeath to their children. Resulting in a generation of young Namibians who do not possess assets to leverage financial instruments that are available in the mainstream economy.
-Difficulty to accumulate work experience, a requirement for recruitment, is another challenge facing job-seeking graduates. The matter is paradoxical. While lack of experience should not prohibit a qualified individual from accessing an opportunity, experience remains to a large extent, a factor of time. Many young people have not had the exposure to accumulate experience, fresh out of school. I often encourage young people to persevere and garner diverse experiences that will increase their exposure and capacity. There is need and opportunity to strengthen cooperative education and apprenticeships between institutions of higher learning, industry and the public sector.
-I sum up the final issue facing young Namibians as the psychosocial challenges, which are symptoms of taproot problems existing within our society; These issues range from the rising culture of abuse (alcohol, drug, speed, gender based violence); Sexual Reproductive Health issues such as the tender age of first sexual debut, teenage pregnancy, high abortion rate, fatherlessness; the rising HIV/AIDS incidence among 15-19 year olds which threatens future productivity and mental health issues of depression and suicide. Poverty, unemployment and distressed livelihood are some of the inflammatory causes. Unfortunately 15-35 year olds are currently at highest risk of mortality in Namibia.
I encourage young people not to relent and not to become defined by their struggles, but to rather determine to overcome and become masters of their own destiny. In the same manner that we have a narrative as a nation (that of a united, inclusive, prosperous Namibian House), every young person should be intentional to shape his or her personal narrative. The personal course of every citizen is undoubtedly interwoven into the social tapestry. The two are inseparable, because as Namibians, we share common challenges and a common destiny.
In your view, how is the current political and economic climate impacting young Namibians and how does it make them feel about their future?
This is central to this years World Youth Day theme “Youth Building Peace”. The political and economic climates are codependent. Donald Kaberuka framed the nature of the relationship with the words “Development creates conditions for peace and peace conditions for development.” Our President has repeatedly reinforced, via Prof. Stiglitz, that “The only sustainable growth will be shared growth. Growth that is not shared will not be sustainable.”
Namibia is emerging from one of the toughest economic years, 2016. Conditions have affected all, the young and old, with both the broad and youth unemployment level rising during the period. What is notable is that despite low growth during 2016 that growth was more shared than preceding periods of higher growth. Increased enrolment into schools and Vocational Education Training Centres during the period evidence this shared growth. The increase in value and coverage of old age social grants and grants for Orphans and Vulnerable Children have further had a positive bearing on young people, particularly those under the care of the elderly. These examples should affirm to a young Namibian, the Government’s decision, commitment and priority to fight poverty and inequality, while navigating challenging conditions along the way.
Our focus and collective energies should rather be channelled to measures that will move the country forward and emerge stronger.
Politically, young Namibians are empowered, engaged and have not grown apathetic. President Geingob received an overwhelming mandate of 87% of all votes casted and given Namibia’s demography, youth contributed towards the overall tally of votes. According to Afrobarometer, 48% of Namibian Youth voted in the last (2014) general election. President Geingob has made it very clear in his appointment that he values the youth.
The progressive demands on Government by publics at large, including the youth does in my view compel implementation with a greater sense of urgency. The President has described these progressive demands to be evidence of a “high level of hope and confidence”. If there were no hope for change, there would be resigned silence. Heightened expectations compel us all, public servants and stakeholders, to be a more resourceful in responding to the social need.
The intensification of actors and growing interest of youth in public policy has been beneficial towards the greater goal of deepening our democracy, formulating responsive policy and also creating opportunity to have difficult conversations around challenging subjects. I would say there is room for activism, which necessitates public servants to focus, execute, account and maintain transparency.
We remain acutely aware that un-preoccupied youth are more vulnerable to radicalization, extremism and crime and it is for this reason the Government of Namibia and other African Governments are pursuing skills training and economic growth strategies for job creation. Failure to reduce unemployment could further complicate peace and democracy on the continent and even nationally.