By Kelvin Chiringa
Despite Namibia receiving international applause for achieving a 50/50 gender representation in parliament, indications on the ground are that the experiment has failed dismally to produce effective law makers.
The latest available compiled record of parliamentary debates for the National Assembly is proof that most female law-makers have been reduced to bench-warmers, who are practically silent on coming up with cutting edge legislation or providing sound contributions to bills.
They continue to be found wanting when it comes to pushing for innovative, disruptive and progressive pro-electorate reforms.
The inception of “zebra politics” was regarded as revolutionary and unparalleled, giving female parliamentarians more power.
Experts are now agreed that they have resorted to maintaining silence on critical governance issues as well as the status quo. A parliamentary official who spoke to The Patriot disclosed that even though training has been availed to transform female parliamentarians into vibrant impactful law-makers, most have disregarded the training.
An opposition member of the house further reduced the training to mere statues that should be gotten rid of. Meanwhile as the 50/50 quota system comes of age and the August House still being dominated by male politicians, critics are beginning to worry that it is now killing parliament.
In various debates recorded in the fifth session of the sixth parliament, (the 2018 version is still with publishers), two opposition female members stand out, Elma Jane Dienda and Jennifer van der Heever.
The root cause of this weakness in parliament is not the zebra-system for its own sake, but rather the type of women who have been picked to be a part of it, opines academic and political analyst, Ndumba Kamwanyah.
Early criticism of the 50/50 has also been that the type of woman who have fit into the system are elites who are not in touch with the lower strata of society.
A publication report recently labelled it as a mere gender-fight pleaser and indications are that it has earned the leadership praise, but nothing for the electorate. Kamwanyah’s view is corroborated by a high-placed source close to parliamentarian affairs who said most of their curriculum vitae’s are nowhere within the precincts of the seat of government.
The source also disclosed that there is a fear that these law-makers were placed in positions they had little knowledge of, hence their flimsy participation in the house.
For Kamwanyah, had the employment of Namibia’s women lawmakers been rooted on meritocracy, parliament would not be the same.
“It has to do with the type of people that were elected. It’s important that we all should support gender equality and that we should make opportunities for women to advance in policy making processes and institutions but it should not come at the expense of quality,” said Kamwanyah.
This is where the leadership failed to pay attention, he added.
Swapo party on the other hand is fine with the way things are because, “nobody is complaining”, said research associate at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Frederico Links.
“We have to be honest; it does not take into consideration the quality of the parliament, competency and qualifications and personalities but rather loyalty to the organisation. If voters don’t demand in terms of the quality of representation, parties will continue doing things the way they have done,” he said.
The weakness in parliament should not only expose women as their male counterparts too have been found to been lacking on quality, Kamwanyah and Links concurred.
“We haven’t really seen people who are well versed with policy issues and processes as well as issues that need to be debated critically in the parliament. So even if you look at that book, it seems as if men are dominating but you can also see that it’s only certain men,” said Kamwanyah.
The recorded National Assembly debates project PDM’s Vipuakuje Muharakua as standing out when it comes to posing confrontational, uncomfortable and critical questions.
Most male members appear moderate in their approach as opposed to being radically progressive. In certain instances, they merely rise to call for funding on projects or to proclaim their support of specific bills.
They also come out as being simply reactive to questions in a manner that re-emphasise, re-articulate, copy and pasting ministerial or party ideological stances.