Sunday 11 April 2021
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Youth in leadership: a question of age or capability

By Staff Reporter

As Namibia’s young population begin to vie for positions within the national leadership structure, questions are beginning to mount as to whether emphasis should be placed on age or their capability to deliver.
However, critics have also started to ask whether the youthful executives who have in the recent past have served in the public gallery have made the needed impact that comes naturally with youthful energy and innovation.
Young people constitute the majority of the country’s population but does this make them automatic candidates to the national leadership and do they have the clout to take the country forward?
These are some of the critical questions some youthful leaders attempted to tackle this past week ahead of the Ondangwa elections in which youthful aspirant for the councillor position, Angeline Immanuel is locking horns with the elderly Leonard Negonga.
 The importance of youth representation in key leadership positions
Youth Advisor in the Presidency, Daisry Mathias said that she deems it necessary for the youth to be represented in capacities of decision making because of its bulging demographic segment in Namibia and SADC.
According to the African Union, Namibia is the only country on the continent at the moment with a Presidential Youth Advisor.
She added that this representation is important as one of way of ensuring meaningful participation in development processes across the governance tiers of local, regional and national leadership.
She further said that while the young seek for youth representation, age should not be considered above capability.
“What is important is a combination of key attributes, including a young candidate’s political and civic profile, conversance with contemporary issues, requisite skills/competency to lead and of course character.
“Biology (age, gender, race/ethnicity) should not be automatic qualifying criteria for professional appointment, although their consideration is important in ensuring inclusivity for groups that may have been disproportionately marginalized,” Mathias said.
She said Namibia has had good examples of youth leaders.
“I believe greater things are still to come.
From the genesis of our political struggle for liberation, the youth of the day were in the forefront and rose to leadership in their hour of testing. Our Founding President, Cde. Sam Nujoma was in his youth when he fled the country to become the leader of the revolution, joined by a cohort of young leaders including former President Pohamba.
Inside the country the youth league under Jerry Ekandjo was active and instrumental. Incumbent President, His Excellency Dr. Hage Geingob was only 21 years old when he left the country into exile.
By the age of 24 he was SWAPO Chief Representative to the United Nations, where their relentless petitioning efforts at the UN eventually yielded Resolution 435,” she said.
She also mentioned that individuals such as Prime Minister Saara-Kuugongelwa Amadhila, who was appointed Director General of the National Planning Commission at an indication of Namibia’s history with youth representation.
“Today there is a contingent of youthful politicians serving as community councillors, governors, deputy ministers and civil servants, who are leading by example.
But leadership is not only reserved for the public sector.
I am fortunate in my role to interface with industry, where I interact with dynamic and brilliant young executives, in charge of material portfolios and leading industries, creating jobs, touching lives, in that equally important private capacity,” she said.
However, the youth advisor has over the past few years been criticised for not doing enough for the Namibian youth and for being one of the young leaders that have not been exemplary.
Mathias said that considering the newness of her role within the Namibian governance context, she does not view the opinions as criticism, but rather a lack of understanding on the function of a Government Advisor.
“My peers expect to see me running with the implementation of Government programmes and delivering services directly on the ground. Such approach would be a redundant.
My function is complementary to the existing institutional framework. What I do is advise on policy and programme design, focusing on the dimensions of youth and enterprise development,” she said.
She added that carrying out her duties involves stakeholder engagement on policy matters and intra-governmental coordination for programme development and implementation as well as supporting the work of the President administratively in the Private Office and any other duty as assigned.
“The contribution of a Youth Advisor in the Presidency, over the term, has been the subsequent elevation of the Youth Development and Empowerment Agenda as an economic priority and the mainstreaming of these priorities into government development plans and programmes,” she said.
Mathias is being rumoured to be moving to the position of executive director for the Investment Centre to replace the retired Bernadette Artivor.
Mathias refuted this information saying she did not apply for the position and that she is committed to carrying out her mandate with as an advisor to President Hage Geingob.
The National Youth Council Executive Chairperson Mandela Kapere recently said that Namibian youth should not expect to just occupy leadership positions based on their age.
He said that in order to ensure meaningful involvement and contribution from the youth, emphasis   should be placed on whether the youth candidates are capable.
Activists and member of the Affirmative Repositioning movement, Dimbulukeni Nauyoma says that he agrees with the notion that capabilities should be considered above age when including the youth in key leadership positions.
He said that there are young people – especially in the private sector – who have proven to deliver and excel in leadership positions.
Nauyoma said that with the exception of a few like the recently elected new Governor of the Kunene region, Marius Sheya, most young people in government and political leadership positions have not been the greatest example as many were concerned with “politics of the belly”.
He said that youth representation in Namibian government and politics is also largely because those 50 and under are considered youth.
“Mandela Kapere, when he was given the position at NYC, must tell us what qualification in leadership he had. He was on the NIP board, what were his qualifications in line with those duties,” he asked.
Nauyoma said that as long as young people prove that they are capable, they should be allowed to lead.
He also said that a lack of youth representation in leadership is dangerous for succession plans in government.

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