Even the latest population count conducted last year confirms that Namibia is a country of young people, the youngest, in fact – more than 34 percent of them being less than 14 years.
It should boggle the mind then that Namibia’s most powerful citizens, especially in politics, but also in business and on social platforms, are more than 60 years, the most powerful of them no less than 65 years.
These are not worthless statistics. The life expectancy suggests that an ordinary or average Namibian has no chance of meeting a peer in office with whom he or she can relate on happenings of their daily lives (children, sport, and other trials and tribulations) and with exactly the same understanding even if social and economic status may separate them.
Before we are again accused of only looking at the ruling party, consider a few facts. The leaders of all but one of the major political parties, those represented in parliament, are above 60 years. President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Swapo is 77 years old this year; Kuaima Riruako of Nudo, 77; Hidipo Hamutenya (RDP) is 73 years old; Katuutire Kaura (DTA) is aged 71; Justus Garoëb (UDF) turns 70; Ben Ulenga (CoD) is 60 and Ignatius Shixwameni of the All People’s Party (APP) is probably considered a youth at 46.
Except for Pohamba, all consider themselves presidents-in-waiting. We can safely say such ambitions are too far from realisation because Swapo is too strong to have any real contenders from the opposition parties within the next five or even 10 years.
Even if one were to consider the names of the possible future head of state from within Swapo, the average Namibians are unlikely to get a President who they can relate to. Former Prime Minister Hage Geingob is 71 and will be 74-year old grandfather by 2015 when the next opportunity arises. Nahas Angula, the Prime Minister, is 69 (72 by 2015); Swapo secretary general Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, now at 60, will be 63 years old; Jerry Ekandjo is 65 and Marco Hausiku 59 now. And if the dynasty fever bites Namibians, even Utoni Nujoma will be 63 come 2015.
How did we get here?
One possible explanation is that the problem is caused by a tendency of Namibians to cling to youth like a rash. While the National Youth Council’s (NYC) policy defines a Namibian youth as “young women and men between ages ranging from 16-30 years”, it allows its leaders to be 35 years old.
The situation might be worsened by the ruling party, whose youth league constitution states that membership accommodates anyone up to 35 years of age, with the head of the wing, the secretary, allowed to be there until 45. One of the long-serving leaders of the Swapo Youth League, Hadino Hishongwa dared to call himself a “permanent youth” aiming to head the wing till eternity.
We understand there is even a proposal to increase the age limit for members to 40 years at the upcoming SPYL congress! And the names of the people being mentioned as vying for the top positions – Elijah Ngurare, the incumbent secretary who is 42 this year, Julius Nyerere Namoloh, Veiko Nekundi – are all above 33 years.
One cannot blame these individuals for the problems of Namibia’s youth, but they must shoulder responsibility for not changing the policies that clearly are to blame for pushing the country’s young people to the periphery of the problem-solving machinery.
The truth is that the leaders of many organisations and institutions in our country are out of touch with the living conditions of the people they represent.
Age alone is not the determining factor in who is best-suited to occupy decision-making posts, but it plays a major role because only the people in a certain situation best know what their lot in life is and have a better sense of what to do about their problems.
A classic definition of youth is “the period between childhood and adult age” and an adult is “a person who is fully grown and developed”. Some of our so-called youth leaders have children already in their late teens or even in their twenties; many are husbands and wives with major adult responsibilities.
Their ‘permanent youth’ status denies the real youth, the young Namibians who make up most of the country’s population, a platform to develop into responsible adults. And you wonder why people in the twilight of their lives – the over-65s – are not trusting enough to hand over the country’s leadership to the 40- and 50-year-olds?