Ex-refugee’s high hopes for Africa
Johannesburg – After centuries relegated to the sidelines despite comprising the majority of the continent’s population, African youths are increasingly demanding space in positions of influence and decision-making processes determining their future.
It is anticipated their active participation would help stem the menaces of conflict, protests, economic and political tensions as well as civil wars commonplace around the continent.
Among youths that have stepped up and are making a huge difference is Namibian Selma Shimutwikeni, whose ascension to one of the most inspirational youths of her generation is amazing considering she was once a refugee.
Born in exile in Moscow, Russia 36 years ago, and also having lived in neighbouring Angola at the height of Namibia’s war of independence in the 1980s, Shimutwikeni is the first born in a family of three.
Her father, like her a lawyer, was a freedom fighter for the ruling South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo), which inspired Shimutwikeni to drive both socio-economic and political transformation.
Her advocacy is thus inspired by the challenges the family went through from one country to another in search of safety and peace.
“I am a daughter of liberation fighters born in Russia where my parents were studying law, and I was a refugee child in Angola before Namibia’s independence in 1990. I was very young and saw life through a child’s eyes despite the cause,” Shimutwikeni said in an interview with CAJ News Africa.
She considers herself “fortunate” that she was raised by freedom fighters alongside other children in a safe environment protected by Swapo soldiers.
“I am proud of my background because I learnt at an early age that one must fight for what is right and that good always prevails,” she said.
Such sentiment would shape her advocacy.
“While I was still a girl, my now-late father instilled in me the significance of harnessing natural resources as a catalyst for unlocking national development. My parents’ passionate belief in a nation’s right to self-determination imprinted upon me from a young age,” she said.
She reminisced growing up in a family infused by debate and books, which invariably reinforced the importance of education on her from a young age. She studied law in both the United States and United Kingdom.
“My mother, by her example taught me that, my gender is only a barrier if I chose to see it as thus, that the world is my oyster and that forging ahead against all odds is the only way forward,” Shimutwikeni said.
While she grew up in that environment, there is no denying conflict also shaped Shimutwikeni’s advocacy.
“Conflict is caused by external and internal factors including social, political and economic inequality,” Shimutwikeni pointed out.
“This can be stopped by redefining our identity as Africans and being united in our vision to create the ‘Africa We Want’ as articulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063. We need leadership that is committed to poverty eradication and the upliftment of the wider society by creating access to education and opportunities.”
Thus, she believes the continent’s struggles have shifted from political to economic emancipation.
“Therefore it is important that the public and private sector have an opportunity to transform our abundant resources into wealth and development for the benefit of the broader society.”
With political stability and peace catalysts for development, Shimutwikeni insisted collaboration between public and private sector were key in Africa so as to drive infrastructure development, regional integration and growth.
“The two sectors can leverage their strengths and achieve their objectives but at the same time ensuring that they contribute to poverty eradication and improving the livelihoods of Africans,” she said.
“We need to look at business through a lens of sustainability and at the same time formulate and implement policies that promote capacity development, create conducive investment environments as well as create market access and access to funding,” Shimutwikeni said.
Africa, by virtue of being among the fastest-growing economies and having the world’s youngest population that is expected to double by 2055, Shimutwikeni stressed the importance of transforming this youth boom into a catalyst for industrialising the continent.
“This will address the current challenges such as unemployment, inequality, poverty and social unrest among the youth,” she said.
She called for adequate investments in education, health, employment and good governance to empower the youth.
“Unlocking and optimising this potential also entails structural economic transformation that includes youth participation in strategic sectors such as the energy, agriculture, information and communication technology,” Shimutwikeni said.
She also challenged African leaders to change their mindset and realize that the continent was the most endowed in terms of resources and diversity.
“Therefore it is imperative that we focus on the bigger picture and put any differences aside. In order for us to thrive we need economic, peace, safety and security for all,” she said.
It is against this backdrop Shimutwikeni founded her company, Rich Africa Consultancy in 2011.
It advises leaders in natural resources law and policy, and facilitating investment linkages.
“Our vision is to transform natural resources into wealth and development. Using our expertise, we also create and facilitate thought-leadership initiatives on key development issues.”
Among other successes, Rich Africa Consultancy successfully conceptualised, led and organised Namibia’s International Oil and Gas Conferences sponsored by multinationals and leading advisory firms.
Upcoming events include the Rich Africa Infrastructure Summit and Expo to be in Johannesburg at the end of October.
The summit is a thought-leadership and project-showcasing on advancing infrastructure development and promoting intra-Africa trade.
Themed, “Transforming Africa: Investing in Regional Integration” it is a platform for collaboration between the public and private sector.
The Namibian government of President Hage Geingob has included Shimutwikeni in a team of consultants it tasked to review the White Paper on Energy and draft the National Energy Policy. She is the first young, black, female to pen a National Energy Plan for Namibia.
Recently, Shimutwikeni represented youths at the just-ended Africa Leadership Forum held in Johannesburg where she rubbed shoulders with former heads of state in pursuit of peace, stability and economic transformation.
Among the former presidents were South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), Bakili Muluzi (Malawi), Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete (both of Tanzania).
Others were former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Somalia), Sam Nujoma and Hifikepunye Pohamba (both Namibia) in quest for socio-economic and political solutions to problems such as civil strife, poverty caused and corruption.
“My vision for Africa includes a continent where our societies are at peace, prosperous and healthy. And most importantly leading change in the world. It sounds like a far-fetched vision but dreams are for everyone and they are free,” she said. – CAJ News