Ex-refugee, now ad­vo­cate, has high hopes for Africa

African Independent - - NEWS - SAVIOUS KWINIKA

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 de­ci­sion­mak­ing 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 be­ing 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 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.

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.

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 US and the UK.

“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 her ad­vo­cacy.

“Con­flict is caused by ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal fac­tors in­clud­ing so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­equal­ity,” she said.

“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 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 en­sure they con­trib­ute to poverty erad­i­ca­tion and im­prov­ing the liveli­hoods of Africans.

“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, Shimutwikeni stressed the im­por­tance of trans­form­ing its 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 chal­lenged African lead­ers to change their mind­set and re­alise that the con­ti­nent was the most en­dowed in terms of re­sources and diver­sity. “In or­der for us to thrive we need eco­nomic, peace, safety and se­cu­rity for all.”

It is against this back­drop that 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.” – CAJ News

The pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor must trans­form our abun­dant re­sources into wealth

PIC­TURE: ISAAC GOD­WIN

DE­CI­SION MAKER: Selma Shimutwikeni has a vi­sion for Africa and the con­ti­nent’s eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

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