Ex-refugee, now advocate, has high hopes for Africa
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
DECISION MAKER: Selma Shimutwikeni has a vision for Africa and the continent’s economic and social development.