Gender Earthquake in Namibia: Can Other African Countries Borrow a Leaf?

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Call it a gender revolution; or if you wish, a gender earthquake. Regardless, one cannot deny the fact that Namibia has recently been going through socio-political metamorphosis aimed at bridging the gender gap in the country.

Recently, the ruling party in Namibia, SWAPO has re-affirmed its commitment to addressing the gender imbalance in the society, by recommending the kind of gender revolution hardly seen anywhere in the world. To prove its seriousness and commitment to gender equality in Namibia, SWAPO has proposed reserving half of its seats in the parliament for women. More than that, the party has introduced what it calls a ‘Zebra system’ which automatically gives the Deputy Minister position to a woman, if the Minister is a man and vice versa. The political implication of this ‘Zebra system’ is arguable, that Namibia may well have a female president, come 2019 after the tenure of the incumbent President, Hifikepunye Pohamba expires. With SWAPO as the largest political party in the country, this audacious move may soon become a reality. If this goal is achieved, Namibia will be the fourth African country – after Liberia, Malawi and the Central African Republic (CAR), where Catherine Samba-Panza acts as the new interim president – to produce a female President.

Although some skeptics have labeled the proposal another mere electoral rhetoric, our investigations have revealed that apart from the initial agreement reached in 2002 which calls for 50% of leadership positions in parliament, government and state owned enterprises to be filled by women, SWAPO is seriously laying strong foundations in place to enable it achieve this gender harmony goal. It has been agreed during the most recent SWAPO conference that the new gender policy will be operational as soon as in the November 2014 elections. Being the largest party in Namibia, it is a matter of near certainty that Namibia will soon become a beacon of gender equality in the world.

If implemented, the new gender ‘Zebra system’ will make Namibia join the ranks of Rwanda, the most gender-friendly country in Africa, and other ““ mostly Scandinavian – Western countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland in the gender-friendly club. Definitely, with the proposed radical gender policy, Namibia will soon overtake the above countries to become the oasis of gender equality in the world.

Even with the impeccable record of the number of female MPs (25 of the 72 parliamentarians), Namibia is far ahead of other countries in the world in terms of fair gender representation. However, some fear that the present proposal could lead to the disenfranchisement of men at the expense of women in the parliament. This might cause disenchantment of the SWAPO leadership, some have argued. To avoid this fear of disenfranchisement of men due to a fair gender representation, the government of Namibia, strongly backed by the ruling SWAPO party, decided to create 28 more seats out of the existing 72 seats of the parliament’s national assembly; thus expanding the assembly to 100 seats. With this arrangement, it is further intimated that the post of SWAPO’s secretary general will go to a man, who will be deputized by a woman. Other existing positions in the party will be rotated between women and men. Although this move has been applauded in many quarters, opponents describe the decision ““ especially to increase the number of seats of the parliament’s national assembly – as an unnecessary waste. Interestingly, the majority of the opponents of the policy is men. It makes one wonder whether the opposition is borne out of pure economic sanity or sexist ideological dogma.

Although three out of the five standing committees in parliament in Namibia are chaired by women, the most perceived “low profile“ ministries, are headed by women. But clearly, women in Namibia are increasing agitating for more roles in the government and a change of the status quo, rather than being relegated to the political background. Compared with their counterparts in other southern Africa, one could say that Namibian women have achieved significant political gains, even though SWAPO, like many of the Southern African major political parties is still largely dominated by men. Although some have argued that the current political transformation and gender equilibrium taking place in Namibia is a manifestation of fear by SWAPO male members of losing their political relevance in the party; the fact remains that the new policy is a right step in the right direction. It is a move that will correct gender imbalance and create the spirit of equity and fairness. More than that, despite the long held sexist perception against women, women have proved to be as good ““ if not better – as their male counterparts in political and managerial levels.

With a population of 2.1 million people and a stable multi-party parliamentary democracy, Namibia is being portrayed by the present government as a success story: a rich country, where fairness, equal representation and good governance are the order of the day. Unlike the ANC (African National Congress), the ruling party of the neighbouring South Africa, SWAPO, which has ruled Namibia since independence in 1990, has performed – to a large extent ““ incredibly well. In contrast with the ANC, which is bogged down with the acrimonious corruption, nepotism and gender imbalance, SWAPO has proved to be, many have argued, a party that delivers. Unfortunately, the apartheid history ““ which gave many White minority access over land and other economic benefits – has contributed to a great extent in making Namibia, to exhibit one of the highest income inequalities in Africa. Unlike the forceful approach of her Zimbabwean “neighbour,“ the government of Namibia, is trying hard to correct this economic in-equilibrium with the White minorities through dialogue and policies aimed at the fair redistribution of resources. This perhaps explains why South Africa`s acid ““tongue opposition leader Julius Malema might rather see President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as a real hero of the revolution. The time will come when Malema will prove the worth of his leadership to his beloved South Africans and the world in general.

According to the global business and financial report prepared by Bloomberg in 2013, Namibia is not only named as the best emerging market economy in Africa, it occupies the enviable 13th position in the world ““ far ahead of many Western countries. More than this, Namibia is rated amongst the best business friendly and least bureaucratic countries in Africa. The one thing many critics cannot deny about Namibia is the level of openness, ease and down to earth attitude amongst Namibian officials. We are talking about a country where the president walks on the street like any other common citizens and goes to Katutura, a slum on the outskirts of the capital Windhoek (Namibia is among the few African countries with only a moderate prevalence of the slums) to wash his car.

Certainly, it might be nothing strange to Namibians to hear that their president and perhaps the deputy are the only ones in the whole country who are entitled to a driver after the official work hours. For many other Africans, who are used to seeing even an office boy using an official government car to fetch firewoods, it indeed is. My encounter with a former defense minister of Namibia, left me flabbergasted as well as question why other African countries could not get their acts together. It equally made me full of praises for Namibia as a country. During the encounter, I could not hide my “shock“ when the honourable minister willingly volunteered to rather come to my moderate hotel to meet me for the appointment, because, according to him ” my house is not far from your hotel.“ Still confused and “dreaming,“ the said minister came exactly at the agreed time, driving himself . In the course of our discussion, the minister narrated his “funny encounter“ in Nigeria with the security personnel of the Nigerian Defence Minister . That was during a meeting of African Defence Chiefs in Abuja. In his usual casual, down to earth manner, the “poor“minister thought he was in Namibia, where security agents are neither overbearing nor unnecessarily power drunk. But that was not to be. He was mistakenly manhandled by the security boys of the Nigerian Defence Minister, to the extent that he was forced to remind them that he was himself a Defence Minister before they showed some mercy and respect ““ though after a long disbelief. Perhaps such an encounter might not be strange to many Africans who are used to excessive abuse of power and fleets of limousines, private jets and other ear piercing sirens amongst officials ““ even a common local government chairman – who wants to visit a toilet or a brothel. Definitely, not in Namibia, where even the mobile numbers of all officials, including the President, are publicly available on the websites.

Corruption, the cankerworm in Africa is relatively very low in Namibia; rule of law is very strong in the country. The Namibian police are professional, strict but fair and law – conscious. Perhaps, the low level of corruption and high professionalism amongst the police explains why the level of crime is very low in Namibia – unlike in South Africa, her neighbour. The zero tolerance crime policy and police efficiency may have contributed towards making Namibia less a den of irresponsible and criminal minded elements from other parts of the continent. Regardless, like any other country, Namibia is facing other social challenges, amongst them AIDS, high level of alcohol consumption amongst youths, inferiority complex towards White Namibians (mainly of German and South African origin), to mention just a few, which the government must seriously address.

Sociologically speaking, a country`s level of development is measured by, amongst others, the rule of law, the level of political cum economic access of women and minorities. A closer look at Namibia shows a country, far ahead of many other African countries in these terms. Like Botswana and Rwanda, which has recently received bashes from the Human Rights activists, Namibia is an epitome of good governance. Has it perhaps, occurred to you why one hardly sees Namibians living in other western countries? How many refugees or immigrants from Namibia are living outside their countries? Very minimal. Perhaps the good governance in Namibia explains the level of patriotism ““ definitely not nationalism – amongst Namibians, who are generally proud of their country.

Can other African countries borrow a leaf from Namibia?