TALKING POINTS Mrs. Monica Geingos First Lady of the Republic of Namibia Keynote Address: The Greater Inclusion of African Youth in Public Service and Governance
I am one of those who attributes meaning to words and I found it significant that the title of this Paper emphasizes the word “greater” inclusion. It implies that the inclusion that exists needs to be expanded and fast- tracked. If you distil the essence of the paper, the message to politicians is essentially “hey Guys! Thanks for including us but stop acting like you are doing us a favour because truth is, you are not doing enough, you are not doing it fast enough and since it looks like you don’t know how to include us, let us tell you how.”
Of course, those aren’t the words used by the authors. The Paper strikes a balance between the need to be diplomatic without diluting the need to be instructive. The words in print are carefully arranged to acknowledge what is being done, ask that more be done and gives guidance on how it can be done better.
I know there will be different views on this but what I have experienced and what I observe is: How you say something is as important as what you say. This paper manages to say what young people are saying to each other privately: these guys see us, they include us, but they don’t listen to us. I am sure that by now, many of you who have been given the proverbial seat at the table are starting to notice that sitting at the table doesn’t automatically translate into being heard. I am sure many of you have left meetings re-phrasing how you could have said something better or frustrated that what you meant to say was misunderstood or miscontextualised because of the wrong timing or choice of words. Am I asking you to contort yourself to fit into respectability politics, sit quietly and only speak when spoken to? No. I am asking you not to conform, not to dilute yourself and not to seek approval. What I am asking is that you think about what it means to communicate effectively. If the chance of my input stands a better chance of being taken seriously because I make the same point by deploying different language, then let me rather choose my words carefully.
Like the Paper we are here to discuss – cleverly launched on International youth day – it is possible to deliver some hard truths by being strategic in terms of timing, tone and truthfulness. If you are sitting at the table and you can’t change the agenda, you have not been included, you have been co-opted.
I have sat on Boards of leading private and public sector companies as the youngest member of the Board. I know how it feels like to be invisible, to say something that gets ignored and 10 minutes later when someone else uses different words to says exactly what I said, it is all of a sudden the best idea. As many of you have noticed, there are rules to power and politics. The worst thing about these rules is that many of the rules are unwritten and unspoken and we often need a guide to ensure we don’t break rules we didn’t even know exist. You will just hear “it’s not done that way.” Nobody tells you how it is done.
It was interesting to see how the Paper highlighted the utilization of Special Advisors as a pathway to politics. It,
rightly, points out that this talent pipeline should be institutionalized and not be dependent on how a Head of State feels. I agree with this position. I agree with their assessment that in Namibia, the incumbent President has shown commitment to the appointment of young people. I have seen how he spends time to nurture, develop and engage young people but what happens if they break an unwritten rule or when a new President takes over who doesn’t feel the same way about youth inclusion? It is best to have a transparent policy and clear processes.
I am also pleased that the Paper includes youth quotas as a way of expediting youth inclusion. Quotas are never a popular suggestion, but it’s an important one. The question around quotas will always be, “if you are so good, why can’t you make it on your own?” As a black woman, I understand the nuance of that sentiment. I hear the unspoken complaint that is unfair and a self- respecting candidate should rely on their competence. The reality is that no matter how qualified or competent a young person is, there are perceptions and unconscious bias that impacts how they are perceived. Youth inclusion will not achieve its targets without a quota system. It is also the most orderly way to ensure continuous inter- generational succession.
When I speak about youth inclusion, I speak with the assumption that we are all on the same page that youth representation must be demographically representative. No sexism. No tribalism. No classism. I know the struggles of many young, female political leaders across the continent and there will be a moment that we will
need to address the debilitating impact of political sexism on the careers of young women.
I want to make some observations and before I do, I would like you to explain what has informed my views by telling you quickly about my journey:
My qualifications are in law but my career was primarily in financial services. I started my career at the Namibian Stock Exchange, then I headed a Corporate Finance division at an Investment Bank. I left to become a founding shareholder and managing director of Namibia’s first private equity fund. I was also a shareholder and chairperson of a commercial bank and many other public and private companies. I was on a number of bodies that gave high level policy advise including the President’s Economic Advisory Council, the Public Office Bearers Commission, the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and the ruling party’s Think Tank.
I contributed financially and was even a party Section Chairperson for the locality I lived in. I resigned all these roles when I got married and changed from being a participant to being an observer. As a First Lady, people tend to assume I don’t know much. I am okay with that as I am not always in the mood to talk and it gives me time to observe people and power. It is always instructive to see how power is used by those who have it and how people who don’t have power behave around it. It’s the most fascinating dynamic to watch. The question I want each of you to ask yourselves today is, do you have a plan about how you will yield power? It seems a simple question, but the reality is that the answer is complex. Power is corrosive and it changes
people. You can’t control something you don’t understand. Observe power dynamics, be clear on how you behave around it and how you will behave when you have it. When you have power, always remember how it felt not to have power and be guided accordingly. Time won’t permit me to go into details so here are ten quick lessons I have learn from an observer’s perspective:
1) Try avoiding taking sides when politicians
start clashing – There is a lot of grievance and conflict in this space and if you are not careful, you will be forced to take sides. – Politicians don’t have permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. When they fight each other, they will include you into their fights and exclude you when they make peace. Don’t be a useful idiot;
2) De-risk your political career with an economic
resilience Plan: – I believe young people seeking to enter politics should first have marketable skills, a qualification or a means of earning additional income. There is no more a vulnerable position than relying on the discretion of politicians for your livelihood, especially if you are unemployable outside of the public sector. Those who know they can’t survive outside politics often develop flexible values and questionable ethics.
3) Learn to Accept Defeat – I have seen many bright careers destroyed by the inability to accept defeat. Whether its electoral, whether it’s not being considered for an appointment you felt you were best suited for, or given to someone who knows or does less than you. Even if you obtain public office, don’t build your personality or status around it as positions are temporary. The most bitter people are those who can’t recognise themselves when they are no longer in public office; – The worst time for a politician is the day after he is elected. He will start getting calls and messages reminding him how hard people campaigned and which jobs they should get. Don’t be that person.
4) Create Your Own Space – Politicians are drawn to those who can articulate themselves properly. This doesn’t mean they will like what you say. They will however respect it when its thoughtful and makes strong points. Create your own spaces, write papers, be engaged, be strategic, be smart. They can’t and don’t know all the young people who are capable and competent. The only way you get to their attention is through thought leadership. Write opinion pieces for newspapers, go on television and speak on radio and if they don’t invite you, publish your views on social media and create your own space.
5) Decide how you Want to Participate – Do you start your own political party or stand as an independent candidate? Do you find an existing
political vehicle you identify with? Do you go against the mainstream? How will you access funding? Take a route and try stick to it as nobody trust a political person who is always changing allegiance.
6) Pick your battles carefully – You will always find yourself in disagreement with your political principals. There will always be things that can be done better in the public sector. Learning what to keep quiet about and what to fight is a skill. Conflict is part of the game and a skill you want to learn is conflict resolution and not responding to, or taking ad hominem attacks to heart.
7) The system can be changed but it will first try
to eat you – I believe, within my context, that to see real reform, you need to get into the belly of the beast. I struggle to convince capable, qualified young people to work in the public sector as they feel there is no upward mobility, there is too much backstabbing, remuneration is low, and they aren’t taken seriously. The bad news is that there is indeed a price to pay to occupy the public space. The good news is that you can be the change you want to see. The only caution is that you must constantly assess yourself to determine whether you are changing the system or if the system is changing you. It’s important not to become so blinded by proximity and power that you can’t see when something is going very wrong. If you find yourself always angry, frustrated and in disagreement, then you need to self-introspect. This
is partly what leads to the governance and generational gaps discussed in the Paper.
8) Don’t become like those who fight you – Don’t adopt the tactics of those who fight you as
there will be no difference between you and them.
9) Patriarchy doesn’t Sleep – Politics are a mirror of our societies. If our societies are patriarchal, so are our politics. Women are judged harshly, given a narrower margin of error and are often not included when late night political deals and strategies are being cut. Another element is how consensual sexual relationship are more likely to cost the woman as opposed to the man. Worst still, sexual harassment in politics isn’t taken seriously. Aya, I am certain you have explored this angle, but I do recommend that we spend a little more time speaking about sexual harassment and sexual violence within the corridors of political power.
10) Watch How your political allies fight their enemies – Be careful of your allies who use dirty tactics and de- campaign others as one day when you disagree with them, they will use those dirty tactics against you.
I have plenty more observations I would love to share and herein lies my point. An important part of fostering intergenerational learning is mentorship. Find yourself a political ally. A mentor who can explain the unwritten rules, who can do translations for you when you say
something that sounds different to what you meant. Someone who can intercede for you when a public pronouncement rubs people the wrong way and someone who can defend you when you are being discussed as a “problem”. A mentor who can explain why the public service or political party react in a certain way, why they don’t want to use technology to reach out to more youth and why they don’t have more intergenerational dialogues. Mentors assist to bridge the gap between the rhetoric and realities of youth inclusion.
The crisis of generational transition afflicts churches, the arts, business, sports and every sphere of life where there is leadership. The younger generation will always differ with the generation that precedes it. Resisting the inevitable friction and need for transition is not an option for as long as we are mortals. The only logical way to manage generational transition is to intentionally groom suitable successors to ensure a smooth transition in a clearly defined, structured and transparent manner. This is essentially the point of the Paper on Greater Youth Inclusion and I agree with it. The need for youth inclusion should no longer be a topic. The topic should be how to institutionalize and fast-track inclusion while making sure that young people are not only seen at the table, but are heard, trusted and valued.