A Conversation with The Right Honourable Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of the Republic of Namibia
Time and Place
On May 17 2016, the Wilson Center hosted a Director’s Forum event, “A Conversation with The Right Honourable Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of the Republic of Namibia,” in conjunction with the Wilson Center’s Women in Public Service Project, the Wilson Center Africa Program, and the Constituency for Africa. Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of the Wilson Center, and Melvin P. Foote, President of Constituency for Africa, provided opening remarks. Gwen Young, Director of the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center, moderated the discussion with Rt. Hon. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of Namibia, on the successes achieved and challenges faced in recent years.
Acknowledging the multifaceted value women bring to societal wellbeing in terms of lowering poverty, increasing business performance, and protecting the environment from unsustainable activities, Rt. Hon. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila framed much of her opening remarks around Namibia’s commitment to promoting gender equity and recognizing women’s rights as human rights. She highlighted that Namibia has made significant efforts in enacting legislation to promote gender parity within parliament, within employment, and within the household. Drawing from the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report, the Prime Minister lauded Namibia’s progress in ranking 16th in the report’s global gender gap index, as compared to the country’s 38th position ten years ago. Further, the prime minister noted Namibia’s significant improvement in female representation at the legislative level, where the country has been lauded for a gender-inclusive parliament, and at the ministerial level, where women hold 38 percent of ministerial positions.
Ms. Young posed a number of follow-up questions on gender parity, high youth unemployment, Namibia’s urban/rural dynamics, and Namibia’s efforts towards delivering services such as maternity and child care. Addressing these in turn, Rt. Hon. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila agreed that Namibia is going through a gender revolution with the public sector, enjoying increasingly high degrees of female representation. According to the prime minister, the ruling party’s “zebra” political system, in which a male official must have a female deputy or vice versa, has been largely accepted by Namibia’s progressive population. Additionally, the government has adopted an Affirmative Action Act which mandates that employers should have training and affirmative action programs for beneficiaries, and has enacted a plan to accelerate the process of development and restructure the economy.
Moreover, with the adoption of industrialization policy and trade agreements such as AGOA, Namibia has enjoyed economic growth and better delivery of health and education services. The Namibian economy has grown quickly, mainly driven by growth in primary industries (fishing, agriculture, and minerals), the tourism sector, and most recently, in nontraditional sectors through foreign direct investment in education and health. The Prime Minister commented that Namibia welcomes members of the African diaspora who seek to invest in Namibia and who want to add positive value to the country. Since independence, the government has continued to allocate 20 percent of its budget to education, making it both free and compulsory. Furthermore, the government’s maternity and child care plan includes paid maternity leave with basic salary.
Despite Namibia’s progress, Rt. Hon. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila acknowledged the following three key challenges (in order of priority) that Namibia will face in the next three years: 1) climate change, as a natural disaster-prone country; 2) high inequality along racial and gender lines, despite recent economic growth; 3) high levels of youth unemployment, unequal income distribution, and the ownership of assets by multinational corporations in the agriculture sector. Additional challenges she mentioned include gender-based violence, following through with the reparation process initiated with the German government in regards to the Herero and Namaqua genocide, and the need for increased female representation in the private sector, at the judicial level, and within the National Council. However, she remains positive given Namibia’s current Harambee Prosperity Plan, which identifies youth and especially young women as key target beneficiaries and participants in development, and the prospects that Namibia may soon begin exporting beef, fish, and grapes to the United States.