Job Amupanda recently wrote a well-thought- out piece in a local daily newspaper decrying Namibia as a gerontocracy. In the same article he lauds the candidacy of the youthful Angelina Immanuel of Ondangwa running in the by-election as an independent. Job’s points resonate, even for some of us at 50+ years old.
I agree that there is no more room for the grey hairs among us who get in a tight spot to revert to the, “we fought for this country” mantra as a defensive response to any challenge.
Don’t get me wrong. We must continue to honour our liberation movement heroes, heroines and make sure they get every benefit they are due via the appropriate holidays of remembrance, ministries and programmes.
But, allow me to throw a rough point at Job’s gerontocracy arguments. I know just as many irresponsible, immature and vapid 30-year- olds as I know thoughtless, stubborn and ignorant 70- year-olds.
Age doesn’t immediately make someone intelligent nor does it automatically make someone incompetent. I submit that there are ten times more 30 and 40-year- olds in government offices that are uninspiring, inept, unproductive and unmotivated than there are under-whelming or sleeping 60 and 70-year-old members of the National Council and Parliament.
I must admit that I cringed when I saw a photo of the 77-year-old President Geingob posing next to the 81-year- old Guinean President, Alpha Conde, on his recent state visit. The image of two old men in sharply tailored suits, no longer able to stand tall - and yet remaining (perhaps too long) in complex and difficult high offices that they may struggle to manage - was the unfortunate impact of those optics.
Still, I beg to offer another viewpoint. I assume my young brotha’ Job is progressive on social issues? Therefore, how can he fight against race and sex discrimination and espouse age discrimination? In effect, his words seem to be actively calling for anyone above the retirement age to be effectively (not literally) lined up against a wall and shot as they are superfluous fodder. Where is it proven that when someone has their 60th birthday they are instantly rendered brain dead and useless at 12:01 am on that day?
Indeed, there are jobs that require physical prowess, dexterity or mental acuity which may preclude someone who no longer has these capacities. Hiring a 75- year-old with rheumatoid arthritis and pre-Alzheimer’s to lift boxes, herd cattle and walk them kilometres for water, or accurately remember and quickly react to database input may not be feasible. However, I submit that many older people may be differently-abled, and can contribute to society (and better themselves) on numerous levels.
Job has also decried the age of two recently appointed ambassadors. I would want to respond to him as a holder of both an MA and BA in International Relations and an ambassador’s wife for nearly 13 years. Being an ambassador should have little to do with age per se, and all to do with competence and capacity.
I care not a whit about the ages of Ambassadors Asser Kapere or Clemens Kashuupulwa - who are distinguished gentlemen - but I care if they can do the job.
Someone who has never travelled any distance greater than Ondangwa to Tsumeb, never reads, speaks Namlish, has no social graces, has no standing or stature, does not know the constitution, business sectors and local products, the needs of the economy, the activities/traditions of varying ethnic groups, and does not love Namibia deeply, cannot be her representative, regardless of their age.
Ambassadors must have the stamina/good health to incessantly travel around their appointed countries, attend scores of diplomatic events, make speeches, be on television, radio, or podcasts and give interviews, master the politics of the country they are in, talk about Namibia 24/7/365 and be the voice of the Namibian President.
They must properly manage a multi-million dollar Embassy budget and win development assistance, favourable treaties, scholarships, and business contracts for our local companies. If an ambassador is 30 –years-old and can do what I have outlined, great; if they are 70+ and can do it, even better. There is no replacement for life experience and competence.
Concerning the candidacy of Angelina Immanuel, which Job writes about, I would say to Job that instead of seeming to promote age discrimination (i.e, Immanuel is automatically the ‘better’ choice because she is 27 as opposed to another candidate who is 60), why not spend more time dealing with the reality that most of the youth DON’T VOTE! Young people may be 60 percent of the numerical population of the Land of the Brave, but that does not translate to the same percentage of the voting public. Let Job rally the youth to register and then vote, regardless of their candidate choices.
Why not promote youth activism and youth self-discipline? Why not demand less sex discrimination by our younger men? Why not go after inferior educational institutions turning out unemployable graduates? Why not chide our 20-something youth for acting spoiled and entitled: “Auntie, can you give me N$100? – Dad can I use your car? – Mom, when’s dinner?”
Holding any job must be about what you can do; what you are willing to do; and what you know how to do. Age is just a number.