By Karen Mwendera
Emma Inamutila Theofelus is Namibia’s youngest minister hoping to turn around the fortunes of Africa’s youth.
EMMA INAMUTILA THEOFELUS IS NOT YOUR average 24-year-old. She is the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology in Namibia, and at the top, represents her country’s majority demographic – the youth.
First appointed by President Hage G. Geingob as a Member of Parliament (MP), and then also as Deputy Minister in March last year, her immediate task was public communication on the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have learned that in a time of crisis, people panic and are susceptible to unverified information. I have also observed that citizens need to hear the same messaging in order to start believing it and trusting the source,” says the young politician, who was born and raised in Katutura, a township in Namibia’s capital Windhoek.
There is the obvious issue of the glaring age gap between her and the parliamentarians she works with, but she says she does not let that intimidate her.
“We all started somewhere. I am not new to leadership and can leverage the skills I have learned in my activism to make a success of this role. Quite frankly, I believe I am well on my way,” says Theofelus, also a social justice lawyer.
In her dual role as MP and deputy minister, she plans to continue influencing decisions and laws made in the interest of young people.
“In my specific role, I have set out some key goals being that of communicating the programs of government effectively and so far
we have done well in setting up a Government Information Centre. Secondly, I want to optimize the use of our Multi-Purpose Community Centres which act as ICT hubs for communities who have limited access to ICT. Thirdly, I want to help bridge the digital divide in the country through the prioritization of setting up ICT infrastructure,” she says.
Previously, Theofelus has worked as the Legal Officer at the Ministry of Justice, Vice-Chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurs Network Namibia Board, the Commissioner of UNESCO Namibia, and Junior Mayor of the City of Windhoek.
We all started somewhere. I am not new to leadership and can leverage the skills I have learned in my activism to make a success of this role. Quite frankly, I believe I am well on my way.
“She is seen as a beacon of hope, so she has the youth vote and the youth support,” says Luis Munana, a FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker in 2019 from Namibia. “Everybody is waiting for the old guys to leave so that new change comes into the country because we are tired of the old system as it is not really serving the people.”
Theofelus adds diversity to Namibia’s government, following in the footsteps of the first woman to serve as the Prime Minister of Namibia, Saara Kuugongelwa.
The fight to advance women’s empowerment and youth development on the continent has been a top priority for many countries, which has seen most governments appoint female leaders. In neighboring Botswana, trade economist and consultant Bogolo Kenewendo was only 29 when she was appointed Minister of Investment, Trade, and Industry. In 2018, Zimbabwe appointed Kirsty Coventry, former Olympics swimmer, and world record holder, as the minister of Youth, Sport, Arts, and Recreation. Vera Daves De Sousa became Angola’s finance minister in 2019 at the age of 35.
Back in Namibia, to Africa’s youth, Theofelus says: “We are going to get this continent right.”