PROFILE | Emma Theofelus: Twenty-three-year-old Namibian activist turned Africa`s youngest minister

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The appointment of twenty-three-year-old Emma Theofelus as Member of Parliament and deputy minister for Information and Communications Technology in the Republic of Namibia made her the country’s youngest MP cum Africa’s youngest minister.

 

Emma Theofelus: Twenty-three-year-old Namibian activist now Africa`s youngest minister

 

On March 23, Emma Theofelus, the 23-year-old Namibian lawyer and social justice activist, was appointed by President Hage Geingob of Namibia as his country’s deputy minister for ICT. Theofelus’ appointment followed a recent cabinet reshuffle by President Geingob and made her one of eight non-voting members of Namibia’s parliament cum Africa’s youngest minister.

Her appointment comes at a time when Namibian youths are calling for inclusivity and more participation of youths in the country’s leadership, one that is mainly dominated by old men. However, the appointment caused some criticism from the Namibian old guard who questioned her competence and experience. “I do not think I am special, but I do not think I am inexperienced, and I do not think being young or female has anything to do with my appointment. Anything I set myself to and any environment I want to work into, I can do it; so the issue of inexperience does not hold any water,” Theofelus, was quoted to have said.

“As a former debater and law graduate, you can expect robust debates in parliament. As long as I have the support and guidance [of my colleagues], I do not think I would go wrong. I will bank on the experience I have, but I am also willing to take advice and guidance from those that have been there before me,” noted Theofelus. “I [will] take on the challenge like I have taken other leadership roles. It is [an] uncharted territory and political space but I am ready to take on the challenge.”

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Prior to her appointment as Namibia’s deputy minister of ICT, beginning from 2019, she worked as legal officer at the directorate of legal services of the country’s Ministry of Justice, dealing with international humanitarian law, mutual legal assistance, and international cooperation, amongst others.

In Dec 2017, Theofelus became a member of Namibia’s National Council of Higher Education; the Council’s task is ensuring the attainment of world-class quality standards by Namibian higher education institutions, in accordance with the Fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) which seeks to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.”

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Earlier in October 2017, she was appointed as youth commissioner at Namibia`s National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In September 2017, Theofelus cofounded the Nambian chapter of the Southern African Alliance on Youth Employment (SAAYE), which profiles and place youth employment challenges on the public advocacy agenda in the Southern African region.

During her university days, between 2015 and 2017, Theofelus served as secretary of the Namibia National Students Organisation (NANSO), a national student organisation focused on making education respond to the needs of the country and its people. She also served as secretary general of the Students’ Representative Council at the University of Namibia, her alma mater, cum the largest higher education institution in the country.

Between 2013 and 2014, Theofelus was junior mayor of Windhoek, the Namibian capital. As the head of the junior council of the City of Windhoek, she chaired the junior council’s meetings and served as the link between young people and the City of Windhoek. At around the same period and until 2015, she was a member of the Namibian Children’s Parliament, starting as deputy speaker and later becoming the parliament’s speaker.

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Theofelus studied for a law degree at UNAM, between 2015 and 2018. She also holds dual diplomas in Business Management and Afrikan Feminism and Gender Studies, from Amity University and University of South (UNISA), respectively. She is a member of many youth groups and movements such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community and the African Youth and Adolescent Network on Population and Development (AfriYan).

Theofelus’ appointment as minister comes at a period of increasing calls for improved youth participation in governance and democratic processes in Africa, which has inspired popular campaigns such as the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ movement. Moreover, 2020 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as well as the five-year milestone since the 2015 adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose fifth goal seeks to achieve gender equality by empowering all women and girls.

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