The youth are the building blocks of a nation and increasingly the backbone of economies, especially in Africa. An investment into youth development is in turn an investment into the future of Namibia. It is therefore critical to mainstream youth development into the fabric of the national agenda. The First National Youth Policy was developed against this background and was first adopted in 1993. This version was then revised in 2006, which led to the Second National Youth Policy. These two documents were important for laying the foundation of the Third National Youth Policy (NYPIII) which is by far the most ambitious, innovative and forward-thinking.

The rationale for the NYPIII is to address challenges underpinning youth development in Namibia so that young Namibians can assume their rightful place in building a “united, inclusive and prosperous Namibian House”. It is meant to empower young Namibians to explore and actualise their full potential to be self-reliant and productive citizens. The Policy’s framework is modelled after the international best practices such as the SADC Youth Development framework, the African Youth Charter and the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Above all, it is guided by the peculiar challenges faced by the Namibian youth. The NYPIII is premised on four pillars – each speaking to a different but interconnected struggle faced by the Namibian youth. It is these pillars that make the NYPIII different from its predecessors.

The first pillar “youth education and skills development” advocates for young people to have access to quality formal and informal education as well as skills development to improve overall educational outcomes. Despite the government’s commitment to education, which in the last financial year spent close to N$30 billion on education and youth development, the sector is still characterized by unqualified teachers, inadequate facilities and lack of mentorship from childhood into adulthood. The NYPIII correctly makes a link between education and employment stating that unemployment is an ever-increasing challenge for the youth but “it should not be overlooked that unemployment is a by-product of the lack of relevant education and skills training.” This underlines the policy proposition that education is inclusive and accessible to all.

The second pillar is focused on “youth health and Well-being”, which promotes access to youth-friendly health information, education and services to achieve a significant improvement in the health and well-being of young people through targeted interventions. This broad pillar encapsulates problems relating to high levels of gender-based violence, high teenage pregnancies and high HIV incidence rates. It is common cause that all of these issues impact women and girls disproportionately pushing the discourse on equality and safety to the forefront. Youth access to healthcare services also has an impact on the poor and persons with disabilities. The NYPIII places emphasis on the reality of these groups acknowledging that different youth get affected differently – imploring to be more inclusive in our approaches.

The third pillar is “youth employment and economic empowerment”, which facilitates access to economic opportunities. The NYPIII acknowledges the dual nature of Namibia’s economy, the informal and formal sectors, as critical for economic development. It is true that over the years, national policies and plans have made some progress in job creation but not at a rate required to significantly impact unemployment levels. Publicly available figures place Namibia as one of the countries in Africa with the highest rates of unemployment at 41 per cent. Ironically, the measures likely invoked to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus have worsened an already bad situation.

“Youth civic and political participation” is the fourth pillar and promotes youth participation and representation in democratic and civic engagements. President Hage G. Geingob’s dedication to youth participation and representation is evident in the appointment of several young people to senior government positions. These historic appointments are a reminder that the implementation of this pillar cannot be symbolic but merited. Youth development policies and strategies cannot be developed without the involvement of the youth at every point, and principally at decision-making levels. It is this approach that has ranked Namibia 9th in Africa and 41st in the world in youth political and civic participation respectively. The NYPIII intends on making further progress by giving impetus to children in positions of leadership such as the children’s parliament and creating volunteering opportunities for young people.

To address contemporary challenges faced by the youth in the personal and national development arena the final pillar draws from emerging and cross-cutting issues. This is an important pillar because it allows the Youth Policy to stay relevant and adapt to any emerging issues faced by the youth that may have not been anticipated by the policy. A practical example is the novel Covid-19 pandemic that has had a significant impact on youth education, employment and health, among others. The NYPIII is a living document structured in such a way as to plan for the unplanned without leaving any youth behind.

The NYPIII is not exhaustive of the challenges faced by the youth. It is a policy developed to enable integrated youth development planning and youth mainstreaming, ensuring youth is reflected in policy and project stages in various sectors. National youth development is often the sole responsibility of the government ministry where the youth portfolio lies, however the approach of NYP III is that youth issues should be mainstreamed across various sectors and line ministries such as health, finance, economic development, housing, justice, international relations, education, and agriculture. The implementation of the policy, however, is likely to spiral into more constructive and elaborative discussions which might enhance the objectives and strategies. With a full force implementation action plan, political will and adequate resources to empower the policy, there should be no doubt that young Namibians will be empowered, actualised, self-reliant and productive within a decade. In summation, the country is at a critical time where it must harness the demographic dividend factor. The demographic dividend by its nature is supposed to provide an opportunity to explore and implement policies and programmes that would get maximum benefits from a youthful population.

*Emma Kantema-Gaomas is the Deputy Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service