The days of people in powerful positions who are incompetent, unskilled, unaware, and with no new ideas are numbered. Namibia is in desperate straits. Those chosen to lead in politics and business must be the best and brightest. No other criteria, including age, gender or ethnic background, should take precedence.

There is no doubt that we have too many people in top positions in Namibia that have passed their prime. It is sad to see prize fighters or world-class athletes that stay on for too long. We all remember their past powerful performances and are saddened to see them limp along now. That said, we insist that age (for its own sake) is not the only indication of wisdom, effectiveness, intelligence or competence. Being 60 (the ageist retirement standard in Namibia) does not make someone inherently stupid or senile. Equally, being 35 does not make someone automatically smart, competent, efficient and qualified.

Namibians place too much emphasis on age and not enough on competence.

In Namibia, we’ve missed the point. The issue is COMPETENCE to hold office or do a job. We have no patience for people who complain that everyone over 50 should be chucked out to ‘make way’ for someone younger. They selfishly shout that people who just received their degrees yesterday are being kept back because of old people taking up jobs. Who said that a recent graduate, by virtue of being 23 is automatically better at a job than someone 53?

There are jobs that have physical requirements where someone with youthful muscles might be best suited. But, in a job that is about creativity, planning, strategic thinking, tactics, and logistical management, what has age or brawn to do with it?

We all agree that it is sexist and unacceptable to brand certain jobs as ‘for men’ and other jobs as ‘for women.’ Using this same reasoning, we must also re-examine what age has to do with job performance. Shall we have categories? Shall we say: These jobs are for people in their 30’s, these others are for people in their 50’s? It makes no sense to divide jobs by age group. It is about competence to DO the job, not the age, gender or ethnic background of the people competing for the job.

There are headlines about the selection of younger candidates for local elections. Our first question is not about the age of those selected. We want to know their talents, intellect, capacity, constituency, and personal commitment. Do they have new ideas? Are they independent thinkers? Are they committed enough to be a true public servant? In answering these questions, is a candidate that is 30 automatically ‘better’ than a candidate that is 50? We think not.

There was much made of gender balance in Parliament and on party lists. And yet, the majority of the women put on those lists to ‘fill a gender space’ have done little to advocate for women’s perspectives. Mostly, they sit quietly and watch the men make all the key decisions. They articulate antiquated points of view and are disconnected from women’s concerns.

Will the youth that are being newly selected for the political or business spotlight articulate youth priorities? Or, will they follow the women sitting in seats demarcated by gender and do nothing? Will younger politicians or captains of industry bring new blood, modern ideas, and more energy to their posts? Or will the youth brought into the halls of power be more interested in keeping their eyes down low and heads bent? Will they clap hands to tate and meme kulus and defer to their ‘elders’?

Loud, rowdy, combative debates in Parliament do not always move the country towards solutions to its huge problems. Equally, we tire of hearing liberation struggle references and language best suited for the nation building years at independence. The country is sinking fast. Age has nothing to do with competent representatives putting well-researched, new ideas on the table for investigation, debate and if all is in order, implementation.

Those with competence and energy, whether they are 20 or 60 need to be in the driver’s seat.

Competence is needed in captains of industry and in political halls of power. Let us focus on the right thing and not be side-tracked. There is no difference between a young inept person and an older one.