Over 2,000 previously registered students in the Ohangwena region did not return to school as classes reopened after the state of emergency. There is a wide range of reasons for this. But, the bottom line is that 2,000 more young people have their futures placed in jeopardy. They and any children they have are in line for grinding, cyclical, generational poverty. This is the kind of issue that should be driving the 2020 regional elections and should inspire budgets of every relevant ministry.

Often it is the unseen threat that is more dangerous. If we see a problem coming, we can plan for it and erect defences or move out of the way. We cannot do the same with unseen problems.

There are invisible armies of school leavers over the past 20+ years. Add to that the new 2,000 in Ohangwena. Then add over 10,000 (and rising) laid off in the tourism or other pandemic hit industries, and tens of thousands dismissed from the informal sector. The unseen in distress is a larger number than people think.

We are waking up to a Namibia with 70 percent of its population below 40 years old. That is the country’s future. What is being done to secure it?

When those 2,000 in Ohangwena have not returned to school, where are they? Some are reported to be pregnant and will have children. Statistics show that under-educated, unemployed women who have children in single-parent homes, give rise to another generation that will live in endless, grinding, dead-end poverty. What is being done to trace those 2,000 and do the follow-up necessary to get them back in school?

Education is proven to be the way out of destitution. Opportunities increase as skills development and qualifications increase. Communities, churches and families must put a priority of keeping kids in school and ensuring they LEARN while they are there. Going to school every day and doing nothing, is as good as not going at all. We owe our young people a chance to pull themselves out of poverty by making sure they have a useful education or skills training.

Sometimes our older decision-makers expose themselves are being detached from the priorities of younger generations. This is unfortunate as it makes government non-responsive to the majority of its own citizens.

Age is not automatically a barrier to having an open, active, agile mind. There are 80-year-olds with a sharpness to be envied; there are 30-year-olds that are as sharp as a basketball. It is the individual who decides to be forward-thinking, inclusive and innovative rather than stubborn, retrogressive and nostalgic. What have those in authority decided

That said, one drawback to so many decision-makers from older generations is that many can’t ‘hear’ the younger people’s priorities. They don’t understand younger people at all. Worse, some hear those priorities and dismiss them as irrelevant thinking, “when I was that age, I didn’t want those things.” The government of Namibia must check itself carefully against this pitfall.

People who wish to live in the past and look back for inspiration to decide on policies and programs of the future are coming up short. For example, transforming NSFAF loans into grants or opening entry-level civil service jobs, paid apprenticeships and internships are a high priority for younger people. Those who are in the middle and older age groups vaguely note the importance of this, but do not rank it as a national priority. And yet, it is a priority when the majority of the population want it!

There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who did not pass their grade 10 or grade 12 exams or left school before matriculation for various reasons. We must ask ourselves as a nation that has a weak social safety net (there is no unemployment insurance for example) where these people are.

Are they lying in wait for a political or emotional spark to set them off with a long list of anguish and decades of bad feelings? Are they earning income? How are they living? Do they or their children eat regular meals each day? Do they have access to healthcare or clean water? Have we done sufficient demographic research about who is living in the tin shack, sprawling peri-urban areas around larger cities and towns? Is this the dumping ground for those who did not finish school and have no skills?

Ohangwena’s 2,000 will join the invisible army of the marginalized, left out and angry. The younger generations are the majority now – their needs must call the budgetary shots to diffuse the pressure that is steadily building. Otherwise, the government must always look over its shoulders. The unseen danger hits the hardest.