One of Africa’s youngest cupboard members thus far is experiencing a baptism of fireplace.

Emma Theofelus, 23, was appointed Namibia’s info, communication and know-how deputy minister per week after coronavirus hit Namibian shores. “I have literally been learning on the job so far,” she says.

Part of Theofelus’s position is to assist lead communication to the public on preventative steps towards the pandemic.

The former youth activist and justice ministry authorized officer was having a quiet Saturday at residence when the shock name got here from State House.

“I have been put in a position, regardless of what limitations I might have, to show up and do the best that I can do,” says Theofelus, who has needed to study in a short time navigate governance and political points.

So far Namibia has seen “tremendous results” in giving real-time details about coronavirus to the media and the public whereas thwarting pretend information, she says.


Young individuals are principally appointed half-heartedly, as a result of the older era doesn’t need to quit energy

Ibbo Mandaza, Sapes Trust

The appointment of youthful leaders to excessive workplace will not be fully new in Africa. Thomas Sankara, for example, was 33 when he became president of Burkina Faso in 1983, and Abiy Ahmed was appointed Ethiopian prime minister last year at the age of 41.

But Theofelus is female, particularly young and representative of a continent where almost 60% of the population is under 25 years old, and the place many presidents are amongst the oldest in the world.

In neighbouring Botswana, commerce economist and marketing consultant Bogolo Kenewendo was solely 29 when she was appointed minister of funding, commerce and trade. Like Theofelus, she didn’t rise by occasion political ranks however reasonably was appointed for the expertise she may convey to the portfolio. This is very uncommon in southern Africa, the place the credentials of the older liberation battle heroes, born of battle, typically weigh extra closely than academic {qualifications}.

The similar was true for Vera Daves da Sousa, 35, who grew to become Angola’s finance minister final 12 months. She is now tasked with reviving an oil-based financial system struggling its worst recession since civil battle resulted in 2002.





Angola’s finance minister, Vera Daves de Sousa, has inherited a troublesome financial state of affairs. Photograph: Courtesy of Angola Ministry of Finance

In the previous decade regional powerhouse South Africa has welcomed a bigger variety of youthful cupboard members, too. For instance, final 12 months Ronald Lamola, 35 and a lawyer by coaching, was appointed justice minister. He rose to prominence a decade in the past as a part of the youth league of the governing African National Congress (ANC), the place he was an in depth ally of Julius Malema, considered one of the most distinguished younger African politicians in current occasions. They went their separate methods after Malema was expelled and shaped his personal occasion.

In the previous month, Lamola has been a part of a workforce consisting of principally older ministers regulating South Africa’s tight coronavirus lockdown. In an unprecedented transfer by the president, one other younger colleague, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, was this week ordered to take go away for breaking these guidelines after she was pictured on social media having lunch at a pal’s home. Ndabeni-Abrahams, additionally from the ANC Youth League, was 33 when she grew to become deputy minister in 2011.




Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, South Africa’s communications minister



Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, proper, South Africa’s communications minister, has been accused of violating the nation’s lockdown order. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP through Getty Images

It is in South Africa’s nationwide legislature the place the ages are really dipping. The ANC’s Itumeleng Ntsube made historical past by changing into the youngest member of parliament in the nation’s historical past after final 12 months’s normal elections. Ntsube, aged 20 at the time, was joined by at the least 4 former scholar activists who made names for themselves a few years earlier in the #FeesMustFall protest motion.

Across the border in Zimbabwe, the place Robert Mugabe clung to energy till the age of 93, former Olympian swimmer Kirsty Coventry, then 35, was appointed minister of youth, sport, arts and recreation in 2018 by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. In the similar 12 months, Jessie Majome, from the opposition MDC Alliance, grew to become the youngest parliamentarian aged 25.

Mugabe was additionally recognized for appointing younger ministers, such as the firebrand youth chief Saviour Kasukuwere, who grew to become deputy minister of youth development and employment creation in 2005 at the age of 35.

But having younger leaders in authorities isn’t at all times excellent news. Instead of advancing youth pursuits, the appointment of younger folks as ministers in Zimbabwe “has been done over the years expediently and selectively”, says Harare-based Ibbo Mandaza, director of the Sapes Trust thinktank.

“It’s mostly done half-heartedly, because the older generation doesn’t want to give up power,” he says. “It’s also done as a way of co-opting and buying off the opposition.”

Mandaza says Coventry was appointed to woo white Zimbabweans. “There has not been a pattern of a systematic attempt for generational change in the region.”




Zimbabwe’s sports minister, Kirsty Coventry follows January’s Test match between Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka at Harare Sports Club



Zimbabwe’s sports activities minister, Kirsty Coventry, left, follows January’s Test match between Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka at Harare Sports Club. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Some heads of state have made younger appointments to compete favourably with the opposition. For instance, MDC chief Nelson Chamisa is 42, whereas in South Africa Julius Malema turns 39 this 12 months.

The 2018 Gates Foundation report, which centered on youth inhabitants progress, mentioned funding in the booming youth inhabitants may very well be good for African economies as a result of if younger individuals are wholesome, educated and productive, they may “do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth”.

Theofelus says she genuinely believes President Hage Geingob has good intentions. “The first time I met him I was 17, and from what I’ve observed he’s always been surrounded with young people,” she says. “This was perhaps him walking the talk that young people are the leaders of tomorrow and we have to prepare them today.”

This does put a variety of strain on her as a consultant of younger folks, she says.

Melanie Verwoerd, a Cape Town-based political columnist who in 1994, aged 27, grew to become an ANC MP and the youngest girl in South Africa’s first democratic parliament, says that whereas she believes it is very important have younger public representatives, and whereas youthful folks have monumental power, on a private degree age would have made her a greater politician.

“As a young MP I had enormous energy, so I was working myself to the ground,” says Verwoerd. “But I was incredibly productive.”

Now, she says, “there is a sense and balance that comes with age and experience. I think I would be wiser, I would certainly be a lot less hot-headed.”

Being younger in excessive workplace additionally brings frustrations. Aged 34 she grew to become ambassador to Ireland, the place her youth meant many colleagues in the diplomatic corps didn’t take her critically. “They would look me up and down and the ambassadors would say: ‘You look hopelessly too young to be an ambassador.’ And I had a standard refrain to say: ‘Ja, they tried the old men, and that didn’t work out so well, and now they’re giving the younger women a try.’”

Youth per se will not be essentially an essential high quality for management.

“If it’s the right person for the job and the right responsibility, I think age makes no difference. It’s just important that, in particular for young people, there are mentors, there are people who guide them through the process,” says Verwoerd. “Maybe it becomes a little more important than for experienced, older people.”

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