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Advocate Bience Gawanas speaks on UN post, Africa’s development

Bience Gawanas UN Special Adviser for Africa

The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres this week announced the appointment of Advocate Bience Gawanas, as the UN Special Adviser for Africa. New Era journalist Alvine Kapitako sat with Gawanas to shed more light on her appointment, as well as the development of Namibia and Africa.
Below is an extract from the interview.

NE: Please tell us how your appointment came about.

BG: “I was nominated. What usually happens at the UN when positions are to be filled there is a request to the member states to put forward candidates and it’s in that way that I got nominated.”

NE: What will your responsibilities be, what does the job entail?

BG: “For an office of the Special Advisor on Africa it is basically about coordination between the UN system and the African Union (AU). As you know that African member states belong to the AU and UN. The AU is involved in peace and security issues and developmental issues and the same is with the UN. The whole idea was to establish how effective the collaboration could be between the AU and the UN in order to deliver on their developmental or peace security programmes. But also, we have NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) and at the establishment of NEPAD, the UN committed itself to support the programme and that also falls under the mandate of the office of the special advisor on Africa.”

NE: How did you end up at the AU?

BG: “When I came back to Namibia after independence, I became a Public Service Commissioner and that was also because Government felt that I was appropriate for the job. When the position of Ombudsman/Ombudswoman became vacant, I was again nominated and I was one of three candidates who were interviewed and I got the job.

At the African Union (laughs) it was again the same issue. They (AU) advertised the various positions and they didn’t find suitable candidates and then they asked Member States to nominate nationals from their countries and I got nominated from the Southern (Africa) region. I competed with other African candidates and got elected by the heads of state.”

Bience Gawanas UN Special Adviser for Africa

NE: How will your AU experience help you in this new position?

BG: “At the African Union I had the opportunity to work with Heads of State and Government, with Ministers whether it was Ministers of Health, Ministers of Culture or Sports and I also worked with civil society organisations. Remember I spent nine years at the AU and also being a Commissioner for Social Affairs, I covered various issues, especially social development and I believe that puts me in good standing to perform the functions of Special Advisor on Africa.”

NE: Do Namibians have what it takes to serve at an international level as you are doing? And why are many not taking up such positions?

BG: “Namibians don’t want to work outside their country. I suppose it’s still very comfortable to be in Namibia. When I was at the African Union I was really urging Namibians to apply for positions there and I think the same applies for the UN. If we say that Namibia is a Member State that means Namibia is making a financial contribution to both these institutions and they usually have a quota system, where depending on how you are assessed, you can have a certain number of Namibians working within the organisation and I think that is where we really lag as a country, we do not have many Namibians in these organisations.”

NE: And to touch on Agenda 2063. How best can its goals be fast-tracked?

BG: “It is always a challenge to have a policy and its effective implementation and I think the same holds true for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I think it is always about first domesticating these documents by incorporating them in the national policies. For example, if there is anything on health in the Agenda 2063 then it is important that we look at our health policies or programmes and ensure that they are in line with Agenda 2063.

The 2063 Agenda is not implemented by the AU, it’s implemented by the member states and so it’s incumbent upon member states to incorporate this continental or even global policies within their own policies or at least to see that there is alignment between the policies that we adopt at national level and those that we adopt at continental or global level.”

NE: How friendly are the policies of African governments towards the development of the UN’s SDGs?

BG: “I think Agenda 2063 speaks to the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are goals that cover the whole world irrespective of where you are situated but with the 2063 Agenda it was specifically tailored towards Africa’s realities and to that extent, I would think it speaks to the development challenges that are faced by Africa.”

NE: Are African Governments embracing social protection frameworks and if so to what extent?

BG: “I always start by asking myself the question ‘if you weigh between social development and you look at economic development you always ask yourself which comes first’ because for the longest time we were always told that one has to have economic growth in order to invest in social development policies. But if you turn it around, you can say healthy people, educated people, happy people are more productive and therefore will increase your economic growth.

So, it depends on the political will that exists in a country to the extent that you want to promote the wellbeing of people. We always say that Namibia has got a very good social protection system. It is fragmented, we have got our challenges but not in every country do you have old age pension that is universal, for example. In other words it does not matter whether you are employed in Government or not once you turn 60, everybody is entitled to it.

We have child’s grants, disability grants. So even when I was still at the African Union, it was the kind of policies that we were promoting. But I still think that there is a lack of understanding about social protection because you know the debates in Namibia that ‘it creates dependency’. I always tell people ‘if you earn N$50,000 per month, you don’t worry but if you get N$100 and you had nothing it makes a huge difference in the life of a person that has nothing’.

Obviously if a young able-bodied person receives that for the rest of their life then I think there is something wrong with them. But an old person, a person that has disabilities or cannot take care of himself or herself will have to depend on the state. If we did not have that, poverty would have been worse in Namibia. Social protection has really helped us to reduce poverty amongst our people and so it’s always about understanding what it is because even organisations, such as the World Bank, who for the longest of time were not in support of social protection have come on board now and realised that it is one of the mechanisms for poverty eradication.”

NE: Speaking of poverty. How is Namibia doing in fighting poverty? Are we on the right track?

BG: “We could do better. Obviously we could do much better but in terms of the ranking, in terms of the statistics it’s true that Namibia has really improved on its poverty reduction levels. But the inequality that exists that is the big problem. In other words you still have got a big gap between the poor and the rich but the poverty levels are going down, that has been proven in terms of Namibia. I think we need to do much more in terms of reducing unemployment because that also contributes to the cycle of poverty, especially within a family. If there are people that are unemployed within a family that means less income for that family but the inequality in Namibia is really one of our biggest challenges.”

NE: Are you happy with the contribution you have made at the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare?

BG: “It’s always a challenge because when you start, especially like the ministry, you are really starting in terms of institutional and human capacity building. Without those you can’t have the best policies because at the end of the day who drafts your policies and your programmes and who implements them?

So is what the ministry has been doing because remember it’s only two years since the establishment of the ministry. I was glad to come in and really assist with finalising some of the policy documents such as the blueprint that is basically just harmonising interventions by the different ministries because people must understand the Ministry of Poverty Eradication is not the one that will eradicate poverty. It will be each and every ministry. But the idea behind establishing a Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare was to coordinate the poverty eradication interventions much better.

The one thing that really excites me about some of the projects that we have is the whole social protection reform that we have started within the ministry to see that we have a much more comprehensive consolidated system. This is because different ministries are dealing with different grants and that also increases the administrative costs. Social workers for example, are divided in three or four different ministries so we are looking at a comprehensive system.

We are also looking at a single registry which means at this point in time, every ministry has its own database. And what we have learned from other countries that we have visited is that there could also be double dipping in the system and you can only improve on the effectiveness of the system if you have got systems and in this case it would be a computerised database that also links into civil registry because the civil registry shows how many people have been born, how many people have died, what are the ages of these people, you can deduct from there how many people will be 60 in 10 years’ time, for example.

So, we are looking at governance, we are looking at capacity within the social protection system and also linking it to the Social Security Commission because people don’t see the Social Security Commission as part of the overall social protection system. The difference is just that Social Security Commission is a social insurance.

In other words, people (who are employed) contribute so that when they are disabled or injured at least they are paid out from that system whereas social assistance you don’t contribute anything it’s the state that pays you if you are a child that is need or if you are disabled. So, we are looking at all these different parts to put it into a whole. “

Source : newera