The daughter of liberation fighters, I was born in Russia, raised in Angola as a refugee, and was blessed to witness the independence of my country Namibia. My parents, both of whom are lawyers, taught me determination and the value of service for the greater good. Their passionate belief in a nation’s right to self-determination imprinted upon me from a young age and they instilled in me the significance of harnessing natural resources as a catalyst for unlocking national development. As a young girl, my late father, Handupula Shimutwikeni, taught me my gender is only a barrier if I chose to see it as thus. My mother, Panduleni Shimutwikeni, by her example, taught me that the world is my oyster and that forging ahead against all odds is the only way forward.
My upbringing influenced my education odyssey across three continents. While in high school, I was awarded a scholarship to pursue a Business Management and Computer Information Systems degree in the United States. After obtaining my Bachelor’s, I returned home and worked in the diamond industry in a public-private partnership, under the pioneering Inge Zaamwani-Kwami, the former MD of Namibia Diamond Corporation. This experience sparked my interest in natural resources. Recognizing the need to bolster the national voice in the international world of negotiations, I went on to attain a LLM degree from Leeds University and a LLM in Mineral Law and Policy at Dundee University, making me one of a handful of Namibians with such a qualification.
However, when I returned home, I was in for a surprise as it was difficult to get a job! I was told I was too young, overqualified and a woman! A ‘triple threat’ as some professionals labelled me. It was discouraging and made me question my purpose. I drew on my mother’s strength and decided to forge ahead, rise above the inequalities and in the process empower others with this truth. Thus I embarked on my entrepreneurial adventure and opportunities opened up in support of my vision. I leapt at the opportunity to consolidate my skills through a contract with the International Telecommunication Union and European Commission to co-draft Namibia’s cybercrime bill under the ‘Harmonisation of ICT Policies in Sub-Sahara Africa’ project.
In 2011, with a fellow Dundee alumnus from Angola, I birthed Rich Africa Consultancy. The Consultancy specializes in natural resources law and policy, and facilitates investment linkages in the sector. A key objective of Rich Africa is to be a trusted advisor and catalyst to unlocking our resource potential. Its creation was inspired by the need to invoke a sense of pride in Africa and its vast natural resources.
Rich Africa launched the Namibia International Oil and Gas Conference in 2012; an initiative I conceptualized and led to fruition with the endorsement of the Namibian government. Themed the ‘Road to Discovery & Beyond’, the inaugural conference brought together decision-makers, and international and national thought leaders to share best practices associated with the discovery of oil in Namibia.
This biennial conference was followed in 2014 with ‘Unlocking and Optimising Our Resource Potential’ which focused on the evolution in the industry. It is a humbling honor that these initiatives have received recognition placing Namibia on the international oil and gas platform.
On this journey, I was often confronted by scepticism because Namibia is considered a frontier territory in the oil and gas arena and such an undertaking was too big for “a petite young woman”. This only strengthened my resolve. I also used this platform to inspire women by presenting a new avenue to transformation through natural resources, a sentiment shared by Bridgette Radebe, one of South Africa’s successful black female mining entrepreneurs, and keynote speaker at our 2014 conference.
Not surprisingly, I do face moments of self-doubt but have been fortunate to have an extensive and supportive network of mentors.
A guiding tenet of my life has been, ‘when writing the story of your life, don’t let someone else hold the pen’. I believe I am here to finish the work my parents started.
– The writer is one of two mineral lawyers in Namibia, is CEO of Rich Africa Consultancy and an oil and gas entrepreneur.