We’ve Made Enviable Strides in Electronic Voting Says Namibia Electoral Chair

We’ve Made Enviable Strides in Electronic Voting Says Namibia Electoral Chair

No doubt, Notemba Tjipueja, 59, Chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), evinces the epic dictum of acclaimed English Playwright, William Shakespeare that, it’s a bad art that looks at the mind’s construction on the face. Gleaning a disarming charm in a mix of a shy and unassuming mien, interspersed with an elegant gait, brain, brawn

No doubt, Notemba Tjipueja, 59, Chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), evinces the epic dictum of acclaimed English Playwright, William Shakespeare that, it’s a bad art that looks at the mind’s construction on the face. Gleaning a disarming charm in a mix of a shy and unassuming mien, interspersed with an elegant gait, brain, brawn and beauty, she gives little inkling about her tough assignment back home.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa on December, 1958, Tjipueja, a Lawyer makes strides as the first woman not only to occupy the Electoral Chair in her country but also presides over the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern African Development Countries (ECF-SADC). It was also under her tutelage that Namibia blazed the trail to become the first country in Africa to introduce Electronic Voting.

INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu with Mrs Notemba Tjipueja, chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia (right) and Mrs Miatta French, chairperson, Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone

A Law graduate of both the University of Papua New Guinea and University of Witwatersrand, South Africa between 1977 – 1980 and 1988 – 1990, she’s worked as an Advocate at different capacities before her appointment as Electoral Commissioner in 2000. Tjipueja was State Attorney in the Office of the Attorney General between February, 1991 and August, 1994 and was appointed Legal Advisor/Company Secretary, Amalgamated Commercial Holdings in November, 1994.

She was State Advocate, Office of the Prosecutor General from November 1996 to September, 2000, Principal Legal Officer from October 2000 to April 2006 and became Deputy Chief/Coordinator SADC Legal Sector, Ministry of Justice in October, 2000 to 2004. She was later elevated Deputy Chief International Cooperation and Administration 2004 – 2006.

Tjipueja was also Counterpart to the Trade Advisor, Agricultural Trade Forum, May – August, 2006, Corporate Legal Advisor, Air Namibia, November 2007 – 2009 and Legal Advisor/Company Secretary, Namibia Standards Institute 2009 – August, 2015. She was appointed Chairperson, National Electoral Commission of Namibia on August, 2011.

She’s a member of the Veterinary Council of Namibia, Medicines Control Council, Law Society of Namibia and Secretary, Board of Legal Education. She has also been a member of the Board of Cadbury Schweppes Namibia, New Era and Chairperson of the Board of Norwich Investment Namibia Limited.

Apart from her early sojourn in Sweden, England, Australia, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and South Africa, she’s also had varying experiences in the private sector as a Recruitment Officer, Broad Street Employment Agency, December 80 – 1981, Bank Clerk, Ned Bank, January 83 – June, 1984 and Training Officer, Rossing Uranium, June 1984 – December, 1985.

Tjipueja spoke to TONY IYARE on the sidelines at the recently concluded International Conference with the theme Opportunities And Challenges In the Use Of Technology In Elections: Experiences From West And Southern Africa organised in Abuja, Nigeria with the collaboration of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) and the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC (ECF-SADC) with funding from European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) under the European Union Support for Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project.

At the conference, she was one of those who stoutly supported the view by Prof Liasu Adele Jinadu, former INEC Commissioner that an Election Tax should be imposed on corporate entities that make so much profits in Africa to guarantee their stake in the stability of the respective countries on the continent. “Investment in election is worthwhile because it ensures a stable environment for business to thrive”, she says.

A Pastor of Redemption Gospel Church, Okahandja, Namibia under the Light of the World Ministries headed by a Nigerian, Dr Goody Nwagboso, she’s married to Gerhard Tjipueja, with whom they have four children. It is vintage this woman of steel, as she discusses her early life, foray into anti-apartheid activities at her formative stage, electoral assignment and vision. Excerpts:

People say election job is a tough job. What makes you this strong? What keeps you going as a woman handling this tough job?

Let me say first is God (she burst into a hearty laughter) because appointment does not come from the East or West. It comes from God. I think it’s an opportunity that I’ve been given as the first woman Chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia and also the first woman Chairperson, Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern Africa Development Countries (ECF-SADC), which is the Electoral Management Body for the SADC region. It is a very important body of electoral practitioners to promote democracy and to also encourage democratic culture in the southern African region. We are able to encourage one another. We do peer-review of our respective work and we are also able to give technical support to one another. We have 14 members EMBs in the SADC region and one of the very important principles of our body is to be independent of the Executive arm of government in this region. So this is one of the most important guidelines that we have that as far as possible as EMBs, we are independent from the Executive in our countries and we uphold the separation of powers between the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive arm of government. I think it’s a very important concept that we are promoting in the SADC region.

What prepared you for this job? What’s your background?

My background is I’m a Lawyer by profession. I have worked for government in Namibia for many years. I have worked as a State Advocate. I have worked also for SADC. I headed the Legal Directorate for SADC. I was responsible for setting up the SADC Tribunal, which is a court for the SADC region in Windhoek, Namibia. I also have experience in Company Law. I’ve worked in different parastatals. I’ve mostly worked in government establishments and SADC. That’s my background.

Why do you have two LLB degrees from two different universities as revealed by your CV?

My parents left the country then South West Africa (Namibia’s former name) for exile in 1962. I ended up studying Law at the University of Papua New Guinea where my father was lecturing. When I returned in 1980, my degree was not recognized as I had studied British Common law and therefore I could not work as a qualified lawyer and had to do other jobs as you can see from my CV. Therefore I eventually studied and completed an LLB in Roman Dutch Law in South Africa as seen from the CV. I completed SA LLB during the year of independence and only then could work as a qualified lawyer. After independence, my LLB was recognized as was all Commonwealth LLBs.

But what do you say to other women who believe that election job is a tough job or what you call in the Nigerian parlance a roforofo job?

It is a tough job but I think what drives anybody who work in election is that first you are doing a national service. It’s a service to your country and you are doing a national duty. That should be the driving point behind anybody who takes up election job. You have to be patriotic and one who wants to serve the country selflessly. It is almost like a calling. It is not a job where you receive appreciation or accolades. It is a thankless job basically. If you do not have a thick skin or you are not able to take criticism or you are a person who looks for appreciation on a daily basis, you will not survive in that job because it’s really a job where you’ll often be criticised, people will accuse you of all sorts of things and you have to come to a position where you’ll stand your grounds. And you should have the principles and integrity to stand in that position. If you don’t have ethics and integrity, you can’t survive in that job. It’s a job that requires you to be patriotic and to really realise that it’s a national service to your country.

Do you have problems in institutional building? People say in Africa we build strong men and women like you but we don’t build institutions.

I think it’s an area which we need to develop in Electoral Management because it is a profession. It should be seen as a profession. There are not many people who have the expertise in electoral matters. So, it is an area which we need to develop and people have to start to regard Electoral Management as a profession like any other profession. Because you must have that experience and you’ll only gain that experience in Electoral Management through the practical experience. Whatever is your discipline, whatever is your background, you have to gain the actual experience. You’ll never understand elections until you actually come and be part of the day to day robust activities of Electoral Management. And that is built up over the years. It is a dynamic field. It shifts, it changes and evolves. It’s not static. It moves with the times with economic and political development. It’s a profession that is ongoing. It is not static but moving and dynamic.

When precisely did you begin Electronic Voting in Namibia? And what have been the responses from the field?

We bought the first machines in 2006 but were only used in elections 2014. Adoption of EVM (Electronic Voting Machines) was to streamline and increase efficiency of the electoral process. The reaction from the field has been positive. EVM is widely accepted and used for all our elections. We’ve really made great strides. In the Diaspora, we use ballot papers due to customs challenges in transport of EVM.

What’s the literacy rate in Namibia? Does the adoption of Electronic Voting have anything to do with it?

I do not have the literacy rate at hand. However suffice to say that literacy is not a pre-requisite for the use of an EVM. In fact, illiterate persons find it easier to press a button to discharge their vote than to hold a pencil and make a cross on the ballot paper. India has been using EVM for over 30 years and illiteracy has not been a deterrent. EVM is definitely in line with our economic development and it is not incompatible by any means.

Where were you born? How was your early life in school? Were you a naughty, rascally child or one who only concentrated in her studies and had little time for social activities?

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa where my father had gone to study from Namibia then called South West Africa and met and married my late mother a South African nurse. They returned to South West Africa some time after my birth. I was born on 4th December 1958. In exile, we lived in Tanzania for a year then moved to Stockholm, Sweden for 5 years. My father was one of the petitioners to the United Nations for liberation of South West Africa. We also lived in Oxford, England for five and half years. I started my primary school in Sweden at age 5 where we used to attend anti-apartheid rallies with my parents. I continued primary school in England and started form 1 at Milhamford Grammar School, Oxford. My father was studying his PhD at Oxford. We moved to Papua New Guinea in 1973 where my father was a lecturer at the University. We were sent to boarding school in Hobart, Tasmania where I matriculated in 1976 and proceeded back to Papua New Guinea to do my first LLB. I was always a leader at school in the UK. I was class captain in form one. At school in Australia, I was always at the forefront. We were the only black children at the Friends School, a Quaker school but we assimilated well with other children. I was a sociable child liked by teachers and students. I was not a bookworm but I always passed my exams. We were used to travelling as we lived in different countries and were always able to adapt wherever we were. It was however difficult to adapt and understand racist attitudes on returning to Namibia. At university, I was an activist in the Namibian Students’ Youth Organization (NANSO). My social life changed when I became a born again Christian in 1993. My father, Dr Zed Ngavirue was Minister in the first independence Cabinet serving as Director General of the National Planning Commission in the Office of the President. We were always brought up as children taught by our parents about the struggle for independence in our country. I played netball and participated in athletics, running at high school.

Are we likely to see a transformation in your role in future with you contesting for the Presidency in Namibia just like we were told that the Chairman of the Electoral and Boundary Commission in Kenya once contested as an MP?

That’s a million dollar question. I think every country has got its own context. In Namibia, you don’t have to be partisan to be in the Electoral Commission. I know there are some jurisdictions that you have Commissioners who are members of political parties. But in Namibia, you cannot be a member of a political party. You cannot be politically active and it’s required that at least five years prior to your appointment, you should not have been involved in political affairs. It’s one of our principles in SADC. But of course we do have some of our EMBs in the SADC region that have members of political parties because of the history that they are coming from like Mozambique, DRC as a result of the reconciliation that they are trying to build after the wars. They have allowed that practise of allowing people representing political parties. But in our country in Namibia, it’s different. So at this juncture I don’t think that it is on the cards. But God is the one who knows all things.

I guess this is your first trip to Nigeria. What’s your impression of Nigeria? And what’s your impression about this conference?

This is my first trip to Nigeria. My impression of Nigeria is very good. It’s great coming to see the development in Abuja. I believe it is a very new city. I was very happy to see the construction and economic development that is taking place. It seems like a vibrant and developing city. We are very happy with this conference. It’s really a ground where African EMBs and Electoral Experts can meet and share ideas. Africa is in a forefront, Africa is a forerunner when it comes to democracy. I know that the world will want to see it in a different way. But if you can see and compare what’s happening in African countries in electoral matters, electoral management and electoral processes, Africa is a forerunner, Africa is ahead. So we would see that many European countries can learn a lot from what is happening in Africa with regard to electoral development. We have a lot to learn, a lot to share and a lot to give. So I’m so happy to see so many African countries represented here. I can tell you that Africa is moving forward as far as democratic culture is concerned and as far as stability is concerned. This is a continent which has God’s hands in it. God’s hands are on Africa. Africa is going to be a leader and a forerunner in the years to come. Africa is a leader and this is the place to be. Africa is a continent which is going to develop and prosper exponentially in the years to come in this century. I believe that great things will be happening to Africa in the years to come. We have a lot to offer. Africa is not a dark continent. We are a continent of light and progress. We are a continent of great prosperity. That is what I believe.

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