By By Francis Mukuzunga
December2010/January 2011
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THE University of Namibia (Unam) Dean of Students and International Exchange Programs, Dr. Itah Kandjii-Murangi recently became one of the MTC Board of Directors.

The new members of the MTC board announced by Minister of Information and Technology Joel Kaapanda include chairman Dirk Conradie, Editor of Namibia Today, Asser Ntinda and Telecom Namibia legal advisor Leezhel van Wyk.

It is the presence of Kandjii-Murangi that drew a lot of interests as she is barely known in the corporate world.

MTC is part of the Namibia Posts and Telecommunications Holdings (NPTH) in which the government holds the majority shareholding. Other NPTH companies are Nampost and Telecom Namibia.

When Kaapanda officially inaugurated the new board, he emphasized that telecommunications is vital in the development of any country and Namibia cannot be left behind. He urged the new board to look for ways in which all sectors of the economy can benefit from the MTC’s service rollout, especially within the poorer and marginalized communities.

This is the first time that Kandjii-Murangi has landed such a position outside the university, where she has been all her working career. She has been in many other boards within the academic institution hence the minister’s call surprised even herself too.

“I was never told in advance of the new appointment until I got a call from Minister Kaapanda simply to say that they are looking for possible people to include in the new board and my name was one of those shortlisted.

“Given the footprints I have already made in the area of education, the minister felt strongly that I could make some contribution to the new MTC Board together with the other nominated members. He didn’t specifically tell me who the others are but only that the names would be forwarded to cabinet for approval within days.”

After a couple of days, she received a letter informing her that she was required to meet the minister for an appointment and this is the first time where she met other board members.

The vast differences that exist between the corporate and the academic world do not bother her. In fact, she says, Unam is the foundation for all business in Namibia and that most of the current decision makers in Namibia shaped their prospective careers from the education, training and guidance provided by the university and other such institutions.

She believes that when the minister appointed her and others to the board he was looking for people from different backgrounds to offer divergent views to make an input and make decisions that are vital for the growth of MTC and the technology and communications industry. Being a large corporation that has grown exponentially in just 15 years, she says, MTC is now part of the broad business and social activity in Namibia.

“I am coming into the board with an open mind to share and learn from others’ experiences. What is important is to work with people from other areas of business and social life so that we can cross-fertilise our knowledge and experiences for the growth of the company.

At Unam I have served in various capacities ever since joining the institution in 1992 and my office has worked with many local and international partners and this experience will be vital for MTC,” she says.

She also emphasizes that being the centre for the youth development, Unam offers a large constituency of mobile phone users and therefore her input into the board would be assisted by the fact that she will be speaking from a well informed position as her office is in touch with the students on a daily basis.

However, she says, the broad base of MTC’s customers are the Namibian public and therefore one would like to see benefits accrued from the company’s growth trickling down to them and should be visible especially to people within the rural areas. Kandjii-Murangi is also passionate about the development of rural areas and she feels technology is an aspect of growth and development.

“It is very important to realise that the whole sub-region and the world are fast becoming interconnected in terms of communication. As people who have this responsibility to make sure our country is part of that growth we have to look beyond our frontiers and other parts of the world. In South Africa for example, ICTs have become part of every person’s daily experience and we need to move up to that level but before we do this, we need to be well informed ourselves.”

She adds; “For me to be able to contribute meaningfully, there are other members of the board who have other ideas that can be moulded with mine so that we can drive MTC to greater heights.

As a board, we should look at the current challenges facing the company and map out strategies to hasten the new lucrative business growth areas that may avail themselves in the market. We are finding this company at a particular threshold of development, now is for the board and management to aim to move it further up the ladder of development. What has worked for MTC in the past has to be augmented and channeled towards future developments.”

A strong believer in advocating for the advancement of women in the business and corporate world, Kandjii-Murangi says the Namibian government is trying its level best to include women in all aspects of business and social.

To Namibian women in leadership she says, “We should do our level best, deliver and make sure that we do not disappoint the good public that has entrusted us to serve them”.

She may not be the first woman board member at MTC, but she says that she would follow her predecessors’ footsteps and learn from their knowledge and experience in running the affairs of the company.

Her involvement with Unam dates back to 1992 when she joined the institution as a lecturer in the Faculty of Education and taught for four years. She then moved to USAID as a training specialist and was in liaison with the government ministries on scholarships available for students in the USA but this engagement only lasted nine months before she went back to Unam as Director of International Relations in 1995. She has been the Dean of Students and International Programs since 2002.

“For almost a decade that I have stayed in that position at Unam I have gained a lot of experience in external relations. I am also a custodian and founding director of the institution and an overseer of various programs and agreements we make with other universities and institutions outside Namibia.

Between 1995 and 2000 I facilitated between 150 and 200 Unam students to go on exchange to USA based universities. They went to universities like Jackson State University, Alcorn University, Paine College, Touguloo College, and many others. Many of these exchange programs were semester long study-abroad-periods. Besides sending Unam students on exchanges, Unam became a reputable study abroad center for students from those partner institutions. My office was tasked with fundraising to ensure the continuity of Unam students’ outward mobility”

The office of the Dean of Students is also responsible for student welfare and support programs. This includes extra mural activities such as sport, recreational, accommodation, catering and in some cases matters of bereavement especially in the case of international students.

“Our responsibility is to try and balance student life while still at the university so that they could become better leaders of tomorrow. We also have leadership training programmes for the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) so they can develop leadership skills while they are still here. The department also has a program of events each year that are targeted at informing the youths about the national challenges.

These include the annual Unam HIV/Aids Week, Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Campaign and the Unam Cultural Festival, to mention but a few.

One of the challenges currently facing the university is that of student accommodation. The institution’s current enrolment of over 10,000 students drawn, not only from the regions of Namibia, but also SADC and other countries, remains a challenge that has to be tackled by her office. There are about 1080 students in the hostels and this is quite a mismatch when considering the fact that some of the students have had to get alternative accommodation very far from the campus.

She says government alone will not be able to solve the problem of students’ accommodation, therefore the private sector companies need to chip in.

“Corporate sector must invest in accommodation facilities for students sothat we can focus on our core function of providing education to the students. We are currently negotiating towards achieving a private-public-partnership (PPP) project with an investor who wants to put up a hostel at the campus. If all goes well, construction should start by the end of the year. This is a good initiative, but we still need more from the public as the accommodation problem exists in all our campuses,” she adds.

The other problem, she says, is that of transportation. Therefore investors are being encouraged to invest in a shuttle service that can transport students who sometimes finish their studies late at night. The bus service would be dedicated to serving the students only and ways of how companies can operate the service without falling short of profit could be found.

Having worked with the youth for most of her career which spans from 1982 to present day, she has became youth at heart herself: “Sometimes I just find myself stopping by a football match or watching the students play games in the villages. I have become part of them. In some cases they come to me to ask for advice especially in matters related to their educational and career paths.”

Itah Kandjii-Murangi is also a very committed family person who devotes a lot of her time to her husband and three children. PF