Welcome Dr. Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka to Namambe, I am pleased to have you on this platform.

1. Sadrag sounds power? What does it mean and from Language was it derived?

Thank you very much Team Namambe for creating this platform for me. Ou, yes, my name is not really an African name as it was derived from the bible. Sadrag was one of those three men mentioned in the bible and I am assuming, that you read about them and realised how strong were they. And in other words, that is me now, as I resemble all their characteristics as stated in the Bible. I do not get moved by anything on this earth. I remain calm and focused. My African Name is Panduleni which literally mean “say thank you” and I am assuming that my Father was telling those who were that they should say thank you that another strong man was born..hahahhaahahh!!

2. When last were you 100% happy and why?

Am always a happy man with no regrets in life. I strongly believe in happiness and I have positive convictions about myself that I am born to assist others in difficulties and excel in whatever circumstances. But at this point I can say, the day I received my Doctorate Degree was the happiest day ever in my life.

3. Well before we continue with other questions please tell us more about yourself. Where did you grow up, went to primary and secondary school as well as to any tertiary institution that you have attended.

Well, I was born on the 01st November 1979 in a village known as Eembaxu, in the Ondobe Constituency of the Ohangwena region in the northern part of Namibia. My parents are: the late Mrs Ndaitavela Ndatunga-eumbo yaShafuda (died in 2010) and the late Mr. Nestory yaShihomeka (died in 1990). I am the last born and had 8 siblings of which three passed on (May the souls of both my parents and siblings continue resting in eternal peace).

So I grew up in rural areas as it is a typical case with a number of us in Africa. My parents were all peasant farmers with little education level. However, traditionally and culturally, they were highly knowledgeable and skilled.  I only stayed with my parents until I was three years old and moved to Omunyekadi waInghepa village, still in the Ohangwena region. There, I was with my name shake Tate Panduleni Nghishifola. At Omunyekadi, we were mainly raised in an African traditional set up: looking after cattle, goats and do all other household activities like ploughing, pounding Mahangu and so on. During my time at Omunyekadi, that is where I came across a traditional wedding called Efundula and with other boys in the house, we witnessed this festivity. Seriously, I can confirm here that it was an entertaining and joyous event for me.

Unfortunately, I only stayed there until January in 1985, when my parents came to get me so that I can go and start schooling (though it was late). Their reasoning was that, they want me to go to school, may be in future I will look after them as the world is now changing and requires educated citizens. I attended my Kindergarten at Eembaxu as from February 1985, and that time we were taught under a mopane tree by our lovely late Kindergarten Teacher Meme Teopolina Haikali (may her soul continue resting in eternal peace). Then in 1986, I was promoted to Sub-Standard A (SUB-A) as it was known that time during the Cape Education System (now Grade 1) at Eembaxu Combined School, under the leadership of the late School Principal Tate Petrus Shakuyungwa (may his soul rest in eternal peace). My Sub-A Teacher was Mrs Teopolina Ndemuweda-Nakale and currently she is a Head of Department at Kaupumote Nghituwamana Combined School in the Ohangwena region. I then passed all my grades until Grade 10 at Eembaxu Combined School.

At secondary school level, I completed my Grades 11 -12 at Haimbili Haufiku Secondary School and the Principal that time was Mr. Walter Ndakondja. Though, I had best Teachers at Haimbili, I can still remember Ms. Lusia Hangula (Natural Economy), Ms Lea Shikonga (Agriculture), Mr. Vaino Kaukungwa (Biology) and Mrs Olivia Nakale (Development Studies) as my best and memorable teachers I ever had at secondary school. I passed my Grade 12 with high points and was admitted at the University of Namibia where I successfully completed my Bachelor of Education Degree, specialising in Economics, Computer Studies and Business Studies. Since, I was passionate about having a Master’s Degree, I also completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree in General Management from the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) on distance learning mode. It was a challenge for me to do an MBA as most people strongly believe that an MBA is just for Executives and not applicable to secondary school teachers like me that time. The call for knowledge, skills upgrade and acquisition did not only end at Masters level, through hard work and dedication to my profession, I was awarded a staff development scholarship to study towards a Doctoral degree at one of the oldest, prestigious and best universities in Europe, Erasmus University Rotterdam. I enrolled for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Media and Communication at the School of History, Culture and Communication, Department of Media and Communication. I successfully completed this Doctorate within four years of studies. In addition, I am holding other professional qualifications too.

4. In general how would you describe the learning environment at that university that you described as one of the oldest?

The teaching and learning philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam I believe is more on knowledge and skills acquisition by adopting Learning by doing principles and heavily relies on self-directed learning. As a student at EUR, the entire learning process is in your hands and is up to you to manage and guide yourself as to how you will navigate the ups and downs of educational process. They are more problem solving or practice oriented as their programmes heavily relies on industry placement. They want to see their students be it at undergraduate or postgraduate level to have industrial linkages.

5. What was the topic of your thesis and would you like to give us an abstract as well as the link to the full thesis if available.

My thesis was titled: Citizen Engagement: Politics and Digital Media in Namibia.
(Click this link to download the full thesis)

PhD thesis shortened abstract:

Focusing on the Ohangwena Region in Namibia, this dissertation examined the attitudes, perceptions, feelings and experiences of youths and political leaders towards the use of mobile phones as a tool for participation and engagement in regional and local politics. Data were collected through participant observations obtained from youth forum meetings; semi-structured interviews with 65 participants from regional youth and constituency forums and six regional councillors; a content-analysis of seven Facebook pages and two WhatsApp groups; and focus group discussions with the regional youth forum executive members. Poor network connectivity and poor radio frequencies, a high rate of unemployment among the youths, and difficulties in accessing political representatives in the region motivated the youths in this study to use their mobile phones to discuss issues, including political and civic ones that deeply affected their lives. The respondents generally prefer online platforms to physical situations of political participation and engagement – meeting spaces that are currently used by their political representatives. Private radio stations have overtaken public ones, thanks to political news and programmes on mobiles. For rural and unemployed youths, the main factors that inhibit the use of mobile phones for catching radio programmes are access, availability, signals, and radio frequencies. Despite these obstacles, mobile media emerged as a preferred virtual platform for online political activity among the youth – not just in connection with the radio, but in general. Youths are less engaged in civic and political activities that unfold offline, because they consider them the predilect terrain of older generations.

6. What was the main finding of your study?

The findings show that poor network connectivity and poor radio frequencies in some of the constituencies, a high rate of unemployment among the youths in the region, unfriendly staff members at constituencies’ offices, and difficulties in accessing or talking to political representatives in the region were the main factors that motivated the youths in my study to use their mobile phones to discuss issues, including political and civic ones, that deeply affected their lives. A key concern that this research unveiled is that, although most political leaders made their mobile phone numbers known to the public and encouraged citizens to contact them, almost invariably they could not be reached, and their mobiles were permanently answered by unfriendly assistants. So young people still found it difficult, if not impossible, to talk directly to these politicians; moreover, they felt that most councillors tended to make themselves available only during election and campaign times – which clearly sends the wrong message.

My findings further highlight that youths generally prefer online platforms to real-life, physical situations of political participation and engagement – meeting spaces that are currently used by their political representatives. Most of the youths who participate (online or not) in political networks such as youth forums are school dropouts, youths who recently completed a university degree and are at an early stage in their career, and unemployed youths from various constituencies and villages. Youth forums serve as network political platforms for employment, for finding one’s political identity, for dialoguing, for getting re-energized and boosting one’s morale; and all this demonstrates that, for young people, politics is a complex matter. Apart from things clearly earmarked as ‘political’, it is also about social and sociopolitical issues such as unempowerment, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDs, alcohol and drug abuse, and mobilization. In this context, in my study at least, the mobile phone emerged as the main communication tool for sharing, making direct calls, and sending messages to friends, peers, and relatives.

According to the results of this research, although public radio remains popular, private and community radio stations have overtaken public ones, thanks to political news and programmes on mobiles. For rural and unemployed youths, the main factors that inhibit the use of mobile phones for catching radio programmes are access, availability, signals, and radio frequencies. Despite these obstacles, mobile media emerged as a preferred virtual platform for online political activity among the youth – not just in connection with the radio, but in general. Youths are less engaged in civic and political activities that unfold offline, in the physical world, because they view them as the predilect terrain of older generations. They are instead much more willing to be engaged online.

In an effort to practise inclusive democracy, some of the youths and political leaders at regional and local authority levels created WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages for their respective constituencies. These were designed as virtual platforms for engagement in public debates and political communication, in addition to the radio, mobile phone texting, and public or community meetings. However, the modest level of digital and social media literacy among community members inhibits the effective use of these platforms by both leaders and community members.

At the same time public town-hall meetings have emerged – alongside mobile social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp – as the most widely used platforms of engagement that enabled citizens in all age groups to interact with politicians. But youth participation in such meetings remains pitifully low. In order to encourage it and raise the number of youths, both politicians and the few youths who usually turn up for these events started to integrate entertainment in the form of songs, drama and music in their political outreach programmes. And indeed, in this way they attracted more youths to public town-hall meetings. The attempt has been a success. Therefore, this study recommends that entertainment be strengthened as a component of political engagement activities, for the sake of enhancing participatory democracy and digital inclusiveness.

My respondents indicated conclusively that, despite obstacles such as the poor network coverage in their part of the country, the high rate of unemployment among the young, and the absence of relevant infrastructure in rural areas, all youths, urban and rural alike, strongly believe that mobile social media created a virtual public sphere in which they can meet in order to discuss, strategize, and advise one another on issues that affect them deeply and immediately, and that the existence of such a sphere tends to trigger their interest and participation in politics, both regionally and locally.

Lastly, my findings show that both youths and political leaders use social media for digital skilling and literacy; for leisure and entertainment as well as for engagement (and sometimes these goals and activities merge into one); for interaction with an affective public; and for the promotion of ideals, beliefs, and models, including political ones related to direct and indirect digital democracy. And it bears repeating that all this takes place despite network connectivity challenges and pervasive unemployment among the young.

On the basis of the material presented and analysed in this dissertation, I conclude that the use of mobile phones and, relatedly, of social media platforms such as Facebook has a very high potential for increasing youth participation in politics and in civic activities, as it creates a new public sphere for inclusive digital democracy. But there is a caveat: in a digitized society, the uncontrolled and unregulated use of social media can engender practices that, in turn, give birth to an exclusive democracy. We should do our best to prevent this and to mobilize our moral categories, judgement, and self-pride in the pursuit of a democracy for all.

Finally, it should be mentioned here that my study revisits the old media versus new media debate by suggesting how novel forms that emerge in the neglected context of rural Namibia can broaden our understanding of the nature of media hybridity and challenge our assumptions about participatory democracy.

7.  In Namibia some people complain a lot about the abuse of social media and the negative influence of internet in general what are your comments on this and your observation about the usage of media in other countries. What is that we need to improve or understand about this new technology?

Of course yes, citizens are complaining since our online behaviours are not acceptable and not in accordance with digital ethics and principles. Really, there is a serious abuse of new media, especially Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and other social network sites. Mostly young people, especially the political active ones are using the Internet as well as Social Media to insults, dehumanise, vilify, character assassinating and discrediting others. Some of these are doing this purposely for their own political benefit (digital evangelism) or some are doing it without knowing this will harm the individuals in their posts or status. A serious concern is that, citizens, especially the digitally illiterates are harming others unintentionally. This is not only a Namibian concern or African problem, other countries in the global north are also struggling with the incorrect use of Social Media platforms by their citizens. However, it should be clearly stated that social media are not as bad as we portray them, they are good platforms that can be used as virtual publics to accelerate digital democracy and political participation of citizens especially the technologically disadvantaged to take part in the mainstream political and public decision making spheres. I have to say thank you to some individuals that are currently using these platforms as avenues to reveal rotten and evil works of corrupt individuals in our society, revealing illegal and unacceptable tender procedures, opening the eyes and sensitising their fellow citizens on matters concerning development and progressive mentality of our own standard of living. We need to digitally unite and strategies for the benefit our society. We need to use Social media platforms as entertainment or leisure sites while we are also partaking in the democratic citizenship processes.

I am disheartened by some of our leaders who are currently leaving in fear and do not want to be on social media and cannot even engage the electorates in digital discussions. These are the individuals that promote digital riots and panic as citizens have been looking for answers but no one is willing to give them answers on pertinent issues. Therefore, as Africans and as Namibians, let’s grab this digital opportunity and use it to guide, advise, sensitise, lead, manage and above take part in the democratic processes. Let us guard against this issue of spreading Fake News, misinforming our society and avoid disinformation. Social media platforms and the Internet in general should be used a digital literacy platforms and digital skilling sites for all of us with not boundaries. We need to engage our electorates on these platforms since this is where the world is moving to and we cannot afford to remain behind in name of regressive authoritarian decision and tendencies of those individuals that are too negative about the use of Social Media. Let’s avoid turning these platforms onto Sodom and Gomorrah!! The aim is to be unified digitally and being fed with the right information.

8. Are you still studying or have finished for good?

I am really passionate about research management and administration. And since studying will never come to an end in a person’s life as one would like to acquire more skills and for you to remain relevant in the market. I registered this year (2020) as a student in a two years Postgraduate Diploma in Research Management and Administration (PGDRMA) with Stellenbosch University in South Africa. My expectation is to compete this Diploma by the end of 2021. So as long as I am living and have energy, I will not stop studying since that is where I will acquire new skills.

9.  What about your work experience? Tell us in details about your work experience.

My work experience is diverse and quite interesting from my side. Currently, I am a Senior Lecturer for Educational Technologies, Management of Adult Education, Report Writing and Research Methodology at the University of Namibia, in the Faculty of Education, Department of Lifelong Learning and Community Education. I have been with the University for more than 11 years and moved from a Tutor, Assistant Lecturer to Lecturer positions until I was appointed as a Senior Lecturer last year (2019). At UNAM, I taught under different Faculties due my unique ICT skills and combined experience in project management. I served for five years under the Faculty of Science, School of Computing, before I joined the Faculty of Education, department of Lifelong Learning and Community Education in 2013, where I am currently a Senior Lecturer. Before university teaching, I was a secondary school Teacher for Computer Studies (Grade 8-12), Economics (Grade 11-12), Business Management (now Entrepreneurship) (grade 8-10) at Wennie Du Plessis High School in Gobabis as well as at Khoams High School in Windhoek. Besides that, on a part time basis I taught Development Studies, Business Studies and Economics at various NAMCOL centers such as Jetu-jama Tutorial College, Jan Jonker Afrikaner High School and Concordia College. I taught and currently still tutoring on various tertiary certificates and diplomas at NAMCOL, NUST and being an MBA Dissertation supervisor for more than 36 Students who have successfully completed their Masters programs under my supervision at MANCOSA, Regent Business School and other institutions. In addition, I am a Social Media and Politics consultants as well as researcher at national and international level.

10.  What would you describe as the main highlights of your careers?

Wow, I have a long story to tell, but to make it short, obtaining a Doctorate Degree in one of the topical areas of study, which is Social Media and politics is one of the highlights. Moving from being a secondary school teacher to a university Lecturer is a very important transition for me in my career.

11. Is there something that you have learned from your career that has shaped your life for goods?

Yes, hardworking and being positive about life. Additionally, since I am a goal-focused person, it is very difficult for you deviate me from my original thoughts.  Never-ever give up whatever the circumstances are and do not let people to down grade and undermine you. I also learnt to stay focused and vigilant about those that are not happy about my progress and achievement in life. Additionally, i also came to know that if you set yourself realistic goals you are likely to succeed in everything you are doing. Be a simple person, do not fight for status. Let your work and actions give you that status in the society.

12. What opportunities and challenges came your way as an educator?

A lot of them. When it comes to opportunities: I was given an opportunity to acquire extra skills and knowledge to fill my skills gaps through workshops facilitated by the Ministry of Education. This especially so, when I was a Computer Studies Teacher, we use to attend refresher workshops at NIED in Okahandja. At the university level, it is also the same thing. Critical shortage of trained and qualified Computer Studies Teachers in Namibia became an opportunity for me to excel and become more popular in this area. Being a teacher, it opened academic doors for me widely and hence now my services are on demand at institutions of high learning.

My friend there is no life without challenges, as an educator, you will always come across those learners or students that criticise your teaching style or strategy. Some will even create stories about your teaching life style for you to have many enemies. However, if you know what you are doing and why you doing that work, you will always turn these challenges into opportunities. Then instead of your haters seeing you going down, then they will see you growing and climbing the ladder. I was heavily criticised even by friends and relatives that I am workaholic. But, this did not shy me away from my passionate career as I do enjoy what I am doing and doing it whole heartedly. Lack of financial resources or means are always an issue especially if you would like to upgrade and further your studies. However, I tried to use some other means to fund my studies.

13. Who are the people that you still remember as having played a key role in your education?

My friend the list is long. However, some notable people who really played a key role in shaping and modelling my education are: my Sub-A teacher Mrs Teopolina Ndemuweda-Nakale, she really inspired me and I think this is the reason why I ended up choosing Education as my professional career. In addition, at school level, I had teachers such as Mrs Hilya Haimbodi my Business Management Teacher from grade 8-10 at Eembaxu Combined School, who really inspired and role modelled me to such an extent that I also became a Business Management Teacher. At the University level, I cannot thank enough my former Entrepreneurship Lecturer and who happened to be my MBA Dissertation Supervisor Prof. Earle Taylor, the current Deputy Vice Chancellor of IUM. My good Professor really inspired me in terms of knowledge, teaching ethics and professional conduct that include the dressing code. This is the reason why I am always putting on suit. At family level, my sister, Ms Hendrine Nestory-Hedimbi, she together with Mr Jackson Wandjiva, Mrs Fiindje Wandjiva, Ms Ericah Shafudah are the people who have made sure that my accommodation, food and tuition fees at the University level was arranged and paid on time. I am indebted to them, because if they were not there, I do not think that I was supposed to be where I am right now. Ms Ericah Shafudah additionally, gave me courage during my studies and served as my personal counsellor and role model, whenever I was being overpowered by life threatening problems.  I cannot forget the role that my late mother (Ndaitavela Shafuda) really played by teaching me how to read and write in Oshiwambo. She taught me to be a God-Fearing man, responsible and goal determined individual. She additionally, taught me to be independent and try to work for myself if there is anything that I need in my life. She was a hard working woman who sacrificed a lot to ensure that I had school uniform and have something to eat from primary school even up to university level. Lastly, Doctoral Promoter: Prof. Dr. Susanne Janssen and Doctoral Daily Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Payal Arora inspired me and shaped me academically.

14. In a brief paragraph how do you describe a good education/teacher?

A good teacher is a role model, guided by the ethical principles of the teaching profession. In other words, a good teacher should serve and act as a father/mother, uphold, instil traditional and other cultural ethics, values onto his/her learners. A Good teacher does not only act favourably during class time, but at all time, even during weekends, he/she should be a good communicator, child-driven and presentable.

It is quite interesting that a good education produces dutiful citizens, doers, responsible and committed products that have their society at heart. It should not promote or indirectly encourage laziness or indiscipline.

15. What is that you think needs to be done to improve quality of life in rural areas?

Adult education and community empowerment is the key to rural development. You cannot achieve a sustained change and growth in rural areas if citizens are not educated about topical and social issues affecting their lives and how they can overcome them. You cannot have a better life in rural areas, when citizens are living in deplorable conditions, no access to clean water, hygiene, health facilities, information and media literacy and respect of traditional norms and cultures for the different groups in your community. We need to actively work as a team to empower our rural communities with relevant educational facilities for them to understand the process and how to maintain whatever is brought to them.

16. If you are given money and power to change or do something in Namibia, what would it be and why?

Building more Schools and clinics with heavily subsidised stationeries. A society which is illiterate about social issues is likely to live unhealthy and that will affect overall developmental goals of the country.

17. I notices that you like writing poems in your vernacular, what inspires you to write poem and how many did you write so far?

Ooh, yes, my love for poems started long time ago while I was in school. It was boasted by the deficiency that I picked up that poems can be the best information, or educational tool to inform, instruct or send messages across to all our citizens regardless of their educational levels. It is within a poem that one can clearly express him/herself about something. Poems in Oshiwambo particularly in Oshikwanyama, are part of my strategies to revive and develop the love for Oshikwanyama as a language and encourage people to read in their own languages. What I picked up recently is that, many people especially the youth do not like reading things written in their vernacular. And my goal is to indirectly educate and promote my language while at the same time passing on the message to the right group of people. I love traditions, culture and African proverbs, hence my interests in this area grows daily and at whatever occasion you will see me I always come out with a poem already in my mind. I think this is just an inborn ability and characteristics of me as an Oshiwambo speaking man. I am raised in a typical Oshiwambo tradition where poems and songs played a major role in our educational processes. In most case I just would like to express my feelings, emotions, pleasure, disappointment, feeling like informing people about something, teaching people about  societal issues, discouraging people about using certain things that are not good for themselves, praising an individual, showing appreciation about what I received and the list continues. So there are times that I tend to be very emotional when I am reading my poems or when I am drafting one. But once I am done with it I feel better because it is heard. It is within a poem that you can learn and teach people about traditional norms, showing your creativity and innovation of coming up with texts that can inform and guide your fellow human beings to behave in a socially acceptable manner. In reality, I just love writing and do enjoy writing and reading.

Since I am aiming at having a book for these, so far I wrote 75 poems and I am still writing to make sure that they exceeded 100. My poems are mainly focusing social problems facing our society and they serve as sensitisation mechanisms o warn and discourage citizens from being engaged in unethical activities. Though, some are aimed at praising our national leaders and so on.

18. Would you like to share any other thing with our readers before close this interview?

Oh yes, as a Social Media researcher, I would like to caution our citizens not abuse and misuse social media platforms but rather to use them as virtual publics to discuss pertinent issues concerning our developmental agenda. I lately, observed citizens using these platforms to reveal private and confidential issues be it at personal or organisational level. However, this paint a negative picture about your molarity as a person. Let’s stay away from vilifying and dehumanising each other. Let’s take note that these virtual spheres are also controlled by national and international laws and you can easily be taken to court for violating other people’s rights digitally. A happy digital society is a joyous community of progress and success!!

Furthermore, as parents, teachers and adult educators we should always strive to instil or impart knowledge onto the young ones. We need to lead by example. We need to be who we are but not faking our life styles. We need to respect our traditional values, norms, cultures and superstitions. As a transformative citizen, be knowledgeable about your own culture, guide and have pride of your roots and have respect for human dignity. The world is revolving now and being controlled by digitalisation, and many of us have a thought that digitalisation means moral decay and less traditions and culture. That is a wrong perception. As elders we need to behave in a socially and culturally acceptable manner. Let’s be proud African and guided by African morality. We need to be aware emerging neo-colonialism mechanisms aimed at taking away what is ours. Our children one day will ask us to explain this. What will we tell them? Let’s do away with this thing of elders sleeping and dancing in bars. Let’s stay at home and mould our children. They need our love. They need their traditions to be able to cope with the challenges brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolutions.

Some photos about Dr. Shihomeka

From: Left: Professor Payal Arora (my Doctoral Daily Supervisor at Erasmus University Rotterdam); Dr. Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka and Dr. Wendy Willems (London School of Economics, Department of Media and Communications) during my PhD graduation ceremony in Rotterdam
From left to right: Dr. Qiong Gong (Department of Media and Communication, EUR), Prof. Dr. Payal Arora (EUR), Dr. Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka (PhD graduate), Prof.Dr. Susanne Janssen ( Doctoral Promoter and Head of Department: Media and Communication, Erasmus School of History, Culutre and Communication, Dr. Wendy Willems (London School of Economics, Department of Media and Communications) and Prof.Dr. B. Buscher (WUR)
Dr. Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka receiving my PhD degree certificate from Prof. Dr. Susanne Janssen at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Dr. Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka infront of the School of History, Culture and Communication.
Dr. Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka in his Office at the University of Namibia one of the late evenings
Dr. Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka with his third year Diploma in Lifelong Learning and Community Education Educational Technologies’ students during an educational excursion at the Erongo Desalination Plant outside Swakopmund.