Madam Sustainable Development
Text Samson Mulonga
“Sustainable development is about balancing human needs with the protection of the natural environment in a way that does not compromise future generations from doing the same. It is not the means but the end that we must pursue.”
These are the words of Martha Mwandingi, Head of the Environment and Energy Unit at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Namibia. Martha, a mother of two, is one of the most recognised and well-known personalities in Namibia’s environmental sector.
Martha’s roots can be traced to Oneshoko in the Oshitayi area in northern Namibia. Her earliest inspiration was her grandfather, who ensured that the mopane trees around the homestead were protected. After completing school she enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Namibia before proceeding to the United Kingdom, where she completed a Master of Science degree at the University College London.
Martha’s formal career began when she undertook attachments as part of her compulsory modules for Botany and Zoology. She travelled to St Lucia in the KwaZulu Natal Province of South Africa, doing some of her fieldwork locally in Etosha, Swakopmund, and Gobabeb. During this time she worked closely with a wide range of professionals and students from different institutions around the world, gaining valuable experience in the process. It was in this period that she realised her calling was in the environmental sector.
After completing her studies, she began her career at the Multidisciplinary Research and Consultancy Centre of the University of Namibia, where she worked as a researcher collaborating with different partners including the World Bank, UNECA, WSSD, Norway and SADC. At the same time she conducted baseline fieldwork research for the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) on CBNRM (Community Based Natural Resource Management) in the present-day Uukwaluudhi Conservancy.
Martha joined the Environment and Energy Unit (EEU) of the UNDP in Namibia in 2002. She has since overseen the EEU growing from a small project portfolio to one of the largest in Southern and Eastern Africa.
Her abilities, delivery and willingness to engage resulted in her being assigned to lead the development of the five-year UNDP strategic plan for 2006–2010. She and her team were nominated to lead and pilot innovative work in the southern- and east-African subregion, in particular to accelerate output and financial deliveries on programme portfolios co-funded by the Global Environmental Fund (GEF).
Martha has been involved in the development and implementation of many GEF-funded initiatives on different portfolios including biodiversity, land degradation, international waters, climate change and implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements.
The process of visiting different parts of the world and working with different experts and professionals internationally has provided Martha with valuable opportunities to experience programme implementation firsthand in other countries, while at the same time sharing lessons and best practices learnt.
She treasures the trip she undertook to the Sperrgebiet National Park as part of the UNDP Monitoring and Evaluation endeavour with the author of this article and the then Chief Warden of the Park, Trygve Cooper, as one of her most beautiful experiences.
Highly involved in the implementation of the SPAN (Strengthening the Protected Area Network) Project, Martha describes the project as one of the most successful initiatives in the country. “SPAN has attained most of its objectives. There is documentary evidence on the achievements, validated and cited by independent sources including independent evaluations and international recognition,” she says. “A young country like Namibia needs to strengthen coordination within and among different institutions to address the different challenges.”
With women of this calibre the days are surely numbered for male domination of the environmental sector in Namibia.
Martha’s wish list
This article was originally published in the 2013 Conservation and Environment in Namibia publication.