Amutenya Becomes Youngest Brigadier General: Valour Knows No Gender

Those fortunate enough to have attended the Namibian Defence Force’s recent ceremony at the Oluno Military Base witnessed the historic promotion of Helena Amutenya to the rank of brigadier general. Not only is she a female officer who rose through the ranks in a male-dominated defence force, but at the age of 37, Amutenya became the youngest female officer in an independent Namibia to attain the rank of brigadier general in the army.

She occupies the third-highest rank in the army after lieutenant general and major general.

She followed in the footsteps of brigadier general (retired) Fiina Amupolo, a former NDF inspector general and brigadier general Dr Sophia Ndeitunga, the NDF’s surgeon general, heading the defence’s health services.

The third one is retired brigadier general Rauna Hamata, who formerly headed the finance directorate.

Amutenya said her appointment is testimony to the fact that “valour knows no gender”, and “it should serve as testimony to the fact that the NDF has broken through the gender barriers. Although I am the youngest, I am the fourth lady to become a brigadier general”.

She now wishes to see more women serving in the army artillery, armour and other combat roles rising to senior positions because women bring empathy to decision-making.

“Namibia needs diverse voices around the table. Whether it is in a boardroom, the joint commission’s table or military exercises, a diversity of thought, background, heritage, race and gender all add to the capability of any leader to make a decision,” said Amutenya, who heads the defence’s legal office.

She has been serving in that position since 2018. She took over from brigadier general Veikko Kavungo, who was sent to be the defence attaché to Cuba.

Therefore, she is the principal in-house legal advisor to the minister, chief of the defence force as well as to the ministry’s executive director.

Amutenya is a highly qualified legal professional with several qualifications in the field.

She said her expertise in legal affairs assisted the ministry through rendering high-level legal support services to the arms of services and unit commanders to ensure that their actions and decisions conform to the rule of law.

Last year, Amutenya was certified as a legislative drafter by the Centre for Human Resources Development in Manzini, Eswatini. She was also admitted as a legal practitioner of the High Court of Namibia.

Other qualifications include the legal practitioners’ training programme certificate at the Justice Training Centre, Bachelor of Laws (LLB degree) from the University of Namibia (Unam), B.Juris degree from Unam, and various certificates from institutions in Germany, South Africa and Switzerland. She is enrolled as a Doctor of Laws (LLD) candidate at Unam.

As the brigadier general, Amutenya said she is responsible for attending to a back-office representation of the NDF members who are in custody by facilitating their release from civilian prisons into the custody of the military detention centre as well as for facilitating the legal representation of NDF members who are involved in criminal or civil cases while on duty.

Her vision is to have a fully capacitated legal directorate that can deploy qualified legal practitioners to various satellite legal offices, at least to every unit commander.

According to Amutenya, this will improve the process, respect for the rule of law and thereby reduce arbitrary decisions and improve military discipline.

“It pains me to visit my members in civilian custody. I am not condoning lawlessness, but I just feel our soldiers deserve separate detention centres, especially if such crimes are committed whilst on duty,” she said.

Commenting on her promotion, Amutenya confirmed she is ready for her new task.

“I have been heading the office for four years, and I have made great strides in terms of prompt and high-quality legal support,” she beamed.

From humble beginnings

Amutenya was born in Donkerhoek, Katutura, and started her schooling at the People’s Primary School. As a top-performing learner from northern Namibia and a previously disadvantaged young black woman, she was given a full scholarship by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) to pursue a career in law in 2002.

She joined the army in 2007 as a senior legal officer with the rank of captain and was tasked to set up the Namibian navy’s legal office in Walvis Bay.

However, after her short stay in Walvis Bay, the ministry decided to retain her at the headquarters and promoted her to the position of assistant legal advisor to brigadier general Kavungo.

In 2012, given that defence is a highly sensitive environment that requires flexibility and adaptability, Amutenya was sent to undergo military training in both Swaziland and the Osona Military School, where she emerged as the best academic student.

In 2013, because of the NDF’s exposure to international commercial transactions, they gave her a full scholarship and enrolled her for a master’s degree in international trade, business and tax law at Stellenbosch University, which she sat to complete with exceptional grades despite having lost her mother a month before her final exams.

As a doctor of law fellow with Unam, she will embark upon the development and establishment of a corporate governance framework for the Namibian public service.

Given her passion for compliance and governance, in 2018 and 2019, respectively, she became one of the few Namibians accredited by the Corporate Governance Institute of Southern Africa as a governance practitioner. She is currently the only and highly sought-after certified international chartered secretary employed by a government institution.

Late in 2018, Amutenya was appointed as the substantive defence legal advisor, converted back to the military as a full colonel in 2020, and today, she is Namibia’s youngest brigadier general.

She has gained experience in both the public and private sector for 15 years that has equipped her with excellent organisational and problem-solving skills.

Previously, she served as the secretary-general of the Africa Military Law Forum since 2018, director on the New Era Publication Corporation board since 2019, as well as board secretary of Namforce Life Insurance since 2018 and the Seaside Hotel and Spa in Swakopmund since 2010.

Source: New Era

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