Bience Philomina Gawanas is a Namibian lawyer, the current special advisor on Africa in the United Nations. A position that she has been holding since 2018.
Bience Philomina Gawanas studied law during the Apartheid period in South Africa. After her secondary studies, when she joined the University of the Western Cape, she remembers that one of the white school sponsors advised her to switch from law to nursing, considering her as lower than white students. But she decided to stick to law. An interest that she developed following a personal experience. Her brother was, once, arrested and beaten to death while hitch-hiking and was wrongly accused of a road accident.
In 1976, soon after the Soweto uprisings, she was forced out from the University. After her expulsion, she got enrolled in the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) Youth League in Namibia and a teacher. She left Namibia and lived in Zambia, Angola and Cuba.
Later on, thanks to a scholarship sponsored by the Africa Educational Trust, she earned a Bachelor in Law from the University of Warwick in the UK in 1987 and a Barrister Degree from the Council Legal Education of Law/Lincoln in 1988, as well as an MBA from the University of Cape Town and an Honorary Doctorate degree from the University of Western Cape.
In 1988, she went to Zambia to visit her daughter and was incarcerated by the SWAPO and was later, released. In 1989, she and her daughter were repatriated to Namibia by the United Nations.
A career in the Namibian government, the UN and NGOs
She started her career, soon after coming back to Namibia in 1989, in a law firm and worked with a lawyer who was later murdered by Apartheid agents. Then, she worked in a public-interest legal assistance centre until 1991 when, she was appointed to the public service commission by parliament.
In 2003, she became commissioner on social affairs for the African Union Commission, in Ethiopia. In 2012, she became special advisor to the minister of Health and social services. In 2018, she was appointed special advisor on Africa in the UN. She was also special advisor to Namibia’s Minister of Poverty eradication and Social Welfare.
Previously, she worked in several non governmental organizations, namely the Namibian National Women’s organization and the Namibian Federation of persons with disabilities.
Since 2020, she sits on the board of the International planned Parenthood Federation.