Want some insight in Namibian politics? I am no expert but have 16 years (1995-2011) of writing on Namibian politics in The Namibian newspaper and can probably offer you a bit more than you know about the who's who in the Namibian political zoo. You will also find a few articles commenting on other issues of concern in the country. Hope you find it interesting. - Christof

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Government At 100 Days: Keeping A Finger On The Pulse

NEXT week President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s class of 2010 Cabinet will mark their first 100 days in office. It will be a time for them to reflect on the work they have done so far. It is also a good time to assess the President’s performance.

From the outset, it’s good to point out that there are plenty of positive signs so far.
While the President’s first 100 days some five years ago marked a good start, there was no clear game plan and now at least there is one!
Pohamba leapt out of the starting blocks on March 21 2005 on issues such as graft and made the right noises with little or almost zero strategy – or so it looked to us outsiders.
Back then I thought his performance was wishy-washy but again it is good to point out that the strategy was probably continuation of the Sam Nujoma era. Thus many saw Pohamba’s first Cabinet as an interim Cabinet to appease Nujoma. Pohamba said a lot but delivery was below par.
In fact, there was a sense that he did not have the toughness of character to take on non-performing ministers and permanent secretaries nor determination to push for a new direction for Namibia.
This time around things look much different. Considerable work has been done behind closed doors and ministers have very clear terms of reference on what and when to deliver. In fact, next week is the deadline for them to submit their very first quarterly reports since they were (re)appointed.
With the advent of his second term in office, I believe Pohamba has pushed the ‘reset’ button although the size of the Cabinet, as well as most of the faces, remain largely the same.
It is very clear that Pohamba is not just out to reverse some of the egregious mistakes he might have made over the past five years. He also seems to want to leave an impression.
In terms of Cabinet he did not make monumental changes. But that’s his character, I’m told by those who have been close to him for many years. He likes playing safe and generally has an inclusive approach to life, which borders on preference for extensive consultation within Swapo’s top structures.
That explains why some of the ministers who hardly worked over the first five years retained their jobs.
While many of us thought that the size of Pohamba’s second Cabinet ran counter to the sentiments that had endeared him to the people, like his campaign against corruption, the President opted to keep the size basically the same.
Those who left were not sacked, to put it bluntly. They either retired or worked themselves out of Swapo congress voters’ favour. Their fate was not decided at State House.
Pohamba is well aware that the trouble with retaining the same people who have been ministers for over 15 years is that in many respects this practice is not helpful. Scarcely a handful can be regarded as people who have been effective and thus indispensable in the management of the affairs of the nation.
However, the ‘reset’ button seems to have been effective, so far, in that we see some ministers making regular ‘ministerial statements’ on key issues in Parliament and that they have also started publicly demanding increased productivity from permanent secretaries and other senior staff.
One minister recently even went to the extent of blocking a foreign trip by senior management members whom he had instructed to submit monthly reports that will help him compile his own for State House. That is encouraging.
Two weeks ago, Pohamba read the riot act to permanent secretaries. He told them to up the ante. He and Prime Minister Nahas Angula also worked on the terms of reference (ToR) of permanent secretaries, I understand.
Pohamba could take it a step further by instructing Foreign Affairs to come up with ToR for ambassadors before they are reshuffled/appointed and posted.
There is a need to place each foreign mission under the microscope. We need to see returns from some of our missions abroad.
For some there is not even the faintest sign of a trade-lead yet they receive huge funds each year to run the office, pay staff salaries, give allowances to their spouses and live in luxury.
Perhaps here is a case for the Auditor General to zoom in on non-performing missions with the hope of helping the President to decide which ones to close.
For the President to leave a mark, he needs to look at issues holistically. Some are immediate fixes, but others will serve the nation’s long-term interests although they might not make him popular among his comrades.
Otherwise, we will get nothing more than a crutch when we need a cure.
However, as things look right now, Pohamba seems to be keeping his finger on the nation’s pulse.

* This article first appeared in The Namibian

Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup 2010; The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

FOR the next three weeks the mantra on everyone’s lips is the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and quite rightly so!

It is the biggest sporting show on earth and billions will remain glued to TV screens as the ball, called ‘Jabulani’ (‘rejoice’ in Zulu language), will be chased around the pitch by hundreds of players and cheered on by billions worldwide.

The design of ‘Jabulani’ is significant in that eleven colours are used on it, which marks the 11th time that an Adidas World Cup ball is the official match ball for all games, but it also marks the 11 official South African languages, 11 South African communities and 11 players on the field.
I must confess that, for once, I envy my former colonisers, South Africa.
They coughed up no less than N$50 billion to get their infrastructure upgraded for the World Cup. That is almost double Namibia’s annual budget.
However, the benefits of hosting the tournament will probably overshadow that N$50-billion expenditure for South Africa.
The World Cup is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Africans. It must be because we can’t really afford to spend so much on a four-week football tournament! There are no tangible economic benefits from it and thus I expect the debate about the tournament’s economic value to continue long after the final whistle has blown on July 11.
Yet, the World Cup will definitely shape the way in which South Africa is viewed by the rest of the world.
The positive media coverage the country has received over the past weeks is just awesome.
Friend and foe seemed to have buried the hatchet, with major rugby matches being played in Soweto and many rugby-obsessed Afrikaners seen blowing the vuvuzela and embracing football like never before. That’s the stuff dreams are made of.
On Friday last week, as the hour drew closer for the opening match, I couldn’t believe the euphoria around Windhoek. Most people went completely soccer-crazy and the city witnessed proud seas of SA’s multi-coloured flag, along with a few others like those of Brazil, Germany, France and even Mexico.
The Bafana shirt became the most popular item on the shopping list of Namibians and Windhoek was a real explosion of African pride with almost every second car on the road with a flag attached to an aerial, window or rear-view mirror.
Soccer shirts were selling so fast that even traders in Chinatown who normally would beg you to buy from them, decided to cash in by upping their prices.
The cherry on the cake was when I decided to stroll down Independence Avenue to treasure the moment.
One guy stood out. He was walking towards the City of Windhoek offices and had on a lime-green goalkeeper jersey, black goalkeeper shorts, lime-green socks and white sport shoes – basically ready to play the game.
Like me, many others (some shaking their heads!) paused to look at him but he just pretended not to notice the staring.
Surely our neighbours defied so many negative expectations and prophets of doom. In fact that was already clear by watching Thursday night’s successful live concert graced by the likes of Alicia Keys, Shakira, Angelique Kidjo, K’Naan and Black Eyed Peas.
I agree with many who say that the World Cup is not the solution for the many problems that beset South Africa. It will not eradicate the social ills such as the lack of employment, housing, access to education.
But former SA President Nelson Mandela (Madiba) and others like Danny Jordaan who campaigned to bring the Cup to SA knew very well that it was never about football or development.
They used the game loved by billions as an instrument of bringing about true reconciliation and patriotism.
When he officially opened the tournament, together with SA President Jacob Zuma, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said “football is not only a game, football is connecting people”.
That also explains why many people who otherwise would normally not look East, were cheering North Korea on against Brazil on Tuesday evening!
Just a pity that, despite Namibia being a stone’s throw away, we have nothing to show our children and great-grandchildren one day in terms of World Cup.
K’Naan sang: “When I get older, I will be stronger, just like a waving flag.”
How I wish we could have hosted a pre-tournament camp for the likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil or England so that I and others could show pictures and other memorabilia to our grandchildren when we get older.
Hopefully, we have learnt a lesson about the negative impact sluggishness has had on our World Cup spin-offs.

* This column first appeared in The Namibian

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Deliver Us From Vision 2030

A COLLEAGUE of mine can’t stand words such as ‘stakeholders’, ‘synergies’ and ‘dovetailing’. She has advised reporters to steer clear from those words in their stories. I wish she could do the same with Vision 2030 and people who haven’t read it but continue to week in and week out churn out references to it without contextualising them.

The centre of her target should be veteran politicians, many of whom have not even read the document they are often quoting, as well as some upcoming ones who think they know it all despite knowing nothing!

The Vision is the brainchild of former President Sam Nujoma and a noble idea indeed as it aims to put the quality of life of all Namibians on a par with people in the developed world by 2030.

The blueprint for the country’s long-term national development policy was officially launched six years ago although Nujoma addressed Cabinet on the need to plan for the country’s future already way back in 1998. So it took six years to come up with it.

Trade Minister Hage Geingob recently described Vision 2030 as “a tall order” while the former Director General of the National Planning Commission Peter Katjavivi said “vision is one thing; the process to get there is another thing”.

I agree with both.

That is why I don’t take many people who use the phrase ‘Vision 2030’ seriously.

Many of them can hardly explain the reality, but opt for the cheap way out by making trite statements like “we need to work towards Vision 2030”. They trot them out whenever they want to avoid thinking and it can mean whatever the user wants it to mean!

I actually believe that many use Vision 2030 to make claims about Government achievements that are not true - like that we are on target with things such as information and communication technology goals.

Will Rogers, a United States humorist and showman who died 75 years ago, once said: “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the Government and report the facts.”

I fall in the same category today. This is no joke.

I believe that many speakers do not use Vision 2030 in their speeches to explain a reality, but to avoid doing so.

You turn up at a blanket donation ceremony to impoverished people in Okahandja Park or Ombili and politicians talk about Vision 2030 without even explaining how it links to the occasion. They leave many at grassroots misty-eyed over those big words but get away with blue murder in the process.

As Andre du Pisani said a few years back, Vision 2030 requires “much hard thinking, much doing and much dialogue”.

A quick check on the Vision and targets has revealed the following, among others:

* to significantly reduce unemployment to less than five per cent of the workforce – “close to a condition of full employment”;

* have a social security support guarantee with an acceptable quality of life for the disadvantaged (think Basic Income Grant);

* have a strong and active opposition;

* media that are mature, investigative and free;

* have independent ‘watchdog’ institutions to monitor Government, private sector and civil society organisations and agencies;

* new towns throughout the country, so that the big cities are no longer congested;

* IT training to start at the pre-primary level!;

* There will be a functioning University of Applied Science and Technology by 2005;

* 50 per cent of all Namibian students will study at the University of Applied Science in the areas of electrical and electronic engineering, and computer science;

* by 2005 selected governmental institutions will provide e-business services to the Namibian public and to foreign investors;

* from 2004 win at least four gold medals in international competitions in boxing, cycling, swimming and marathon;

* win at least three gold medals at the Summer Olympic Games of 2004; and

* equip all schools with furniture, water and electricity by 2006.

However, at the current rate land redistribution is going, it will take 40 years before half of Namibia’s commercial farmland will be turned over to black people.

To their credit those who developed Vision 2030 said it is a process and not a plan.

However, a process needs a clear national strategy to give guidance and direction and also people who will be mindful of what they say about the Vision.

The way in which politicians subject citizens to the parroting around Vision 2030, currently amounts to nothing less than verbal abuse.

If there is such thing as the Vision 2030 zeitgeist, it must be now (2010). Two decades should have been enough time to change things around. Or else we will be confined to the dustbin of history.

If not the case, please deliver us from Vision 2030.

* This article first appeared in The Namibian

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kazenambo right to rebuke ‘struggle kids’

YOUTH Minister Kazenambo Kazenambo’s reaction to the ambush laid by ‘children of the liberation struggle’ on his office this week was refreshing and honourable with lofty intentions which patriots would do well to applaud rather than criticise.

I have waited for this day for quite some time but many of the ruling party’s leaders have diplomatically avoided telling the children ‘in the face’ how they feel about their manners and attitude towards what Government is trying to do for many young people in the country.
Namibia has been independent for more than 20 years, enough time for some of those ‘struggle children’ to have lifted themselves from the misery they find themselves in – if they had really tried to do so and not waited for Government handouts.
Like many others, I recognise the contribution made by the parents of those young people in the liberation of Namibia. I am also fully aware of the fact that many of them had to start from scratch when they returned to Namibia in 1989 and that some did not even have basic documents like Namibian identity cards.
They faced a serious uphill battle in the struggle for identity and survival.
However, they have been riding on the ‘liberation struggle’ ticket for too long now.
So many other children also lost their parents in the struggle – some even within the country – while the past 20 years have seen many white children also marginalised in terms of things like bursaries, as Government intensified efforts to correct the wrongs of the past. Some are still paying for the wrongs of apartheid masters as they are denied certain rights through affirmative action and black economic empowerment policies.
Therefore there is no reason for the ‘children of the liberation struggle’ to be selfish and arrogant as they had been over the past few years. There are thousands of other black children who do not carry the ‘struggle’ tag, who are in the same boat as those who have been accommodated and fed at Berg Aukas – they have no jobs and no free food.
The group of eight who met Kazenambo on Tuesday claimed they had given him enough time (less than three months) since his appointment to act on their demands. The demands include jobs in Government and education opportunities for those who wish to study.
I found this to be unfair to the Minister but also very arrogant on the part of the ‘children’ – some of them already parents themselves.
Last year the Police were forced to use teargas on some of the ‘struggle kids’ in the North after they occupied a bridge as part of their demand for jobs. Others had also camped at various places such as in the centre of Windhoek for months.
Some of those from Berg Aukas are the same young people who last year, when Cabinet announced it has set aside N$2 million for them, said the Government could keep its money and instead give them jobs or bring their deceased parents back from the dead!
I have no objection when people demand their rights but the arrogance displayed by a small group of youth compared to the thousands who drop out of school each year and are left stranded due to lack of opportunities or many others who are discriminated against because of their colour must also be considered at the same time.
A few weeks ago Defence Minister Charles Namoloh announced that 600 of them would be recruited into the army. Many others had been given places in the Police while hundreds of others were taken up in Government.
Last year we were informed by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth, Dr Peingeondjabi Shipoh, that the ‘struggle children’ could cost the Government up to N$300 million through jobs, education, training and assistance in becoming self-employed.
Last year Swapo Party Secretary General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana said the struggle children must accept that they are part of a bigger challenge and that even some of the people who did not go into exile did suffer for Namibia’s independence.
Until now the struggle children have continued to cock a snoot, not only at Government but also at fellow youth who have been denied similar opportunities as well as law abiding citizens who respect laws such as not loitering in city centres and urinating in public!
Somebody needed to call them to order and Kazenambo was right in the way he did so.

* This article first appeared in The Namibian