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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Time To Incorporate The Youth Is Now!

youthIN the next few months political party leaders will have the daunting task of finalising their lists of candidates for the upcoming local and regional authority elections.

Sections, branches and districts have started submitting names of their preferred candidates and some wannabes are also pushing their luck by forcing themselves on people through different manoeuvres such as smear campaigns against opponents as well as holding party meetings clandestinely with selected supporters to rubber-stamp their candidacy.
The time will also be an ideal opportunity to not only reflect on the achievements of the candidates at local and regional level but also afford members a chance to deliberate and consider how to blend in youth, more especially young women, into mainstream politics.
The retirement of former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Libertina Amathila earlier this year after 20 years in Government and many years of hard work at party level was coming for some time and was thus no surprise to all when it happened. She was, however, the first of a generation that is on its way out and needs to be replaced with those of impeccable quality.
Amathila was a sober-minded, stable and committed stalwart and Swapo, as well as opposition political parties who intend to rule Namibia one day, need to groom such cadres as they did yesterday.
I am referring to people who will not struggle to adapt to the challenges facing our communities at local and regional level and who will be able to mix leadership with management.
We have had enough of young supposed firebrands who offer nothing other than party slogans but lack direction and maturity.
And with youth I mean those up to the age of 35. I choose that age limit reluctantly because the national youth policy has it that way. But then we also know whose brainchild it was and that Swapo also have it so in their constitution!
Somehow I have noticed a gradual alienation of young women in Namibia’s political landscape and when parties refer to the youth, they mostly tend to pinpoint to the wannabe young lions they have churned out.
I am no proponent of women empowerment if it is purely based on the number rather than the quality. But we definitely need to reflect on sexual politics.
My input, however, is more for young people generally against the background of the dearth of new blood as seen in last year’s national elections.
I believe that the next five years will be crucial for blending in the youth into mainstream politics.
It is a fact that the younger they are the less they will struggle to adapt to challenges.
Of course, they will lack authority at the beginning but they can use the time to build on their experience. Thus the trial and error won’t be as public as that of known national leaders whose mistakes can be seen by all and who regularly come under the microscope due to their public office.
After five years such young leaders will be able to lead with authority and provide energy, vision and influence. This should be done through noncoercive means and not like the current pushing and pulling of the people.
Again, I do not mean that elders lack energy and vision. Some do, but not all!
I believe we have youth who, with time on their side, will be able to mobilise people to face problems. Youth who will challenge and help the communities.
Just last week the Government announced that it had downgraded some local authorities.
It is no secret that some of the downgraded ones had been struggling for years and marked with such things as corruption and mismanagement. Others, of which Keetmanshoop is the most appropriate example, spent more time on infighting (physical and verbal). They mislead instead of lead!
Such leaders have had their time and need to be replaced by those who can direct disciplined attention to issues and bring back a sense of hope among the communities.
Of course, not all youth are disciplined and have leadership characters. Just look at the ‘struggle kids’, for instance, who should have done better because of the input their parents had in the country’s liberation as well as some corrupt young managers at known institutions.
But there are gems out there ready to be unearthed and released.
They are in regions – some doing voluntary work, quietly sweating with fire in their bellies – and ready to explode their talents if given the chance.
While such youth will be active, seniors will be able to have time to reflect and guide them into a new era. As such the youth won’t need to reinvent things and will also be able to avoid falling in the same traps.
We cannot afford to just see the Libertina Amathilas of this world quietly remove themselves into the obscurity of their farms while our youth dwell in the unknown without guidance. Let’s blend in the youth, even if it is one or two on parties’ local authority lists of five.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Police’s Protest Ban Designed To Stifle Rights

MY sincere apologies to the oppressed people of Swaziland and thousands of others from countries such as Zimbabwe who came to Namibia with the hope of getting their voices heard through a peaceful demonstration.

I am embarrassed, but at the same time also saddened, by the decision taken by our Police to ban demonstrations where you had planned to air your legitimate concerns about human rights violations by mainly securocrats back home.
I know that SADC meetings are not just about human rights issues in Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Our leaders spent hours discussing pertinent concerns such as electricity for the region, food security, regional integration, job creation and a new customs union. Some other issues were on the table.
While I appreciate the discussions as well as the time spent on preparing the summit, I was very depressed by the extent to which our Police went to silence the voice of the masses.
The Minister of Safety knows, as do the rest of the Cabinet and top Police officers, that the ban on demonstrations announced very late last week was a calculated move aimed at stifling the voices of the masses and had almost zilch to do with the availability of the officers to ensure the safety of the demonstrators.
I use the term ‘calculated’ because the ban was issued very late on Thursday and hardly gave any challenger time to approach the courts before this week.
Secondly, the Police knew very well that they had no powers to ban a demonstration for the reasons they gave.
In fact, in 1997, following several anti-Government demonstrations, former President Sam Nujoma announced a ban on all demonstrations not authorised by the Police but there was a legal challenge which nullified the decision. One of them was against a planned demonstration by the Himba people who were opposing the construction of the Epupa dam.
The Namibian Police probably took a leaf out of the books of their counterparts in South Africa last year when the Tshwane Metro police refused to give Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change a go-ahead to stage a demonstration on the sidelines of the SADC emergency summit on Zimbabwe in Pretoria.
There were reports that the Namibian ban was mainly instigated by the fact that the demonstrations were initiated by the opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress who wanted to apparently embarrass the Government.
Whether the demonstration was instigated by RDP, MDC, any other political party, or was just a move by furious masses yearning for change, is not the issue for me.
What the Police did was to disrespect the same laws they are trying to enforce on people!
They knew very well from previous experience that the courts would declare their action invalid but they went ahead to declare a ban on demonstrations. They knew that, if anybody wanted to challenge their decision, they would have to approach the courts and that there was a likelihood that such a hearing would only take place a day or two after the summit.
While many would probably find the Police action clever in this respect, it brought to the fore a vexatious disrespect for the laws by people who are entrusted to enforce them.
Police chief General Sebastian Ndeitunga argued, through his lawyer Gerson Hinda, that the move was just a “limitation” and not a ban.
For me the approach was as an ostrich-head-in-the-sand one which, in similar instances over the years, gave more power to thuggish rulers to continue oppressing people.
For instance, someone who rules Africa’s last absolute monarchy as his own personal fiefdom got protection and was thus left with an arrogant impression that the rest of SADC agrees with the spate of human rights abuses occurring in Swaziland.
These are the same people who are dragging the reputation and image of SADC down.
SADC Inc.’s success depends on tackling, among others, human rights issues, instead of unholy alliances with one another, and the actions of our Police did not help much in this regard.

Monday, August 16, 2010

SADC doesn’t get it about people’s rights

THIS week Police in Swaziland arrested a man for making photocopies of an article in a South African newspaper that detailed a royal sex scandal which had shaken the small kingdom.

A plainclothes police officer overheard the man requesting photocopies of an article about an alleged love affair between the country’s justice minister and one of King Mswati III’s wives and charged him for copyright violation.
Subsequently the police raided the home of the man to find the original article.
In Swaziland the king remains the law, and political organisations have been outlawed since 1973.
Last week South African ace investigative reporter Mzilikazi wa Africa of Sunday Times was arrested for possession of what police said was a fraudulent letter of resignation from Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza to President Jacob Zuma.
That was three days after he broke a story about the rental of new police headquarters at a cost of N$500 million without following the usual tender procedures.
These are but two incidents which show the disrespect governments in southern Africa have towards the freedom of expression of their people.
Back home in Namibia, spying on others has reached peak fever in recent months.
This after Parliament passed the Information and Communications Bill last year.
The Minister of Information described the bill, which became an Act, as "progressive and popular in the eyes of many people" and even said Namibia had been commended internationally.
According to him the Act will have many benefits – chief among them the safety and security of the country and the protection of its citizens.
The Minister also told the Swapo party newspaper, Namibia Today, that "the requirement for a warrant to conduct interception is an absolute necessity based on the law that gives the right to intercept".
In short, any interception of information was to go through the court.
That, however, has not been the case in the past few months.
Many people I have spoken to have been tapped and they, like me, do not believe that there have been any warrant issued by a court.
What concerns me most is that the interception of information has picked up after discussions around the succession debate in the ruling party intensified.
This while the proponents of the bill argued that the main intention behind the interception was to curtail cyber-crime and terrorism. Critics always disputed this.
Various Swapo leaders have ‘spies’ in the country’s intelligence service and such people work around the clock to monitor the activities of others and feed them with information.
It has reached a stage where so-called comrades do not trust each other, cannot say certain things over telephones or on cellphones, and have ‘invented’ vocabulary to avoid the intelligence picking up on their discussions through ‘key’ words.
How such interceptions benefit the country, I have yet to comprehend.
What worries me most is that there seems to be no watchdog for those who watch others (or listen to the conversations of others) and information they pick up generally spreads like a veld fire among a smaller clique of friends but also reach those who were not supposed to be privy!
I have heard of an incident where one person sent an e-mail to another but it was intercepted and shared with the subject of discussion. The subject of discussion promptly replied to the sender and left the comrade in a state of shock.
Worst of all, the person did not hide the fact about the source of the leaked information and informed the comrade that he/she had ‘boys’ in intelligence!
All the above cases are a direct result of laws enacted by SADC governments under the pretext of peace, safety and security.
There can be no reference to democracy in the same breath as safety and security, or so we have learnt through experiences of citizens and journalists in the region.
And it all started with a symptomatic silence on who ought to challenge such behaviour by our governments.
When challenged by civil society and the media, the majority of the governments resort to the tired old clich├ęs of declaring those who criticise such moves as unpatriotic while they continue to bully them.
I hope that as the leaders reflect on 30 years of SADC’s existence, some sanity will prevail and there will be time to ponder about the disrespect some of the member countries have shown towards protocols and declarations they are signatory to such as the one on culture, information and sport which, among others, commit them to the free flow of information and the freedom and independence of the media.
Sidestepping this will once again give others a licence to continue acting at will.

* This column first appeared in The Namibian

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dealing With The Symptoms Rather Than The Causes

ON February 9 1990 an open-air ceremony was held on the steps of the then colonial Tintenpalast administration building where all 72 members of the Constituent Assembly, led by its chairman, Hage Geingob, agreed on a new Constitution for Africa’s last colony.

“Now, therefore, we the people of Namibia accept and adopt this Constitution as the fundamental law of our sovereign and independent Republic,” Geingob said during that ceremony.

The next month, on March 21, the country’s first President, Sam Nujoma, said in his inaugural speech that Namibians will be “the masters of this vast land of our ancestors. The destiny of this country is now fully in our own hands”.

For the past 20 years we were, thus, supposed to be masters of our own destiny.

The “sick society” that some have referred to over the past two weeks following the barbaric killing of schoolgirl Magdalena Stoffels thus made me wonder where things have gone wrong and why we seem to have lost the moral fibre to the extent that we are constantly faced images of almost unsurpassed gore.

Is it a case of violence being used by men to achieve a certain purpose? And how effectively can we respond to such violence?

I am not qualified enough to come up with solutions to the questions I have just posed.

However, I am ‘dead’ certain that calls for the death penalty are misdirected, even though we are hurt by the atrocities committed against our daughters, mothers and sisters.

We need something more radical than the death penalty, life imprisonment or an effective justice system. Somehow we must recover the values of life as a nation.

There is an age-old African proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. That is, among others, what I am alluding to. It strikes at the heart of what we are experiencing today.

My issue today, however, is about the calls for the return of the death penalty and the cries by some of the angry mob who pleaded with the Police to hand over the suspect in the Stoffels case so that they could avenge her death by killing him in return.

Similar calls were made in February 2005 when two girls, Rachel Hamatundu (6) and Manuela Sofia Hoesemas (4) were raped and brutally murdered in Swakopmund and Windhoek within a space of a week.

The reaction included calls for the death penalty; cries that we have lost morals; are a hypocritical society which accommodates and protects criminals; and calls for a commission of inquiry into rape, murder and domestic violence.

Looking back on those two cases now, it appears that our response towards violence remains more muscle than power. Our blood reaches boiling point for a couple of days but then we revert to the same devil-may-care attitude with which we had tackled many other crucially important issues.

The only time we hear such concerns is when those who make careers and money out of citizens’ problems, air them once again! And I found it sickening to notice this week how some supposedly ‘concerned’ people tried to cash in through publicity stunts with the death of late Magdalena.

Some people wearing political parties’ colours at a clean-up operation, others distributing company T-shirts to promote themselves while some organised/attended a clean-up in a riverbed which had already been cleaned simply to get publicity.

One news report even said the young girl would be buried in a T-shirt of a certain entertainment group!

But back to the death penalty, which is a big ‘no’ for Namibia because for it to happen we must completely throw away the Constitution – our fundamental law as Geingob referred to it 20 years ago.

Chapter three of Namibia’s Constitution explicitly outlaws capital punishment as it states that that part of the fundamental human rights and freedoms cannot be amended.

Article 6 in that chapter states that the right to life shall be respected and protected – that is irrespective of whether we are dealing with a rapist or a murderer.

“No law may prescribe death as a competent sentence. No court or tribunal shall have the power to impose a sentence of death upon any person. No executions shall take place in Namibia,” the article states.

Thus for the death penalty to return, we must first completely get rid of our Constitution – something which is certainly not desirable or advisable right now.

Also, Namibia has signed several international treaties which enshrine the right to life and thus we are obligated to honour them.

Studies elsewhere have not been able to show that the death penalty can deter or reduce crime rates.

What it has shown is that the death penalty can lead to state-sponsored killing of innocent people. In countries like the United States, individuals who were on death row were released following an appeal which showed their innocence.

All I am saying is that (a) individuals are innocent until proven guilty and thus cannot be handed over for mob justice and (b) the death penalty is basically a cop-out from dealing with the root problems facing our society.

In fact, Members of Parliament in the National Council should be among those on the forefront, not only to protect the Namibian Constitution, but also help tackle the social decay which contributes to the senseless violence and the horrific killings.

I am as horrified by Magdalena’s untimely death as I was by the deaths of Rachel and Manuela, but killing the perpetrators, who by the way are our own sons and come from our midst, instead of dealing with the underlying social causes which result in these atrocities, is not the solution.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

About The South Africanisation of Namibian industries

I WAS glad when the central bank blocked the sale of a controlling stake in Namibian financial services firm, Capricorn Investment Holdings, to Absa.

Capricorn Investment Holdings has a 72 percent shareholding in Bank Windhoek and the deal would have resulted in Bank Windhoek losing its status as the only wholly Namibian-owned bank.
Absa is majority-owned by Britain’s Barclays.
The same group of people sold their 34,4 per cent stake in Bank Windhoek to CIH four years ago.
So why would they now suddenly want to buy back not only their shares but aim for a majority stake? It clearly shows that something good is happening at Bank Windhoek. Also Absa wants an easy entrance back into the Namibian economy.
Bank of Namibia Governor Ipumbu Shiimi said the merger, if approved, would have pushed foreign shareholding in the local banking sector up from 65 per cent to nearly 80 per cent.
But not only that. He also spoke about a “single-country risk”, meaning that we tend to rely too much on the South African (SA) economy.
Of course there would have been some benefits to clients like getting access to certain credit cards but these would have been minimal in the long run.
Absa’s attempt to take over Bank Windhoek is but one example of how Namibia’s economy continues to be run from Pretoria, 20 years after the country’s Independence.
There are three other commercial banks: Standard Bank, First National Bank and Nedbank in Namibia, and all three are basically run from there.
They have to report to SA, almost on a daily basis, on how much they have made, the products they have sold and also get approval from head office on many aspects of their operations.
Their systems are run from SA and they pay millions in so-called ‘management fees’ to their bosses on the other side of the Orange River.
Above all, some of these banks pay no less than N$50 million to SA at the end of each financial year.
That is very disempowering to their staff, many of whom who spend hours in front of ageing computers.
I have seen some staff helplessly trying to explain certain things to frustrated clients. That because Namibia is just too small and their bosses in SA do not take their clients across the border seriously.
Apart from the banks, another example is the mushrooming of SA retail chains in Namibia.
The majority of them, in large shopping malls, are SA-based and Namibians hardly have a chance to enter certain retail markets.
I am neither xenophobic, nor anti-SA.
I just feel that we need to go the extra mile as a country, not only to take ownership of our economy but also to rid ourselves of SA’s paternalistic ruling.
It is interesting to note that when the Absa deal was rejected by the central bank some people in the industry were shocked because they believed that Namibian banks “need a big brother”.
As a consumer and a Namibian, I have had enough of a ‘big brother’ who does not care about me but is only interested in taking my money.
Maybe it is time for Namibian businessmen and women to step up to the challenge of Namibianising the economy instead of getting rid of their shares at Bank Windhoek and others just for the sake of a quick buck.
Surely, if Edgars, Pick ‘n Pay or any other SA retailer pack up, somebody must be there to supply to the market.

* This column first appeared in The Namibian