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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Teachers, Etosha, And Piggeries

SOON schools will close for almost two months and while teachers and pupils are away many, including seniors in the Ministry of Education, will bemoan the grade 10 results as well as the high number of pupils who will end up on the streets.

This year Namibians expect some positive change.

We have a new team of Minister, Deputy Minister and Permanent Secretary of Education and judging by the time they spent touring the country to see the shocking state of some schools and hostels, listen to demoralised pupils and teachers and motivate them, results should show a marked improvement.

As Minister Abraham Iyambo said, some schools in rural areas look like “piggeries” and pupils sleep on the floor due to lack of beds and mattresses.

They are greatly disabled in an able society!

Recently, we have seen that the Ministry of Education received thousands of textbooks from various organisations, including the Millennium Challenge Account which, at some stage the Swapo Party Youth League claimed, were gunning for Etosha National Park in exchange for textbooks and money.

The books came during the second half of the school calendar year but did not make it in time for pupils to use them before the year-end exams.

The Government has also re-introduced bush allowances for teachers. Such allowances serve as an encouragement for teachers to work in rural areas.

But teachers in rural areas need more than bush allowances.

Some of them stay in places which can hardly be called houses, flats or rooms and they must teach under very challenging conditions.

I know of a school principal who is also in charge of a hostel.

The principal uses his own vehicle to fetch wood during weekends and also takes pupils to places like hospitals whenever the need arises.

That is in addition to teaching and managing the school. But he is an exception. It is a fact that there is a difference between those who take it on as ‘just a job’ and others who believe that it is a calling. But very few teachers regard their jobs as a calling and would use their own resources for the advancement of the pupils!

When the support structures from regional offices and the head office are not adequate and school’s management is left to overcome all the stumbling blocks by themselves.

So far we have seen and heard encouraging signs coming from Minister Iyambo.

He hates the dirt at schools, lambastes laziness and has vowed to pump millions into changing the core problem that has driven this country into its educational cul-de-sac.

In fact Cabinet has already agreed to avail N$85 million to build 183 classrooms at schools, repair blocked toilets and windows in the most severely dilapidated schools and hostels, fixing leaking pipes and taps at more than 200 schools countrywide and provide beds and mattresses for 3 584 pupils.

A long-awaited national conference on education is also on the cards for early next year.

While all the signs are there for an education revival, the Ministry would be best advised to step up efforts to re-employ some of the best and experienced crop of teachers it lost mainly to private and community schools.

The continuous education system, which is pupil centred, also needs to be re-assessed.

As it is now, children of uneducated parents suffer because they can’t be assisted with their homework. In fact, some of the homework is such that parents are forced to do almost everything for the pupils.

The system has contributed to a hugely expensive disaster and we will spend years recovering from it because it has taken the country back decades and yet no one seems to recognise it for the catastrophe it is.

Clearly Minister Iyambo has got a lot to think over through the school holidays and his birthplace Oniimwandi in the Oshana Region might be the best place to be at as he spends time pondering about the future of our education.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Swapo Government Or Government’s Swapo: What’s The Difference Anyway?

FROM last year to 2012, the taxpayer will pay N$156 million towards financing of political parties.

Yet, there is no law compelling the parties to account for how they spend the money.
At the moment around 0,2 per cent of the total State revenue is allocated to the funding of political parties each year and the amount is divided among the parties in the National Assembly based on the number of votes received in the previous election.
It means that prior to the 2009 election, Swapo with 55 seats received N$12,5 million while the Congress of Democrats collected N$1,1 million.
What’s worrying is that the parties can spend the money as they like and do not have to account for it as the current Electoral Act only requires parties to disclose foreign funding.
This includes opposition political parties who continue to shout the loudest about lack of Government accountability while they do not account to taxpayers how they spend their own money.
As for the ruling party, we are not only dealing with the “Swapo Party Government” as President Hifikepunye Pohamba and everyone else often refers to it, but also with the ‘Government’s Swapo’.
The party has become a department or agency of the Government and despite mega-funding they’re also using State resources for their campaign.
To qualify my statement, I would like to refer to some invitations we have received over the past three weeks.
Whereas in the past the department of information at the Swapo head office would send out invitations for rallies, these duties seem now to have shifted to ministerial offices.
A case in point was an invitation to Swapo rally at Arandis sent out by the Office of the Deputy Minister of Education on a Government letterhead. It was issued by the private secretary of the deputy minister.
Four days later somebody’s conscience triggered another invitation but this time apparently ‘from the private office of the Deputy Minister’.
All that changed was the date as well as the fact that the letterhead was missing. Same fonts and same person for enquiries!
We have had several public relations officers, personal assistants and private secretaries of ministers sending invitations over the past two weeks.
This is done on Government time, with Government equipment and the civil servants get paid by the Government too.
Of course the ministers follow the example of the President who is apparently on “24-hour duty” as explained last year by State House when the issue came up.
Recently, a group of people tried to get an appointment with the President and they were informed that he would not be available until after the elections because he is campaigning. That’s 24 hours for you!
While it is to an extent understandable that the President’s trips for Swapo business are funded by the taxpayer, it is a bit much for ministers and deputy ministers to get the same treatment while the party collects no less than N$12 million a year from the State coffers.
It adds insult to injury when it is as openly done with the use of letterheads and faxing Swapo rally invitations from Government offices. They even follow the invitations up with telephone calls from ministerial offices.
There is need for a clear separation between Government and Swapo operations.
The ruling party’s policy of deployment of cadres in key positions seems not only to be about ensuring the fulfilment of its manifesto but also the deliberate use of the State’s resources for the benefit of Swapo. For such people, the party’s interests come first and everything else is secondary.
For them it means they work for the Swapo Government, the Government is for Swapo’s use and Swapo is part of the Government’s agencies.
If this can’t stop, party funding must end.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Only Swapo Gains From The Marriage With Unions

THE union affiliation to Swapo has never benefitted the workers and will not in the foreseeable future. The only positive for the workers is that their leaders have access to local, regional and national political offices through the ruling party ticket.

In the upcoming election, a few leaders of unions affiliated to the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), and through the umbrella body to Swapo, will be standing for office.
That is one of the reasons they were opposed to the now-abandoned workers’ march of Wednesday.
The problems at the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) and the approximately N$650 million in capital losses through the Development Capital Portfolio (DCP) investments have received widespread adverse reaction and I don’t intend dwelling too much on that.
But it is astonishing that a report was submitted to Prime Minister Nahas Angula and Finance Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila by Namfisa in August 2007 already by the Namibia Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority and left to collect dust for such a long time.
Angula is reported as having said that “somebody” assumed that GIPF would have acted on the report.
However, he also did not dismiss the theory that following up on the perpetrators would have been seen as a witch-hunt against former President Sam Nujoma whose brother-in-law Aaron Mushimba and son-in-law David Iimbili were among the recipients of GIPF funds.
According to him 2007 was a “sensitive time”.
It was a ‘sensitive time’ for Swapo because the Rally for Democracy and Progress was formed round about then and would have tried to make political capital of the negative publicity.
The Namfisa report said GIPF lost about N$1,2 billion in opportunity costs. In total the fund lost over N$1,8 billion, it said.
Losing that much money was not as harmful as the pain RDP would have inflicted on Swapo, had the matter became public, it would seem.
A few months after the 2010 national and presidential election NUNW secretary general Evilastus Kaaronda was, however, able to use the very same information to defeat those who attempted to get rid of him.
But there was always a risk that they would strike back and this they did this week.
It is a pity that their revenge came at a cost to the workers despite such leaders being given a very clear mandate at the last NUNW congress to act on GIPF.
For their part, the Namibia National Teachers’ Union (Nantu) took out an advert urging members “to concentrate more on the upcoming national examinations” instead of the demo.
These are the same people who, five years ago, forced Government to improve teachers’ salaries and working conditions. That was while the pupils were busy preparing for exams. Clear double standards at play!
I do also not believe that the demo over the pension money would have affected Swapo’s performance in the upcoming elections.
When Nantu pushed Government for increases and agitated for a demo in 2005, it was also around 50 days before Oshikuku, Ruacana and Okahao had their first elections.
So one is prompted to ask: Which is more important? The impact a two-hour demo might have on the ruling party’s election showing or civil servants losing N$1,2 billion?
As things stand now, the GIPF issue won’t be dealt with after the elections, because everyone will then be going on holiday.
I don’t believe that the workers will take this one lying down. It also deals with their freedom which includes freedom of expression and the right to hold meetings (marches).
Cabinet would be better advised to accelerate their action whilst time is on their side.
If not, the workers will take it upon themselves to recover the money and not even Swapo, the union leaders, or honorary members will stop them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I’ve Got A Feeling It’s Over Between Ithana And Geingob

ONE of Gregory Abbott’s most well-known songs is entitled ‘I Got The Feelin’ (It’s Over)’ and he sings about the “funny feelin’” he had that his relationship with a girl was on the rocks.

I got the same impression over the past couple of days about the relationship (not love, but camaraderie) between Swapo secretary general Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and the party’s vice president Hage Geingob.
The two were close allies for years and many regarded Ithana as a protegee of the former Prime Minister.
In fact, her support for Geingob was tested to the limits in 2002 when he refused to accept a lesser position of Local Government Minister and was frozen out by former President Sam Nujoma. Both were prominent figures in the party’s inner circles as Prime Minister and the country’s first female Attorney General respectively.
Geingob’s differences with Nujoma resulted in him plummeting in the party top structure and within a month he failed to be re-elected to the Politburo. The same congress also rejected Ithana to an extent that she was placed 23rd in the election for the Central Committee seats. Worst was when she failed to make it to the Swapo Party Women’s Council executive committee, of which she was an almost automatic choice for many years.
Reading the latest reports about the feud between Ithana and Sport Minister Kazenambo Kazenambo, you get the impression (and “funny feelin’” as Abbott put it) that she is on a very clear mission to become president of Swapo at all costs – even if it means pushing Geingob out of the way.
I know that Ithana has rejected claims that she was on a collision course with Kazenambo (better known as KK) and that she attempted to get him fired because of a remark he made about prostitution.
But I believe the news report that appeared in a weekly newspaper.
First, Swapo has the tendency to deny such sensitive stories very quickly if they are not 100 per cent true- which the party’s top structure did not do for days.
Secondly, the story was broken by a newspaper whose top structures are known to be close to both Geingob and Ithana. As a result, they would not have reported on the issue unless they were ‘dead sure’.
I believe Ithana’s attempt to get KK fired as a minister was not provoked by the statement about prostitution. It had all to do with his previous statement about wanting a non-Owambo Swapo president.
He is a known Geingob supporter. In fact he is one of the main proponents for his presidency.
And because there is the illusion that Ithana is very powerful in the party, she tried to push for KK’s demise at the top-four level.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she had not also tried to use other party instruments, such as the Youth League, Women’s League and Elders’ Council before attempting at it at the highest level.
The fact that KK didn’t even get a rebuke from the President tells it all.
Ithana has shown that she does not have the authority to dictate appointments or dismissals and that she is just another minister.
In fact, KK’s political resilience was boosted in the process.
But what is more harmful to Ithana is that she has not only disclosed her presidential ambitions very early (something that is not advisable in Swapo) but also possibly isolated herself in the process.
While already dealing with the undeclared ‘cold war’ with Jerry Ekandjo from the same Omusati-clique stable, Ithana has added more enemies by isolating herself from those who supported her through Geingob.
Ekandjo must be having a good laugh!
Ithana can also not expect any favour from the Ndonga group in the party, who want Nahas Angula as the party’s next president.
The end result is that her actions might lead to a complete realignment of allies and powers within the party while, in the broader scheme of things, I have the feelin’ it’s over between her and Geingob.