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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Are Taxi Drivers A Law Unto Themselves?

AM I missing something about the taxi demonstrations in the North? Are the new traffic laws only applicable to taxis? As far as I could establish, it isn’t the case. Since the new traffic fines have been introduced in December, taxi drivers have been complaining and demonstrating.

Yet we know that taxi drivers are among the worst on our roads irrespective of whether they are in Oshakati, Katima Mulilo, Walvis Bay, Keetmanshoop or Gobabis.
In fact, they feel they own the roads and, in most instances, want to instil fear in other drivers. Only they are in a rush all the time!
The majority of taxi drivers actually don’t care about obeying the traffic rules.
That is why many consumers and fellow drivers always remark that all taxi drivers care about is rushing to make money.
Not all taxi drivers are bad. You get some who drive carefully, respect fellow road users, and treat clients with utmost sincerity.
Two hours before writing this column, I took my children to school and encountered three different taxis disobeying traffic rules. One jumped a stop sign; one stopped where he should not have and one hooted and overtook another vehicle who had stopped at a four-way stop. The last one actually drove away with screeching tyres.
Yet, the same people claim they are specifically targeted by traffic personnel and the demonstrators in the North want the fines reduced.
As far as I could establish the new fines are across the board.
Within two weeks of the increased fines, Namibian traffic law enforcement units have reportedly issued tickets amounting to N$1,6 million to motorists – and not only taxi drivers – for speeding, driving without a licence, driving an unlicensed or unregistered vehicle and for driving without public transport operator certificates.
The increases, ranging from N$300 to N$4 000, seem to be a bit heavy but traffic fines have remained the same for the last 40 years.
That means today’s N$4 000 probably has less value than the N$300 fine in 1970.
But we should not focus too much on the fine. If you respect the law, you will not be punished with the heavy fines.
The drivers who demonstrated in the North claimed that the new fines are “a threat to taxi operators and forcing them to quit this service to the people, which will increase unemployment”. They threatened to raise taxi fares unless the fines are reduced.
To whose benefit is it if a driver does not talk on a cellphone whilst driving? Think of the many people who died because a vehicle did not stop at a red light or stop sign.
In hindsight, a N$2 500 for jumping a red light or N$2 000 for not stopping at a sign could be insignificant when compared to the value of lives destroyed or lost.
For reckless or negligent driving the new fine is N$4 000, while people cited for inconsiderate driving – such as making a U-turn where they are not allowed to – will be fined N$2 000.
Last year a vehicle made a U-turn on a national road after the driver saw traffic officers ahead. As a result the car behind that vehicle ran straight into it and several lives were lost unnecessarily.
The long and short of the new fines is the need to respect of law.
When the fines for not wearing seatbelts were introduced, many complained bitterly.
Today you can ask some of the car accident victims what has kept them alive and the majority will thank the same seatbelts for it.
Rather than marches and strikes, I urge those taxi drivers who are inconsiderate of other road users and have no respect for laws to toe the line.
You will not only save thousands but will also help make the roads safer for many others.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some Leaders Already At Work

MOST businesses and Government offices are slowly coming to life and Cabinet should be up and running by the last week of January.

What’s interesting is that many of the ministries and crucial institutions operated on ‘auto-pilot’ throughout December – a time when offices are quiet and which can be best utilised to plan and strategise for the new year.
Of course many will argue that they also need to rest, plough their mahangu fields or be with their families over that period.
I am impressed by how the two gentlemen at the Ministry of Education spent their December.
Both Minister Abraham Iyambo and his deputy David Namwandi crisscrossed the country, meeting personnel and planning for the 2011 school year.
Their aim was not only to avert chaos on the first day at school, but also to motivate staff and look at ways to ultimately improve the school results.
Last year’s grade 10 results have already given a glimpse of hope for the future. It was the best since we started with the Cambridge system and it all boiled down to motivation of the staff.
One of the trademarks of a good leader is the authority to mobilise commitment from others supporting you. The two seemed to have ignited some fire of hope among teachers and supporting staff of the ministry – albeit not all.
Media, especially NBC reports, over the holiday period also seemed to indicate that new Karas governor Clinton Swartbooi hit the ground running.
He had meetings with traditional leaders, regional political leaders, community leaders and the ordinary people from the street where he clearly spelled out his vision for the region for the next five years.
Those who studied leadership will tell you that the difference between it and management is that leaders provide vision and influence for others to realise that vision.
While Swartbooi got off to a flying start, he needs to know how to tend and deploy some of the power that came with his position.
He has done well to give directed attention to some of the crucial issues which bedevil Karas, such as unemployment, alcoholism and late-night street roaming.
The strategy seemed to be that of mentioning his concerns about the issues first, gauging the reaction of the community and following up with clearcut instructions such as that of enforcing the law with regards to shebeens.
But he needs to engage the voices of fellow regional politicians and community leadership to avoid burning out and being isolated in his pursuit for better living conditions for the people of Karas.
Already some political and economic forces are at play to undermine his authority because by, for instance, closing shebeens at certain times he has cut the income of the owners. It is a known fact that some of the shebeen owners have political influence and could encourage their followers from cooperating with him.
While the above three gentlemen were hard at work, many of the new governors as well as ministers were missing in action.
The only news item I observed of one of the new governors, veteran politician Joshua //Hoëbeb, was a public welcome party Swapo held for him at Outjo and it sent a chill up my spine.
Here he is appointed by the President in an opposition-dominated region and the first thing he does is to appear at a welcoming party held by Swapo. It immediately causes unnecessary division and tension.
I have no problem with him attending his party’s functions but his actions might be seen as replicating what his predecessor was accused of – allegedly working only in the interest of one group. It is, however, too early to judge //Hoëbeb.
As for the rest of the governors and ministers, they better come back with very clear strategies. The people have observed the actions of Iyambo and Swartbooi. Surely they will want their leaders to be in the same league.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011: Namibia’s Year Of Coming Of Age

WE are already seven days into a very significant year for Namibia’s Independence - the year in which we will celebrate 21years of Independence and hopefully get rid of the epic political buffoonery and other negatives that preoccupied our minds recently.

Celebrating 21 years is synonymous with maturity and becoming an adult.
In some cultures and societies a child who reaches that age receives keys from their parents. Such keys signify the opening of new doors and also the transfer of responsibility from the parents to such children.
In most cases the gifts given to the maturing children are of much higher value than the normal birthday gifts.
The well-off parents might even give a child a key to a flat or for a car.
The most significant key, however, is the one given to a child to unlock his or her own new opportunities in life.
With Namibia set to celebrate its 21st Independence anniversary this year, our democracy should be maturing to the next level. We should see a democracy in which political campaigning will be peaceful and elections transparent, among others.
Compared to some other states Namibia has done well since Independence but our yardstick should always be the countries above us. Those are countries known for the integrity, accountability and transparency of leaders they produce year-in and year-out.
Such leaders practice zero tolerance for poor performance, corruption, factionalism, patronage and promote unity in action.
While we are known to be a model of democracy among African states, corruption and cronyism have reached levels that have started systematically eroding the few gains we made.
Albert Einstein once said: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”.
Our problem is the way we see problems.
In the majority of cases we politicise things such as the high rate of unemployment, crime, lack of housing and what should normally be a mature debate for solutions to such issues end up being trashed.
This year we need to realise that there can be no fudging about the bread-and-butter issues. You win or you don’t; you have work or you don’t; there is an abnormally high level of murders or there isn’t.
For such problem-solving we need a new and deeper level of thinking across the board – whether Government or private sector, in Parliament or at traditional level, in the capital city or at a village.
Workshops and trips for the sake of subsistence and travel (S&T) allowances must stop. Instead, we need to work the problems with the affected people and shop for the right answers at their level.
Quick fixes have proven costly in the past.
That is why a few toilets in a rural area like Omusati were built for N$20 million!
And let’s get rid of disposable comrades. These are the corrupt and those whose sell-by dates have passed.
Let our year of coming of age be marked by maturity.
For that to happen a lot depends on an enlightened leadership who are ready to take the bull by the horns. Leaders must be ready to get their hands dirty rather than seek sanctuary in their air-conditioned offices.
There is no better time than 21 years to come of age, and it only comes around once!