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, May 30, 2011

My Dream Of An Election Every Other Year

WHILE Namibians were preparing to go to the polling stations in November 2009, South African streets were on fire as angry voters destroyed almost everything in their sight. Broken promises had sparked service delivery riots.

The African National Congress, which had campaigned relentlessly on service delivery, and pointed out during the election campaigns that it had given homes to once marginalised thousands as well as access to water and electricity, had to answer why service delivery was slow and, in many cases, not happening at all.
Impatient voters went on a serious rampage.
The bedrock of any political party's election success is the promise of service delivery. They come up with manifestos and hold political rallies where voters and supporters are promised better lives.
Resources permitting, I want Namibia to have an election every second year. It keeps politicians on their toes on the promises they make.
It is a fact that politicians only act when they fear loss and the loss they fear is related to nothing other than their income. They see voters as the avenue to thousands of dollars on which they will lay their hands until the next election and the value of not only those voters but also service delivery is degraded in the quest for that money.
That is why during election campaigns such politicians can call each other snakes, dogs, and use all other manner of colourful language but a few days later mingle with one another in the comfort of the Parliament restaurant.
After the elections our politicians become mere celebrities, throwing dollars at one another as they sip expensive wine while the voting masses starve.
In the meantime they sell the country down the road to becoming a banana republic while voters go back to being nothing more than an inconvenience to the politician!
Not many of these politicians will agree that they are public servants put there by the electorate to act on behalf of those that put them there.
This is what needs to change in Namibia.
Before writing this piece, I revisited the 2009 manifestos of political parties and also checked on what they had been up to since the last national election. Only one or two had been active in one or other form since then!
This despite the fact that all who took part in the election made promises.
Although their manifesto was carefully-worded, Swapo made many promises about improved service delivery and so did the Congress of Democrats who declared that 'now is the time for change'. Their manifesto concentrated on youth; skills development and employment; housing; poverty and welfare; corruption and poor governance; and women. All of the above needed change "now" but the urgency was gone as soon as the last voter put his or her cross on paper.
Similarly the Rally for Democracy and Progress used two slogans in ‘It’s time for change’ and ‘Together, we can do better’.
I have yet to hear some of their leaders speak in Parliament!
As for DTA, their website was last updated in November 2009 but their slogan ‘You Deserve Better’ was thrown right out of the window as soon as the results were announced. Likewise with the National Unity Democratic Organisation whose website remains dormant. If you click on their political activities button it says ‘coming soon’. It’s been coming for the last two years!
Makes you wonder whether manifestos do have any significance, not only on the voting outcome but also on accountability of parties. But that’s a topic on its own.
It is easy for the opposition to be defensive with the fact that they are not the ruling party and thus do not have the resources to deliver.
But there is a lot they can do. For instance, when last did any come up with a position paper on or propose and draft a policy on topical issues such as the current heated debate around mining.
Even though not in Government, they can bring about change in various ways.
When parties fail to deliver on promises, the people’s trust in democratic processes and institutions are severely damaged. Those are also times when the most loyal voters may not defect to other parties in droves, but will probably vote by staying away.
The silence and inactivity of political parties, mostly the opposition, also puts a question mark around party funding from Government.
If the parties are as inactive as they are right now, there is a need to make the availability of such funds conditional on satisfactory accounting and auditing and they must also be tasked to raise a certain part of the money from members. I am sure that supporters will be asking questions before giving!
I hope that voters will, in the future, demand that political parties come up with alternative manifestos of what they will do as opposition if they fail to win elections.
I also dream of a day we will have an election every other year to keep the lazy politicians on their toes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Traditional Disputes: The Great Leap Backwards

WHAT’S causing all the disputes among traditional authorities?

Why do some with political influence or former politicians suddenly show so much interest in the affairs of traditional authorities or want to become chiefs and kings themselves?
I raise these questions because I believe that the political campaign to transform traditional authorities into remote-controlled grassroots political authorities is succeeding. The real losers are their followers as well as the true values of the entire traditional leadership system which are thrown into complete disarray.
In recent years many traditional authorities have descended into politically motivated, energy-sapping and useless leadership fights.
In most instances, it is clear that party-political divisions, which started before Namibia’s Independence, have continued to divide traditional communities.
In the colonial era many traditional authorities were headed by people appointed by the political masters while a few were legitimately chosen by their communities. Their roles were mainly to ensure that their followers support the government of the day.
As a result many communities had self-proclaimed kings or chiefs lording it over people who had no chance of getting rid of them even when they were failing in their duties.
At Independence the Namibian Government had to decide how involved traditional authorities would be in the running of the State; who the legitimate traditional leaders were and whether such leaders should be paid for their roles in running rural areas.
The Council of Traditional Leaders was set up to help the Government with identifying the traditional authorities which need recognition as well as to assist in the affairs of rural communities such as land administration.
But while Government had all the good intentions to give traditional authorities more play in the running of the country’s affairs, political apparatchiks, who realised what kind of powers traditional leaders had over their communities, started interfering to rule indirectly. They want people whom they can influence at the helm.
That is why we see so many unending disputes among the Damara, Nama, Ovambanderu and even the Ondonga communities.
Certain traditional leaders, those aspiring for leadership, retired politicians as well as others who had good standing in society, claim to be the people’s representatives and heirs to thrones while they were never around or seen to promote the interests of the people they now want to rule.
In some cases several of these prospective leaders have managed to claim autonomy from the existing structures and, worst of all, Government has recognised them because they have cronies in key positions. There are also people who go around proclaiming that the existing leadership worked with the apartheid regime in the colonial era.
Such moves make one wonder what has happened to national reconciliation. And should political affiliation still play a role in the determination of traditional leadership of today?
What has happened to members of the community who themselves should be deciding on who should lead them?
It is high time that people are given the opportunity to elect their traditional leaders directly.
And because leadership cannot be faked, those who want to take up positions only for the sake of renumeration should know that telling half-truths are reserved for politicians, as they have mastered this art.
As things are at the moment, the recognition and empowering of traditional leaderships, even though they were initially for the best of intentions and to promote democracy, have become a great leap backward.
There is, however, enough time to change its course. But first, keep politics out of it. Let the people decide who should lead them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

War Vets, Children Issue Needs A Durable Solution

SWAPO needs to sort out the recurring problem with the veterans of the liberation struggle as well as the children of the liberation struggle.

If not, we will soon have grandchildren of the liberation struggle as well as great-grandchildren of the liberation struggle.
It is a fact that tends to be overlooked, but if you don’t deal with a problem in its infancy, it is likely to haunt you forever. I have a feeling that the liberation claims will be such if not dealt with once and for all.
The liberation struggle claims from war veterans started around 18 years ago with marches to State House and calls for jobs and huge payouts.
That was after the previous South African government provided a certain amount of money to Namibian South West Africa Territory Force soldiers after Independence, which was then divided into smaller portions to allow People’s Liberation Army of Namibia soldiers to benefit too. I understand that a small number of soldiers from either side received anything from that.
A number of cattle captured in war zones were given to some Plan fighters and many were also incorporated into the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) as well as Namibian Police.
However, even though the war veterans had recompense there we continue to deal with those who feel they are owed more than what they’ve received, and obviously on a more permanent, rather than one-off basis.
I do not intend to be dismissive of their demands, but on the other hand, with other already empowered black Namibians who continue to claim they are still ‘previously disadvantaged’, why then can’t the combatants do the same!
It is a fact that the amounts the war veterans have received, in comparison to the political elite, are obviously paltry.
Still though, there have been a number of initiatives by Government to deal with the problem by either giving them sums of money (like N$200 000 per person per project) to start own businesses, lump sum payments for up to 2 000 veterans, ranging between N$20 000 and N$30 000 each, and lately N$200 000 for 37 ‘special veterans’.
Those who returned at Independence also received blankets, household supplies including kitchen equipment, cutlery and food parcels for an entire year.
The Government had to set aside N$20 million to fund 100 projects by veterans and many of the 21 000 former liberation soldiers registered since 2008 are on the payroll of the Veterans’ Fund – an independent fund established to finance the different activities for veterans. It means they receive their monthly N$2 000 payments.
All of this is in addition to houses built and given to some war veterans as well as farms on which they were resettled to make a living.
I have highlighted the above to show that the Government has done a lot for war veterans in Namibia.
But there remains a worrying culture of entitlement among the children of those who went into exile as well as youth who were either born there of went with their parents.
This despite the fact that nobody was forced into joining the liberation struggle, and that it had been on a voluntary basis.
Cash payments also do not necessarily do justice to the sacrifices made, but war veterans need to exercise restraint and guard their tongues if they are to set an example to their children to do likewise.
Government needs to come up with durable solutions and must be a limit to Government’s obligations and generosity towards veterans, otherwise they will become a never-ending and recurring drain on public resources that can be used to greater national benefit.
There is a need to consult outside Government with others such as the insurance industry, investment consultants and economists on how solutions and demands from former soldiers can be interwoven with national development priorities.
As for the children and grandchildren, it is time that they are treated like any other child born after March 21 1990.
They can’t simply wait for payouts. Especially after some were given jobs from which they ran away!

Monday, May 9, 2011

No ‘Back To Basics’ For NUNW In Swapo

IN sport, one does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, or when you are losing.

You keep to them until the end or else don’t compete in the game at all.
The inability of the unions under the National Union of Namibian Workers’ (NUNW’s) umbrella to extricate themselves from being the master’s (Swapo’s) voice is making their theme of this year’s May Day, ‘Going Back to Basics’, a mockery of the workers’ plight.
Apart from some union leaders who continue to live in cloud cuckoo land and can best be described as ‘yes-men’ of some political elites, unions affiliated to the ruling Swapo Party continue to be the breeding ground of corrupt, undemocratic, elitist leaders.
These are ‘thugocrats’ who threaten the future of unions for personal political interests and rule them with strong-arm tactics they inherited from their masters in the ruling party.
I am saying all this because we have had theories that this year’s May Day would be all about workers’ anger and their demands for better living conditions. But really, it was all about political interests and careerism among some leaders who see unions as a stepping stone to a political career.
The Walvis Bay Workers’s Day rally was supposed to centre around NUNW going back to the basics.
As one newspaper reported, the aim was to restore lost pride in the workers’ movement.
But then the president of NUNW, Elias Manga, used the platform to state that “you can never separate a child from his parents - Swapo is our father and mother”. In the same breath he said the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) N$600 million debacle “is the business of the union”.
What a contrast.
It is the same as throwing the debate about the affiliation of NUNW to Swapo and workers’ unity in the same hat. They contradict each other.
How can you be united when some unions do not pay affiliation fees to the umbrella body and thus contribute to the low-profile celebration of May Day?
Workers of Namibia can never be united while the unions are affiliated to Swapo. That is unless you do not count the working-class members of other political parties as workers.
The NUNW needs to create room for non-Swapo members to join and take leadership.
In any case, there are also Swapo members in other unions like the sea-going personnel at L├╝deritz and Walvis Bay who continue to vote faithfully for the ruling party during elections but remain members of unions affiliated to the opposition the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna), which is independent of any political party.
I believe that even Paulus Hango, the president of Tucna, is a Swapo member. He is just more principled as a union man and does not consider his own political career (if he has) above workers’ interests!
As long as the revision of the NUNW affiliation to Swapo is a sensitive issue, there is no room for going back to basics with the same vigour and zeal that was displayed prior to the country’s Independence.
Currently, NUNW and its affiliated unions are at the service of politicians.
That is why they invite them and they use the platform to humiliate workers instead of coming to such events to answer questions about the concerns of the working class.
Therefore, it was also interesting to note that NUNW secretary general Evilastus Kaaronda, who probably organised the Walvis Bay event, did not address the workers at the celebration.
I personally believe that Kaaronda is a young man of refreshing openness who has a penchant for directly interacting with workers while others behave like Swapo apparatchiks.
He took on the GIPF issue when everyone else took a backseat and joined workers to demand answers. In the process he now faces disciplinary action. Anyone but a blind man could have seen the writing on the wall for that. The good thing is that Kaaronda will go down a brave union man, if his opponents in NUNW were to manage to get rid of him.
And once he is gone, others should stand up for the same principles. There is no place for the faint-hearted in unionism.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Need To Save The Press

SANDWICHED between Workers' Day on Sunday and May 4 (Cassinga Day) is May 3. It is the day media workers and all associated with freedom of expression pause to reflect on their freedom. I do the same.

This year will mark 20 years since the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on press freedom. It was in 1991 when Windhoek played host to a key conference on media freedom which did not only resonate in Namibia and Africa but around the world with similar historic documents on promoting independent and pluralistic media. It was later adopted by the Africa Union heads of State and governments.
The Windhoek Declaration is a statement of press freedom principles put together by African journalists and calls for free, independent and pluralistic media throughout the world. It also emphasised a free press is essential to democracy and a fundamental human right.
Some 20 years later Namibia has “recovered its former pre-eminent position” to top the southern African region on press freedom as indicated by last year's Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index rankings.
However, media freedom on the continent remains a far cry from the picture the declaration hoped for as many countries continue with their repressive activities against scribes at independent institutions while governments also continue to own some media houses.
This year’s theme is ‘21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers’ which signifies the new challenge facing the media with internet and the arrival of the digital revolution.
Online social networks have mushroomed over the past few years reshaping the media landscape and opening up information channels to many people.
With the recent Egyptian revolution, for instance, Twitter and Facebook helped the people communicate with the outside world. The two were also used during the earthquake in Japan to help communicate with the victims and their families.
Recently I also read about American colleges and universities who check prospective students’ Facebook and Twitter profiles before making an admission decision!
While the social networks have helped advance many causes in the process, some governments see it as a threat to their “stable democracies” and have attempted or continue to censor information.
Others have taken upon themselves to ‘save the press’ by setting up regulatory institutions and other forms of watchdogs. In public their role is to ‘help’ the media to maintain ethics but clandestinely some institutions, which we know, are mainly involved in monitoring media sources in a bid to curtail information.
Before Namibia’s Independence, the role of the fourth estate, for instance The Namibian newspaper, was particularly important for the ruling Swapo as it exposed the atrocities of the apartheid regime and helped inform those inside the country about what was happening outside.
The paper was always commended for standing for truth and defending the rights of the people.
The Namibian's operations depended a lot on investigative journalism of a kind that is now threatened by unwarranted telephone taps and economic sanctions by those who know very well what the paper stands for.
Those in power today talk about 'classified' information when priorly they depended on such information from media houses such as The Namibian before Independence.
They don't seem to get it that serious journalists do indeed deal with classified information and, after all, their job is to find out what government officials do not want revealed!
With this year's theme being '21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers', it is therefore an appropriate time to remind ourselves that the struggle for Namibia's Independence was not fought to turn the country into another police state and that truth can never be characterised as defamation.
Of course, it is a different story if the journalist gets it wrong or behaves in an unethical manner.
But there is definitely no need for governments to save the press.