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, July 28, 2011

Of Rights And HIV Status

BENEFICIARIES of Lironga Eparu – Namibia’s biggest organisation of people living with HIV and AIDS – are struggling to make ends meet after funding was withdrawn due to alleged mismanagement while those who took the decision are guilty of the same practice but continue to live in luxury.

I was touched this week to read about the plight of people who used to benefit from Lironga Eparu (meaning ‘Learn to Survive’) but can no longer take their antiretrovirals because they go hungry.
These are the same 45 000-odd people who visit a health centre and wait almost a whole day for treatment as they must deal with an inconsistent primary healthcare system. They continue to face discrimination from relatives just because they decided to come out publicly about their status and daily face inequity in the society.
At the centre of everything is the fact that some in Lironga Eparu were accused of corruption and mismanagement.
Among others, it was alleged that the top management of the organisation earned “outrageous” salaries. The top three reportedly collected N$37 000, N$25 000 and N$18 000 a month. That is N$80 000 in total.
The Lironga Eparu board claimed that the withdrawal of Global Fund support was the result of personal grudges against its executive director, Emma Tuahepa-Kamapoha, and not necessarily mismanagement.
Earlier this year Moses Ikanga, the organisation’s board chairperson, said they were instructed to review the management structure, but that it has allegedly emerged that there was in fact a vendetta against Tuahepa-Kamapoha.
I have no reason not to believe Ikanga and it is a pity that we seem to have turned our backs on an organisation started by HIV-positive people. It feels like we have turned our backs on universal access to HIV treatment at this vital time when Namibia was and is seen as a model for access to HIV drugs in the world.
For me, the withdrawal of funding to Lironga Eparu means we have two parallel systems according to which we not only judge but also run the health system in Namibia. Unfortunately it is not only limited to health but is also seen to be taking place in other sectors.
Six months after Lironga Eparu leadership was accused of mismanagement reports emerged about a gravy train in the Global Fund Project Management Unit.
According to preliminary findings of a salary survey, the PMU’s operations manager earns N$105 116 while the head of finance in the same unit collects N$78 488. That is almost the same amount as the combined salary of the top three at Lironga Eparu.
The reason for the high salaries, we are told, is that the PMU staff wages were not part of the Global Fund grant negotiations with Namibia.
But it is morally wrong to withdraw funding to an organisation like Lironga Eparu and accuse them of mismanagement while nothing is basically done against those who are being paid even more money.
And why should Lironga Eparu pay peanuts for salaries just because those heading it are HIV positive?
I have always argued that HIV is not a death sentence.
A recent study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS, and Canada’s University of British Columbia, has provided proof of this during the first of its kind research in Africa.
The study which focused on patients receiving therapy found that, by receiving antiretroviral treatment, a patient can expect to live a near normal life. But, crucially, the results applied only to people who had a healthy lifestyle and used their medication as prescribed.
Healthy lifestyle means, among others, eating before taking the medicine.
So taking away important funding to organisations such as to Lironga Eparu makes one wonder whether those who take such decisions actually go to hospitals or homes in Katutura, Tseiblaagte, Epako etc and see the almost lifeless bodies of our brothers and sisters fighting to breathe or do they remain in their air-conditioned offices and make such decisions? Do they have a clue about the impact of such decisions?
I am not saying that we should ignore corruption. Not at all.
But should government close down GIPF or the SSC because millions were mismanaged?
Why should the CEO of the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund earn around N$100 000 for managing and passing on Government (read ‘donor’) money while it is seen as wrong for Emma Tuahepa-Kamapoha – the poster girl of HIV in Namibia – to earn around N$37 000?
If one is (morally) wrong, all should be treated the same.
The Namibian Government has demonstrated commitment to meeting the treatment and prevention targets.
It would be a great pity if such political commitment to tackle HIV was undermined by events such as what is happening at Lironga Eparu.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Leave National Security Out Of It

‘TWO wrongs don’t make a right’, my colleague for the past 18-plus years, Jean Sutherland, always reminds us. It is wrong for Police Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga to declare the hidden cameras at the seal colony ‘a national threat’.

Ndeitunga drove almost 400 kilometres to the coast last week to hold a media briefing where he declared that the planting of cameras to film the culling of seals “was a threat to the sovereignty of the country”.
“If they managed to hide the cameras there, what stops them from putting a camera in a military base, at State House or near a Police station?” he was quoted as saying.
Come on General! You should and do know better than that.
As you rightly admitted the place was unguarded at night and anyone could go in to set up cameras. I don’t believe that part needed a sophisticated operation!
Now the Police are on alert and will guard the place at night!
There are more serious criminal activities going on. Undercover Police can, for instance, be deployed in areas known for attacks on citizens instead of them being fruitlessly deployed to freeze next to the sea at night, waiting for people who now know they should not enter that area.
By the way, Police and intelligence were tipped off about the Caprivi attack by newspaper reports, yet did not act quickly enough. And that was a national threat.
Ndeitunga missed the point big time. His first question should have been why people had set up the cameras in the first place.
His reaction should preferably have been to address the issue of access to the place and consequent free filming of the culling.
What is there to hide? Why do we not open up the place? Particularly since we justify the cull.
If the culling is done the right way and Namibia is the transparent country we are led to believe, it is the journalists and those with interest in the matter that you need to convert first.
The more we keep the curious people away, the more we create inquisitiveness and suspicion and drive them to install hidden cameras.
As it is now, a simple issue like seal culling is attracting the world’s attention. We have other important issues which could also attract such high level of interest.
Yup, that’s what it is. You are taking a country with truckloads of issues, finding the one it doesn’t have, and turning it into an issue.
Not that I agree with the campaigns of those who oppose seal culling in Namibia.
I have come across many activists who devote zillions of hours on causes such as animal rights protection and they do it in a manner which basically forces respect from governments.
But instead of dealing with the concerns of those who oppose the culling and educating others on the process followed to kill the seals, Ndeitunga has taken the route of a trick we have come to know from politicians because it’s easier to talk about national sovereignty than it is to deal with the mundane subjects of that same issue: transparency, access to information, openness and honesty.
Yes, the Constitution commits the Government to the “... maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia and utilisation of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future ...”
The Ministry of Fisheries thus claims culling of the seals falls within the ambit of sustainable utilisation.
Others perhaps feel that culling is a source of revenue through the sale of the seal penises to countries in the Far East. The penises are dried, shaved, sprinkled with herbs and sold as aphrodisiacs. Apparently they fetch as much as N$7 000 a pound but there are questions over whether Government actually benefits from the sales.
Be that it may be, regarding the seal cull filming as a threat to the country’s safety is going overboard.
The Government or the Ministry of Fisheries have forced those who planted the cameras to the extreme.
In the past The Namibian applied for permission to go into the area but was denied access and told that no filming would be permitted during the harvesting of seals.
“If the Government decides for the coverage by the media, such a project will be awarded to State media institutions of which terms and conditions will be drafted and agreed upon in writing,” was the response of then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries, Frans Tsheehama.
So far the Government cannot quote any clause of the Marine Resources Act of 2000 governing media coverage of marine areas to justify the ban from the area.
It is this type of attitude which force others to resort to illegal activities such as filming with hidden cameras. But Ndeitunga’s response in calling it a national threat was equally wrong.
Two wrongs do not make a right!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Team Namibia: What Type Of Players Do We Need?

SWAPO has banned a public debate on the succession issue but discussions over who should take over from President Hifikepunye Pohamba continue in public places such as football pitches, bars and shebeens, shopping malls and mahangu fields.

It is the way it should be!
We cannot allow the party, undoubtedly the main political grouping in the country, to keep the debate away from non-members. There is a likelihood that the elected leader will be the person to steer the country's boat for five years and decisions taken by such a person will affect us all and not only Swapo members.
It is against such background that I have decided to throw in my ten cents' worth by looking at collective (team) leadership for the next five years.
I suggest that, instead of looking at individuals, aka Hage Geingob, Marco Hausiku, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, Jerry Ekandjo, Utoni Nujoma or even Nahas Angula who has declared his intentions to retire, we look at the kind of team Swapo needs to re-energise itself and which will inspire Namibians.
In any case, and whatever people might think of former President Sam Nujoma's leadership style, he did have a team, although it included some questionable characters.
Nujoma was surrounded by the likes of Geingob as first Prime Minister, the calming influence of Pohamba and the late Hendrik Witbooi but also fiery ones like another departed comrade, Moses //Garoeb, while he even brought in someone like Otto Herrigel in the beginning to take care of the country's finances.
He would use someone like Pohamba to talk nicely to the white community but when things were getting tough, motor-mouth activist //Garoeb would go in to shout, threaten and make noise. That was when Nujoma chose to stay away only later to step in as a peacemaker!
I am not saying that Nujoma's team was brilliant. At times some characters in his team could best be described as political gangsters or their performances were an epic lesson in political buffoonery.
But there was still a sense of a team whose aim was, especially at the beginning, to create an environment of peace through national reconciliation, democracy and tranquility, as Nujoma would selectively point out from time to time.
Once Nujoma was about to move out, the team started falling apart and some, like Hidipo Hamutenya and Jesaya Nyamu, resigned to form their own political party. They claimed victimisation and lack of democracy within the party.
Swapo needs to think carefully about what it wants for the country now.
Do we want a team with extreme business skills and economic interest at heart; traditionalists who will only pander to the whims of the ruling party, or a group who will blend economic development of the country with what the majority of the voters wish for.
Do we want Hage Geingob, of late seen taking huge business delegations (including some questionable characters) on foreign trips, with the likes of Sven Thieme and Haddis Tilahun (both complete outsiders vis-a-vis Swapo leadership or Iivula-Ithana alongside Joseph Diescho, Boniface Mutumba and John Walters (to mention a few) or Abraham Iyambo leading Richard Kamwi, Saara Kugongelwa-Amadhila and Tom Alweendo. The last group are already in Cabinet but tend not to be associated with camps. They are mainly seen as go-getters.
In South Africa, Jacob Zuma came up with a new team and it seems to be working, albeit still with some minor problems.
What Namibia needs is a group of hardworking, prosperous and shrewd people (team) who love the country and its people. They should be able to inspire Namibians and re-energise Swapo, but not be seen as apparatchiks.
I think of a team with like-minded people. Currently we have a few sharp minds but they seem to operate in isolation.
There are bound to be squabbles and divisions if the Swapo traditionalists start thinking along those lines and I might be accused of promoting cliques or camps. I am not for playground politics of the most immature sort!
I just want Swapo to think about whether a debate around a team will not be appropriate at this moment.
The ball is in the party's court.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hey Bra, We Are Failing Our Youth

“HEY, Bra Gazza... It’s me Sam Nujoma. Your number one outie ...,” a casual former President Sam Nujoma says in township slang in a rap and kwaito CD released by a Swapo company prior to the 2004 presidential and national election.

At that stage, no one expected Nujoma (even in our wildest dreams) to feature in a rap and kwaito CD but here the normally very serious politician was apparently chatting to one of the country’s most popular musicians.
Swapo had gone all-out to get votes of the youth.
Other political parties also bent over backwards to win the souls of the youth, especially during the 2009 elections when the motto of almost everyone had something to do with born-frees.
It seems politicians go all out to get whatever they want. And they have ways to mingle with businesspeople because they know that funding will come their way if and when they want it.
That is why I was not surprised to see our Founding Father sandwiched between two Brazilian samba dancers at a ceremony to mark the arrival of an oil company from that country in Namibia.
But how I wish politicians would also go to the same lengths for the upliftment of our youth.
I was not a delegate to the education conference and neither did I take time to attend it, I must confess.
But I was hoping that, since organisers spoke about holistic education, they would pause and, even if briefly, discuss what is there for our youth in terms of entertainment and leisure.
We scorn them when they attend rough and excessive parties such as the one recently organised by Gazza and which featured South African multimillionaire Kenny Kunene who is better known as ‘Sushi King’. For those who missed it, Gazza and his SA friends celebrity guests arrived in posh cars and they drank champagne off the semi-naked body of a young woman.
Of course Gazza justified the actions by stating afterwards that it was a business platform and that they looked past the models in bikinis!
But the point is, Gazza and like-minded others (how wrong it might be) are exploiting a niche market that’s there for the taking.
Although we spend so much time pouring scorn on them for attending such parties and other binges, we have failed our children and youth who sometimes need a break from books.
Take a stroll into the city centre or anywhere else in the rest of Namibia on a Saturday afternoon and see for yourself.
Do we have any decent place for the youth to relax? To borrow a term from my daughter: ‘duh’! If your answer is yes, young people will probably tell you to get a life.
I am not talking about a church youth gathering on Friday evening or a matinee disco Saturday afternoon where drug abuse is the order of the day but real entertainment young people will enjoy and which will enrich them emotionally, physically and educationally while with friends.
We had a few activities before like putt-putt in some towns, but they are now gone.
Such absence of entertainment is partly the cause of driving our young people into drug abuse and other wrongdoing while those with money will continue to act in their own interest and increase their power and influence over the youth such as the sushi (champagne) kings.
As for our politicians, from city fathers to national leaders, their bellies are not threatened until the next election when they will come up with some schemes to lure the youth with false promises to the polling booths.
My impression is that we are failing the youth and we shouldn’t be surprised by or condemn many of the things the young people do to entertain themselves.
I just wonder what the future holds for our country.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thousands Without A Place To Call Home

AT Independence Windhoek had a housing backlog for 7 000 people.

At the same time housing was identified as one of the priority areas of development alongside education, health and agriculture.
A decade and a half later the housing shortage in the whole country had reached 80 000 units while we have seen increased mushrooming of informal settlements all over the country.
By then it was already clear that the country’s system was failing to enable the poor to shift from survival mode into the mainstream economy which included affording a proper roof over their heads.
If the trend continues, estimates are that we might be burdened with a housing shortage of 300 000 units by the year 2030. According to estimates in Vision 2030, we will have a population of about three million by that time. It means the country needs roughly 14 000 new houses each year to keep up with population growth.
There are several reasons for the increased housing backlog. When the country became independent 21 years ago only 27 per cent of the population was urbanised.
With increased job opportunities in urban areas, especially the main centres, the number has grown to 33 per cent 10 years later and by last year the estimates were 50 per cent.
The result is that a whopping 75 per cent of the population will be living in urban areas by 2030, if nothing drastic is done to counter the huge migration.
It is no secret, and we don’t need another million-dollar national conference to point it out, that the major factor contributing to the rural-to-urban migration is the search for better social and economic opportunities.
The upward trajectory of housing prices have also fuelled the crisis.
In most cases such high prices were artificially inflated by housing agents (through things such as high commission) and land providers such as the City of Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund who prey on the high demand.
Well-off foreigners who buy with cash have also contributed to the rise in prices of housing, especially in bigger towns.
But the snail-like progress in providing proper housing is becoming a real indictment on all those involved in the provision of housing - from the policy-makers right down to the local authorities who over-price erven unnecessarily.
Affordable and decent housing has become a real uphill battle to close the huge housing backlog.
It is worsened by, for instance, high levels of poverty and unemployment, limited capital investment, spiralling building costs and little financial support for low- and middle-income groups.
That is why a conference like the one which took place this week should not look at the education problem in isolation. Since the education system produces a large pool of unskilled and uneducated adults, it has catastrophic consequences for the future of a country whose developmental goals are already being severely hampered by an acute housing shortage.
As a home is usually an individual’s single most valuable economic asset and ownership is a traditional entry point into the formal economy, the provision of services such as land, water and electricity needs to be stepped up.
There is an explicit need to bring about redress and redistribution, but funding allocations have also been skewed in favour of the poorest while the middle class has lost out as cities and towns tend to concentrate a lot on servicing erven for shacks, build-together programmes and for the upmarket sector.
Such cities tend to cash in by servicing land in elite areas to sell at exorbitant prices as well as for the poor at very low rates but forget to cater for the majority of the working class, most of whom struggle to rent a flat, house or room.
So, a cursory examination shows that while some benefits have accrued through build-together programmes and low-cost housing projects, real problems remain as thousands do not have places they can call home.