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, May 18, 2012

The Dreams of Rundu’s Unsung Hero

NEARLY nine years ago, I met one of the unsung heroes of Namibia – a courageous woman who stood up to discrimination against HIV-positive people and lived a dream of seeing a cure against the disease.

The Wednesday before I met Roswitha Ndumba of Rundu in person on a Saturday, I spoke to her over the telephone. She was down with a bout of flu and told me that she was just hoping to live to see that Saturday.
She wanted to tell her story to the world and she had many (roughly 130) others, led by her, who wanted to do the same.
Roswitha did not only live to see that Saturday, but saw around 3 200 days and nights (nine years) before she lost the battle against the virus this year.
During those nine years, she learned to survive and later started building bridges of hope.
When Roswitha first told her story publicly, another icon in the fight against HIV, Emma Tuahepa-Kamapoha, had her arms around her in Rundu’s St Mary’s Parish Church. Many others were by her side, like the Minister of Health Richard Kamwi and prominent campaigner and people’s favourite, Lucy Steinitz.
They came out under the banner of Lironga Eparu – an organisation established by people living positively with HIV-AIDS. Lironga Eparu means ‘learn to survive’.
Indeed Roswitha learned to survive.
When I visited her home the first time, the former principal of a primary school had lost all her belongings and was living with a sister.
In fact, the then 40-year-old campaigner only had a bed in her room and used empty boxes in which to keep her remaining clothes.
She lost her soldier husband two years earlier due to an AIDS-related illness. She had walked out of their home when he brought a second wife under the same roof.
Soon thereafter she became sick and lived with her mother in the village but her brother collected her, had her tested and the four siblings were given N$1 000 each month to buy her drugs.
Roswitha soldiered on and many who saw her lying almost half dead in the Rundu Hospital could not believe their eyes when she became stronger to the point where she started an organisation called Kavango Bridges of Hope.
Roswitha became a beacon of hope in the region and was not only the voice of the HIV-positive people but also raised funds for material support and empowered the people through training and counselling.
She also started a rights group called ‘Women’s Rights for Change’.
Roswitha built many bridges that were not visible to the eye but created a sense of hope and life for those who test positive for HIV.
Her dream was to see the Kavango Bridges of Hope going strong and becoming a national organisation for people living with HIV.
At some stage Roswitha said she was “not thinking about death anymore. I never gave up even when I was seriously ill”.
I visited Rundu this week and saw how Roswitha’s dreams are dying a slow death.
The building is now used as a printing shop as no one seemed to have taken the baton from her to take the organisation forward.
If it continues the way it is going now, all her efforts would have been in vain.
More importantly, those who have been left behind will feel increasingly hopeless as HIV will become the victor by killing not only her dreams but also the dreams of many other HIV-positive people.
It is important that those who lead serious campaigns with dreams such as those of Roswitha ensure that there will be continuity long after their departure.
Not only that, but to instil passion and drive among those who follow, so that the dreams will last.
Roswitha lived for nine more years and showed that there is life after HIV.
Although she is no longer here, with the anti-retroviral drugs available, anyone can live their dreams like Roswitha did and Emma is doing right now.

The rise of uxoricides

FIVE years ago, Judge Kato van Niekerk imposed a 20-year sentence on Rehoboth resident Prollius van Zyl for killing his wife after a heavy drinking spree. For outsiders the marriage appeared happy but was marked by several incidents of violence even though Van Zyl told the court repeatedly that he loved his wife and had been intent on saving his marriage.

During the hearing it was clear that Van Zyl was a devoted and loving father, and a husband who liked helping his wife with household duties such as cooking – but when he drank, a hidden capacity for violence tended to come to the fore. Ultimately it resulted in a bloody end to the marriage.
Over the past couple of months, we have witnessed a disturbing trend of a sudden increase in similar uxoricides – men killing their wives.
There is also what others refer to as familicide – a multiple-victim homicide in which the killer’s spouse and one or more children are slain.
Such violent acts are almost exclusively perpetrated by men.
In most cases people believe they are an unintended result of violence that went too far, but spouse murder cannot be and should not be understood as loss of control or a moment of insanity.
I believe most of the cases are deliberate and have been thought about over time.
Many such culprits have reached a stage of readiness to destroy another even if it means destroying themselves.
But before I go that route, there are also those men who believe that their victims could not persist or cope in his absence and regard their deaths as ‘necessary’ or perhaps even ‘merciful’.
In both cases, though, it seems that the killers have some sort of feeling of entitlement to decide on the victim’s fate.
The many cases I’ve referred to are almost entirely linked to violent interpersonal conflicts between a couple – whether married or not – and shootings constitute a substantial proportion.
These men display a hostile masculine proprietary mindset – in other words they think they own their spouses.
In some instances they profess a grievance against the wife and this is usually about alleged infidelities or her intentions to terminate their relationship.
In a recent instance a man travelled all the way to the North from Walvis Bay to kill the woman who had fled from him.
According to neighbours and friends, it was the second time she had run away from him.
This made me think that some of the murders could be a substitute for either divorce or separation.
When one speaks to some of the relatives and friends afterwards, they recount how the boyfriend or husband had threatened: “I’ll kill you and the kids if you ever leave me”. In other words, they can’t picture her with anyone else.
They are using murder as a way to end a rocky and unhappy relationship or one in which the partner opted out. This leave others shocked and in a state of disbelief.
But most the culprits are prone to fits of rage prior to the incidents and have a history of violence, while there are also traces of being obsessed with controlling the partner.
These are men who will have a knife at her throat one minute, and the next minute will be kissing the ground on which she walks while pleading for forgiveness.
Clearly, based on the sudden increase in the number of uxoricides over the past couple of years, there is a need to ask why: What is wrong in our society? What can we do to curb it?
If we turn a blind eye to what is happening around us, we are likely to see more of the killings.
There is a need for parents to sensitise their children (especially boys), society to help educate young men and Government and other institutions such as the Churches to step up their campaigns against violence.
We should not only embark on demonstrations but, among others, educate men that life does not end when relationships are broken, or help them to accept that they do not own their spouses or their destinies.
I believe even politicians, some of whom many worship, can get more involved by utilising their platforms to talk about these issues, instead of ranting at colonialists, imperialists and other -list(er)s!

Wholesale Changes – In Public Interest?

I HAVE a feeling that I am not the only one surprised by the wholesale changes that we have witnessed on the Swapo Party candidacy lists for the upcoming local authority elections.

Having called for fresh or new blood earlier, I still insist that change is a good thing since it injects new ideas.

However, change not managed properly can be dangerous.

There is a saying that “if you don’t master change, change will master you”.

In this case, Swapo members at grassroots level decided to master change. In so doing, there is a risk of throwing out all experience and reinventing things rather than combining the two.

Clearly Swapo members at local level could not wait for the primaries to make their voices heard, electing candidates they feel will best serve them at that level.

That’s democracy for you. People elect their candidates, whether they are right or wrong. The people have spoken!

For this intervention, I am concentrating only on the local authority elections.

While the Swapo voters wanted change, experience as well as institutional memory was shown the door.

Take, for instance, places like Swakopmund (or ‘Swapomund’ as they call it in Swapo) and Usakos where only one of the current councillors from Swapo are likely to return if elected on November 26 and 27.

At Oshakati, five of the six Swapo candidates will be new as people like the Mayor Katrina Shimbulu and Deputy Mayor Skinny Hilundwa did not make the cut while at Ondangwa, only two of the current councillors stand a chance to return after the local authority election.

That’s a drastic change when you need experience to improve the status of local authorities.

Of course, the question remains whether those who were not nominated for candidacy had in fact contributed positively during their term of office. Some believe they were left out because of party inner squabbles and divisions which are bound to happen prior and during primaries.

Politics, especially in Swapo, is of such kind that during party elections your enemy’s enemy becomes your friend. As a result even people who would normally not be the right candidates for certain positions will sneak in by conspiring with a leading group to oust another obvious candidate of choice.

What one sees with the latest primaries is that even councillors who only entered the fray five years ago have been chopped, just as their feet were about to find ground.

I see the new ones trying to reinvent the wheel.

Of course, some councillors are regarded as having overstayed their welcome.

Windhoek Mayor Matheus Shikongo and long-time chairperson of the management committee Bjorn von Finckenstein are both out.

Some believe it will leave a big vacuum but I believe they had time to groom others to take over from them.

The question is whether they’re out because it was time for change or because they became casualties in a scrum of external players? We know that there were previous attempts to oust them and that they were accused of not attending party public gatherings.

That shouldn’t be the criteria.

Ideally we should have councillors in the mould of those you come across when visiting countries like China. Listening to the mayor you not only get the impression that the person knows what’s going on in the city but you can easily assume them to be senior leaders in that country because of the way they say and do things. They know their stuff.

It is thus important that those who come in will understand their roles.

At some smaller councils, there has been too much interference in management by councillors who are supposed to govern and not run the institutions.

Above everything else, my hope is that the candidates have no attitude of careerism and thus do not only see the councils as a stepping stone to a political career.

Rather they need to see themselves as people ready to serve others for the betterment of living conditions and more efficient service delivery.

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!

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.

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!

Executive Mayors: Shouldn’t Be A Jobs-For-Comrades Scheme

IT seems like it is a given that executive mayors will soon be appointed to run cities and towns alongside chief executive officers on a full-time basis.

I have my reservations about the pace of introduction, how the appointments will be made, affordability of the position as well as how the reporting channels would work.
Local Government Minister Jerry Ekandjo this week again announced his intentions to push through the appointment of executive mayors in full-time positions.
Local authorities are also pushing for the appointment of full-time councillors but that’s non-negotiable in my view. To do precisely what when there are already so many council employees? I’m not prepared to entertain the possibility.
Some countries have executive mayors but they come with very strict working conditions and goals.
I believe that Namibian councillors, especially in the management which is supposed to have a bird’s eye view of council operations, operate in a ‘meeting councillors’ environment. Their only major task currently is to attend meetings and many do not have an in-depth knowledge of the workings of councils.
Getting a full-time executive mayor will thus be slightly more affordable rather than put councillors on such terms.
Such a mayor should run with the implementation of decisions in tandem with a chief executive officer (CEO). If the two operate well together, it could improve the speed of implementation of decisions by the administration.
Currently, we have management committees but they are part-time and their monitoring of the implementation of decisions is limited to the times they meet.
Because of the dynamics of local authorities, I prefer that executive mayors be elected instead of being appointed by a Minister or the President. They must be accountable to the voters.
Having said that, it might be difficult for reporting systems because voters will have a tough time to measure the success of such a person since they do not always have access to information which will help them to do so.
However, if they are appointed directly by either the Minister or the President, clear goals can be set and regular assessments conducted to measure the implementation of such targets.
Currently, the President appoints regional governors.
My problem with the appointment of the governors is the lack of clarity on their accountability.
We have no idea about the goals set for them, how they are measured and what will happen if they are not achieved. Basically the same which applies to the Ministers, whom, we are told, supposedly report to the President (appointing authority) at quarterly intervals.
For transparency’s sake, President Hifikepunye Pohamba needs to reveal the targets he set for each Minister and governor upon his or her appointment. Are they just appointments or performance contracts, for instance? If someone does not perform, what happens to them? Can they be fired or will they continue to collect fat cheques until the five year cycle is completed?
If we don’t know their targets, they remain solely accountable to State House and not to the electorate.
When such circumstances prevail, governance becomes pathetic.
It is partly the reason why some regional councils as well as ministries operate on an ‘auto-pilot’ system. You hardly hear what some governors, for instance, do.
With executive mayors, we need to bring in efficiency.
For starters, get people with good educational backgrounds who will drive the economy of a town and have a good world-view.
You can’t give someone with a narrow view millions and expect them to deliver! You might lead them into corruption. In other words, we need to scale up big time to get better outcomes.
I must hasten to caution that the negative to an executive mayor would be that they can become too powerful through either close links with the CEO or staff members. In the process they can destroy a council.
Others could be engaged in constant in-fighting with staff or CEOs and this could be to the detriment of the entire council.
But what is certain is that we don’t need a jobs-for-comrades scheme or to just get cadres of the ruling party in a opposition-dominated council. That also shouldn’t be the objective of executive mayors.
Those in authority need to think thoroughly before pushing through the changes to the appointment of executive mayors.

Stop Politicising Corruption

I AM seriously depressed. The alarming rate of corruption in Namibia is getting to me. Almost on a daily basis the media report about one or other corruption case. The only difference is that it started with hundreds being stolen, but now it is no longer hundreds or even thousands. Millions disappear overnight and some people become rich just as quickly. When you see your neighbour suddenly (whether a casual worker or clergyman) giving a huge facelift to his house, buying a top of the range vehicle or taking the family on a foreign trip, you immediately suspect that they must have laid their hands on millions. And it is not a jackpot they have won! It has become a tough task looking for people who systematically work their way up to riches in Namibia. Many opt for the quick fix including stealing, bribery and other forms of corruption. Worse still, many of us admire those who become rich overnight without even questioning how they achieved it. For many young people, they become their role models. Of late it has become a norm for people in key positions at Government ministries, parastatals or even in the private sector to scheme about how they can enrich themselves instead of ensuring efficient service delivery. Networks are formed and millions move between accounts while some turn a blind eye. In fact, I can safely say that some of these syndicates own our leaders! As soon as the leaders smell the rat, they are made to benefit (in most cases indirectly) even if it is just the crumbs falling from the tables. In the most recent instances tenders are not only given fraudulently but the work is either not started or is incomplete despite payments having been made. Worst is that procedures are not followed to first inspect the work or that payments are signed off by those connected to the tenderers. Surely they must be getting something in return. We have had reports of money being transferred between accounts and as it is moved, the amount gets less because people take their share of the cake. Such corruption delays service delivery and promotes poverty in a country which is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Corruption; where our leaders have declared zero tolerance on corruption; and where we have established an organisation governed by the laws to fight corruption. One gets the impression that ours is just a token commitment. In the early 1990s over-expenditure was first regarded as going over budget, but now it should constitute corruption because, for instance, accounting officers and others in key decision-making positions deliberately go for more expensive tenders so that they can benefit in the process. The corrupt tenderers will not pay from their own money. Will they? They will always recover it through inflated prices. Therefore, even if we have the Anti-Corruption Commission or the President shouting loudly about zero tolerance, it does not automatically translate into good action or minimise the problem. In fact, some of those who shout the loudest are among the main culprits. It’s time to let them know that they have gone too far.