When President Geingob delivered his 2017 State of the Nation Address (NAMSONA 2017), he ended his delivery with a peroration that infused a personal element into the speech. I enjoyed this part, but it was too short! For me, the personal touch sets a speech apart and gives insight into the heart and mind of the writer or speaker. The word “peroration” comes from the Greek word “orare” which means “to speak or to plead”. In particular, peroration means “to wind up an oration”. It is thus a device of oratory meant to summarize a speech by appealing to the emotions of the audience.
I am not so sure what President Geingob wanted to achieve with his peroration. I like the idea of a small personal detour, but what was the intention? This is how President Geingob concluded his SONA: “In peroration, I would like to remove my hat as the Head of State and address you as a fellow Namibian. The son of a farm worker. The father of an unemployed graduate. A responsible family man. My love for this country is what drove me into exile. It is what keeps me awake at night agonizing about challenges. It is what drives me during the day, finding solutions to these challenges. I represent the sum total of our collective hopes and fears. I see the threats and I savour the opportunities. Let me assure you as a fellow Namibian, our problems will never exceed our immense potential.”
Perhaps this was President Geingob’s way of reminding us that he is not a Johnny-come-lately to the liberation struggle of Namibia, and that despite his very humble birth under a tree on a farm near Otjiwarongo, he has risen to the top of the political pile. I guess the Congress background noise is influencing him, to show that he is not an opportunist, but that his love for the country has been inspiring him ever since his youth days, leading him to flee the country at the prime of his youth. The rest, as we all know, is history.
There is so much to say about the NAMSONA2017, but so much has already been written about it. I like the idea of using the five pillars of the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) as the format for the SONA, but is this appropriate for a SONA? My humble opinion is that the SONA must focus on the burning issues of the day: what are the three or four issues which, if not resolved within the next 12 months, can rip our republic apart?
HPP is a fast-track implementation plan of what President Geingob thinks will accelerate poverty eradication and thus usher in a period of prosperity. As he did with the mid-year review of HPP, he should have separate annual review sessions for HPP, and perhaps provide a summary or snapshot thereof in the SONA. The problem is that the HPP references in the SONA may be misconstrued as a form of self-congratulation or glory-hunting, as some have called it in the media. This is because they selectively focus on achievements but gloss over the daunting challenges of the day.
For instance, President Geingob repeated the declaration of his personal wealth and health, something which he did almost two years ago! Shouldn’t he move on and perhaps look at how his declaration has had a pervasive impact on transparency? Apart from Finance Minister, Calle Schlettwein, no other minister has followed suit, why? Yes, they have declared in the register of parliament, but why is this not made public?
Furthermore, President Geingob stated that: “The size of our economy and per capita income has expanded exponentially since Independence. Total GDP in nominal terms increased from about N$5.5 billion in 1990 to N$159 billion in 2016, a 28-fold increase. Per capita income in nominal terms increased from N$2,400 to N$68 thousand during the same period. The size of our national budget increased from N$2.1 billion in 1990/91 to the current budget size of N$62 billion.”
Why did President Geingob repeat this? Last year, he said the exact same thing. In Appendix 1 of SONA 2016, he said: “The size and structure of the Namibian economy has changed significantly and income levels have increased. In 1990, our GDP was a mere N$5.5 billion. By 2015, our GDP had increased to N$147.3 billion, an increase of 26 times. Similarly, per capita income increased from N$2,425 in 1990 to N$64,592 in 2015, a 30-fold increase. Are you telling me that there was no change?”
Instead, he should be telling us how the economy has grown over the past two years, and how it will grow over the remaining HPP period. He simply stated that the economy was expected to grow by 4% per annum, but that it was realised later that this was unattainable. He also stated that the fiscal position has stabilised, but what does this mean exactly? We know that unemployment has increased because of the stoppage of some construction contracts, and that the allocations to schools and health centres have been slashed dramatically. This is the current state of the nation that we want to hear about.
I thus think that the SONA 2017 could have been done differently. Like I said at the beginning, I like the infusion of the personal elements, and I wish that President Geingob had said more. I sincerely want to know what drives him; where does he get that fire in the belly that manifests in some of his speeches? Clearly, there is something that drives him. The peroration portion of SONA2017 gave us an appetising glimpse of him as a person.