When you make an investment, you balance the risks and expect returns, or else why do it?
The requirement for Return on Investment (ROI) is not only a simple, yet sound business axiom, it is also the way an effective government must make spending decisions as well.
Namibia is strangling underneath the pressure of a major economic recession where the light at the end of the tunnel has not yet appeared. In addition, a historically and politically momentous Second National Land Conference is less than three weeks away.
We are concerned that these two critically important facts of life in Namibia were not enough for the president to curtail his international travel.
His investment of hard currency State funds for himself and his delegation to inexplicably travel first to Guinea (Conakry), Canada and then to the necessary United Nations General Assembly session just after returning from China (and the side visits during that junket), is high risk, for low returns.
We hasten to add that we do not question the significant returns of the trip to China to deepen our national debt with a N$10 billion loan. However, we insist that programs, processes and accountable procedures for the use of those funds be in place immediately, before any funds arrive.
Otherwise, waste, frivolity, mismanagement and outright corruption will whittle away at the loan until not enough funds remain to actually complete the intended project.
Rather than remaining outside of the country for so long, why is the president not here chairing the sessions needed to oversee the upcoming Chinese loan?
The United Nations exists precisely as a meeting place for the world. Geingob’s visits to the République de Guinee and Canada could have been relocated to two of the many meeting rooms at the UN building, since those he meets in Conakry and Ottawa, will be represented in New York.
Three for the price of one is a good sale at all times, particularly when you are broke.
While we normally cheer actions that unify Africa and give a nod to historical ties, we are forced by the times we live in now to ask what benefits to Namibia will come from a State visit to the francophone country of Guinea at this time?
What tourists, imports/exports, investments, educational exchanges or other benefits could ever come from such a trip?
Shall we now import their bauxite or bananas in exchange for our pilchards and karakul pelts?
We are not aware of any tourism arrivals or business investments from the République de Guinee; we don’t even have an embassy in Conakry and they don’t have one in Windhoek.
We submit that our president’s enjoyment of ‘being presidential’ with the bands, military reviews, little girls presenting flowers, speeches, banquets, and red carpets is more important in the decision to visit this relatively unimportant (in terms of what the Land of the Brave needs right now) West African country, than anything Namibia could ever benefit from.
Though it is a State visit where the hosting nation absorbs a percentage of the cost, this three-day trip will deliver very poor ROI; it is a waste of hard currency money and time.
At the right time, a visit to Canada could indeed, deliver some long-term benefits to Namibia. Perhaps Geingob is negotiating to buy some of their machinery and plastic products in exchange for our Windhoek Lager and oysters?
But, all of that could be discussed via Ambassadors on advance trips with the final documents signed at the UN Building conference rooms.
Canadian development assistance (CIDA) has funded programs in Namibia in the past and a few Namibian students are studying in the land of the maple leaf. We even have opportunistic Namibians claiming to have been persecuted so they can immigrate to Canada.
Canadian tourists to Namibia are few, but indicative of a slightly growing market segment. Geingob is travelling with Environment and Tourism Minister, Pohamba Shifeta, so maybe some promotional deal is in the wings.
But, will that deal cover the cost of the president’s trip or deliver any tangible advancements, investments or profits to Namibia? Probably not.
One look at the ROI equation of what it may cost to move an entire presidential delegation unnecessarily to Canada, juxtaposed against the budget cuts to vital sectors, rising joblessness, fear in social sectors for personal safety, and national focus on the upcoming land conference, indicates that the leader of the ruling party and the nation should be at home, visible, in charge and focused.
We look at past trips to China and the US to negotiate for beef exports and cheer when those landmark export quotas were provided for Namibia. Confirming such agreements made the ROI for all related meetings and trips, beneficial.
And yet, the local beef supply situation was not given the same attention as the ceremony and flourishes around signing the agreements. The result is that these potentially lucrative opportunities are here and we are unable to grab them in full.
International travel to promote investments makes sense only if the follow-up and delivery is readily in place. Otherwise, the promised ROI of those visits was all talk and no profit.
Instead of enjoying banquets in Conakry with the 80-year-old Alpha Condé or shaking hands with Prime Minister Trudeau for a photo op, why is the president not here meeting with civil society and traditional and local leaders to consolidate high level inclusiveness on the issues that are bombarding the Second National Land Conference agenda?
Presidential and ministerial travel must be dovetailed with direct returns on investment. What does Namibia get out of the trip? The answer to this question must drive the decision about government-funded travel.
In this harsh economic climate where citizens are suffering on many levels and the controversial land conference looms, trips to Ottawa and Conakry are not priorities.