Utoni wants waiters instead of landowners

19 October 2018
To say we are utterly disappointed at the ‘deal’ recently crafted to fulfil the Namibian land ownership aspirations of a Russian businessman is an understatement.
  We are flabbergasted at the continual ability of the Minister of Lands and Resettlement, Utoni Nujoma to be off the mark and sophomoric in his approach to making and implementing government policy on the hyper-sensitive, highly emotional issue of land ownership in the Land of the Brave.
Instead of promoting all actions possible within the law to ensure ownership of Namibian land by citizens, the seemingly unconcerned lands minister has involved himself in a convoluted ‘buy land, donate land, lease land’ shell game that he perhaps thinks will assuage the national outrage at yet another foreigner controlling huge swaths of Namibian farmland. 
The extensive planned development of the various plots now owned/leased by the Russian businessman’s Comsar Properties, SA are hot embers on a smouldering national fire on the issue of land.  The 30 pieces of silver paid to ‘the state’ for the land might not be the blatant N$24 million bribe offered last November when these nefarious land deals hit the headlines again (the first sell-out occurred in 2013 when 28,000 hectares were bought near Dordabis), but the tease of a mere 15 jobs for the hundreds of ‘struggle kids’ marching for special treatment in job allocations. 
The entire mess involving this Russian businessman acquiring full and inexpensive access to Namibian farm land is an infuriating disgrace. 
We hear the arguments about the need for more foreign direct investment (particularly in our poor economic state) and that the businessman intends to invest hundreds of millions to develop the land into an income generating tourism investment that will yield tax revenues for government and create jobs in an area where they are scarce.  Those defending the Russian land purchase now point to the paltry yearly lease fee for that massive amount of land in question as a ‘benefit’ to our cash-strapped government.
We check that argument with a no-nonsense reality:  The struggle for justice was not to have a job as a waiter in foreigner’s tourism lodge, but to own and have wealth from the land itself.  Is government, particularly the lands minister, somehow unable to grasp this unchanging reality?
Make no mistake, that portion of land was not ‘donated’ to government in reality – it was part of a sleight of hand ‘deal.’  Let’s stop playing word games here.  There were serious, deal-breaking strings attached to that so-called purchase and then donation of the land back to government.  The switch back charade was done so that the Russian could obtain the land ostensibly not as a foreign land owner, but a lessee.  Does Utoni and those supporting his action really think we are too inane as a public to know that a 99 year lease, is tantamount to ownership?  We have been informed that in terms of using the property as collateral with a financial institution and claiming it as an asset, that length of a lease IS tantamount to ownership as it has a re-sale value. 
Let us call a spade a spade.  In spite of government pronouncements to not allow foreigners to own land in Namibia, Utoni has done just that.  Yet again, this is another open prevarication by this administration, with no accountability, explanation or apology to the public.  As the president jets off on yet another unaffordable, unnecessary trip (this time to Kenya) to put a feather in his cap as an ‘African statesman’, who will answer necessary questions about this situation?
We have often complained of the ‘disconnect’ between our aging decision-makers and the majority of the people in the streets clamouring for a new social contract with this government.  They feel that because the government has done it, the people must just accept it.  But, times have changed.  The ‘deal’ that sealed Namibia’s independence was signed with the people in power and in the public 28 years ago.  But, that contract was not agreed by the majority of those NOW in the workforce, possessing degrees and qualifications, living in the tin shack suburbs, struggling with high rents, fearful of losing their jobs (or finding one) and clamouring for land.
We look at the ministry of lands’ newest Russian debacle, giving resettlement farms to millionaire widows, previously advantaged professional hunters, the NDF, possible farms for security services high officials or for ‘secret’ reasons, and other land machinations.  All of this enrages the public.  Is government unaware, blind or just uncaring about the reality that their actions put Namibian land further away from the masses of the people who are desperate for it?
This land calamity does not speak well of Minister Nujoma.  When we consider that even the government understood that the second national lands conference could not be managed under his direction; the intense comments regarding the minister’s lower intelligence capacity made by the former deputy minister of lands, Bernadus Swartbooi (for which he was fired), and now Utoni’s hand on a signature pen agreeing to a foreign land-ownership smokescreen right when the government announced that there would be no more foreign farm land owners, we must question this minister’s capacity. 
We struggle to understand whether Utoni has another agenda on land or whether he is carrying out the agenda of a silent group operating behind the scenes.  In any event, we do not  believe that the lands minister is acting in the best interest of the country.
Conspiracy theories are admittedly thin on facts and evidence.  But, they usually result when those with power act illogically, insensitively and without explanation. 
Naturally, when we consider the unashamed N$24 million bribe offered last year by this same businessman which was ostensibly refused, it makes those among us who are more suspicious, ponder whether some of that money was employed to grease the deal towards this conclusion. 
In Namibia, we seem to sell ourselves cheaply.  Do officials smiling and signing this arrangement with the Russian businessman really think that no local entrepreneur could develop a viable tourism operation or factory or farming business there?  Does government think so lowly of its own people’s capacity?
Where are the profitable business supply contracts with downstream SME service providers?  Are there previously disadvantaged (but skilled and talented) black Namibians in part-ownership of the venture now controlled by the Russian entity?   Are their black Namibians not just employed as waiters and room cleaners or receptionists, but in command and control positions, operating the business?  Is there a link with tourism/hospitality training programs requiring internships and apprenticeships be provided for students at that facility? 
Our point is this:  now that the unfathomable decision to sell off land to a foreigner (regardless of the façade of the 99 year lease) even though government declared no such thing would happen, what is Namibia tangibly and substantively getting out of it? 
We believe the tangible and intangible profits for this country are very little.  When will we stop selling ourselves off so cheaply?  Our wealth must first be available to our own people and then, when the balance of what is offered vs what is received is reasonably beneficial, other arrangements should be welcome. 
We don’t only want to cook, clean and serve, we want to own and control! Someone out there needs to teach this to Utoni, he doesn’t get it.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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