Recent defensive comments by President Hage Geingob proclaiming the capacity of the Namibian government reveal much.
We take note of the president’s righteous indignation when he told the former president of the German Parliament that he “should not underestimate the intellect of the Namibian government”.
We reminded ourselves that the president grew annoyed with the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia last August when he told him, “You should not tell us what we should do. We are not puppets”.
When you need to remind people that you should be taken seriously, then that begs the question of why that subject comes up at all. If you warn someone not to take you for a fool, is it because you believe it is plausible that they think you are one?
In making this observation, we are not unmindful that racism in international interactions involving developing nations is real.
We know that developed countries (in this, we include China and India) often pretend they don’t feel superior, when their actions tell another story.
We know that countries giving development assistance to Namibia may speak the language of being ‘partners’, when in fact, there is a donor/beggar relationship hidden behind the plastic smiles and stony handshakes.
That said, we also know that countries working with Namibia read, listen and witness how we handle our affairs. They see the blatant contradictions, uninformed general statements, poorly written speeches and documents, lack of statistics, poor educational levels, repeated mistakes in the economy, the waste, corruption, poor planning and other tell-tale signs of lower capacity and they react to this.
We earn disrespect when we implement farm ‘purchase’ deals with Russian billionaires, while public outrage over land availability for locals, has reached crisis levels that could eventually cause instability. This does not offer a favourable image.
Statements coming from Land Reform Minister, Utoni Nujoma, are far from informed, well-researched and analytical. Other political leaders and pundits have questioned his capacity. But, when he speaks, he is heard.
With the internet and an alert media, his comments are recorded and evaluated instantaneously. Often, his banal utterings are found wanting. What does that say about the long-time, perpetual minister and the president that appointed him and keeps him in place?
We have governors and other officials that can barely read prepared speeches and statements. Written official documents, reports and statements often have poor grammar, bad English, wrong word usage, and at times, pages are out of order and ideas are poorly laid out and unclear.
At times, such uncoordinated, ill-prepared speeches are made in front of the diplomatic corps or distributed to the world media and the Namibian public. This is certainly not the image of a quick-thinking, well-read, learned leadership in the Land of the Brave.
We have a president that made much fanfare when he released the amount of his personal wealth when he first came to office. This was heralded around the globe as an African president who will meet the western definition of transparency.
That same president, who happily released his individual net worth, has difficulties releasing a complete and un-doctored list of who was awarded resettlement farms since 1991.
Either the government is not sincere about being transparent, or it doesn’t comprehend all of what transparency entails. Which is it?
With all of Geingob’s talk abroad about lifestyle audits that were ongoing in Namibia (but won’t ever happen) or streets already named after great South African leaders (when it hadn’t yet happened), an image of official prevarication is being created.
There have been many laws passed that are rescinded or ignored in short order either because they contradict other existing laws (no one checked before passage) or they are completely unworkable (no one does impact analyses) or there is no budget for implementation (no one costed the programme.)
Development partner countries working with Namibia complain about poor monitoring and evaluation of projects they have been asked to fund. These donor governments complain that ministry officials cannot provide the data needed to help programmes conform to mutually-agreed reporting mechanisms.
Tens of millions are in the offing and normal paper work cannot be completed. This doesn’t speak well of efficiency and capacity in the Namibian government.
Armies of foreign consultants have been needed now and in years gone by just to get major programmes and legislative initiatives completed. Does government think this reliance on outside expertise goes unnoticed?
The number of times the Namibian government has been sued for unilaterally cancelling signed contracts is staggering. How often is it reported that the lawmakers who cheered a deal, end up claiming to not have known about an obviously negative repercussion of the contract. Did they even read the paperwork?
One need only sit and observe a week of Parliamentary sessions to get a good representation of our lackadaisical legislative debates (from those awake and not on social media) expressed in sometimes unintelligible statements full of unproven facts, rumours, nonsensical conclusions and lots of emotion, all delivered from people who think they are speaking with intelligence.
The world must laugh when they see this, because certainly many in the Namibian public do. It is not inspiring.
We recall rolling stock bought by TransNamib that doesn’t fit the size of Namibian railway tracks. There is an oil storage unit at the coast ballooning in cost due to an approved contract that didn’t consider potential changes in the exchange rate that would unfavourably affect the bottom-line that included hard currency purchases.
We still look at NEEEF that was backed by bold statements from government leaders demanding 25 percent ownership by black Namibians only to withdraw the point with a weak whimper when the world threatened repercussions.
When our president goes to the USA for expensive extra time after the UN General Assembly and makes speeches at universities and radio stations because he has not been invited to meet with power players in the US government, what does that say about how seriously Namibia is taken?
Many Namibian Ambassadors abroad do not meet with foreign ministers when they have major concerns; they are shunted to lower ranked, young “Africa desk” officers. This shows a certain level of disrespect for Namibia and yet, we accept it with little complaint.
At a UN luncheon for African leaders open to the world media, President Donald Trump referred to the Land of the Brave as “Nambia” and our president laughed it off expressing contentment that at least our country was mentioned. We do not recall a report of an apology given by the USA for the snub.
Do indicators such as these show respect for Namibia’s wide-ranging intelligence, international relevance and astuteness? We think not.
You reap what you sow when you lay the ground work for your image with continual miscues, poor/disinterested performances, little/no research, contradictory actions, and mixed messages.
You cannot then, bristle with indignation when you are underestimated or treated as a puppet when your official public actions merit it.