The decision by Rio Tinto to sell its 68 percent stake in Rössing Uranium to China National Uranium Corporation (CNUC) is yet another example of how Namibian governments over the years,
have not planned this nation’s affairs for the bigger picture based on long-term analysis of what is to our advantage, but rather tends to react to situations when crises arrive.
All too often, we don’t plan, research and act in the best interest of Namibia – we react like a kudu caught on the road in the headlights of an oncoming car.
It is this pattern of making major decisions enthralled with short-term gains that has caused the sale of the 65,000 hectare Erindi Private Game Reserve to South Africans, a total of 45,000 hectares to Russians, cattle farms leased or sold to the Chinese, allegations of Namdia selling diamonds below market value, deforestation of timber in the Rundu area.
You can add the uncontrolled sand mining all over the North, the re-emerging spectre attempts to mine phosphates, clamours for increased allowable catches from at-risk fish stocks, and other leakages of valuable and finite Namibian natural resources.
We believe such ‘sales’ and ‘deals’ were done without long-term considerations as a make-or-break part of the negotiations to at least project the scenario of potential impacts of changes in world economies, demand/supply and available markets that may disadvantage this country later on.
We go back further recalling this pattern of short-term thinking when it comes to disposing irreplaceable and treasured national resources and look at how the (then) Areva Desalination Plant deal was managed such that years later, government struggles to buy at top dollar what should have been a strategic resource with a first buyer or emergency nationalisation option at the outset. Water is arguably Namibia’s most valuable, strategic commodity.
This level of short-term thinking, reacting to situations rather than pro-actively anticipating and managing natural assets, is wasteful of opportunities and keeps the country on a fire-sale footing for its assets.
Worse, selling out cheaply and without due consideration for changes that could go against Namibia’s interests over the long-term is doing a grave disservice to the nation that we should be handing over in good order to our children and their children.
The recent furore over the anticipated sale of Rössing’s shares to CNUC cannot be viewed in isolation. China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) and the China/Africa Development Fund already hold 90 percent of the shares in Husab Mine (arguably the largest uranium mine in the world) and Chinese companies already own 25 percent shares in Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine.
There should be little shock that the Chinese are moving to control all of Namibia’s uranium – they’ve been offered the key to the uranium in the soil of the Land of the Brave, they’ve paid what is asked and have bought the right to use the key.
China has positioned itself to be in the driver’s seat for global control over various mineral resources it has deemed to be vital to its national interests, such as uranium. There is nothing wrong with this; each nation should proceed with purchases, trade deals, and programmes that are in its best interest.
Equally, we believe that Namibia must also do this. However, we remain unconvinced that this is what has been going on in the Land of the Brave and this must change.
When will we learn to evaluate all of our resources in terms of what is best for this country not just now, but 10, 20 and even 50 years from now? The Chinese planners are not thinking about tomorrow, but decades in advance about the raw materials their development plans will require.
While the Rössing share sale is not yet ‘approved’ by the Namibian Competition Commission, we are unmoved by this footnote.
That approval will occur with full speed as this is a major league international business deal and N$1.5 billion is on the line. Government will herd its regulator into line as it wants to protect the 500 or so jobs presumably at stake (again, short-term thinking) should the mine shut down.
We recall the countless reports about Chinese business entities in construction, retail sales and other areas that have often shown contempt for Namibian labour laws while the government’s enforcement capabilities in this regard have been impotent.
This new uranium mine sale will open the door for even more Chinese executives and mining industry workers to flood into Namibia, in order to protect their investment and run their mining of our uranium.
Employment of Namibians is not their priority; production and profits are. This is one of the costs of selling your national assets to foreign entities.
Long-term projections and future market analysis are not easy and we do not make light of this fact. It requires a deeper knowledge about the economic asset in question, understanding of not only the current market, but the history and projections of that market and potential technical advancements.
We understand that the depressed price of uranium worldwide has forced the Rössing sale in the first place. The roller coaster ride of world commodity prices affects all raw material producers; Namibia is no different.
If this recession produces no other silver lining, we hope that lessons are learned about the need for deep analytical thinking and planning before natural resources are sold off for short-term gains.
Our non-reading society and decision-makers must learn to review reports, analyse data and make the best decision for tomorrow as a priority.
We need to be certain this level of deep thinking is underway at the highest levels before Namibian assets continue to be handed out like candy at Christmas.