Geingob must lead by example

18 January 2019
If a full blown economic depression in Namibia is not enough to make the president curtail foreign travel that does not specifically bring back short-term investment or donor assistance, we are at a loss to know what will. 
We juxtaposed the frantic photos of 2,000-3,000 prospective employees who turned up in the rain and mud at the Nehale IyaMpingana Railway Station in the North in hopes of securing one of only 40 reported job openings at TransNamib, with the photos of our well-dressed president on a brightly lit, modern stage smiling in a one-on-one meeting with a government official at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week Conference (ADSW) this past weekend.  The comparison raises disturbing issues.
President Hage Geingob and his delegation visited Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week.  For many who aren’t aware, the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week brings together policy makers, industry specialists, technology pioneers and the next generation of sustainability leaders to share knowledge and strategies. 
The website for the event boasted that more than US$15 billion worth of projects were announced during the week.  We wonder what part of that magnificent investment is headed towards Namibia. 
Will the president be announcing a UAE funded development programme in any sector?  Is there even an emergency grant from the über-rich UAE government for drought relief, upcoming food aid (there has been insufficient rain in the north and people have not cultivated), hospitals and maternity wards, HIV/AIDS programmes, schools, bursaries… or anything? 
To clarify, we are not opposed to our head of state or ministers travelling to represent this country where there is a direct give-back to the nation in terms of investment promotion, immediate direct investment, security issues, tourism, business contracts, major sporting events that include Namibia, trade and overall foreign relations (such as the SADC double troika summit, where Namibia serves as the Chairman). 
Certainly, it is the role of the executive to present this country to the world and nurture relations beneficial to the nation.   But, we are in an extraordinary and unplanned crisis here at home. 
Is it reasonable to take non-vital overseas side trips when there is no money for the basics of what the people need?   Just the image and perception of such a trip does not speak well of a president in tune with the suffering of his constituents.
While this country is not on fire like Zimbabwe which is miserably fumbling its petrol crisis, we have our defence forces on the streets for crime control because we have no budget to hire and equip enough police officers.
We have scores of NUST students unable to register as huge 2019 deposits are needed, largely because NSFAF is struggling to pay on time for each student.
The malls have more empty shop space, households are increasing their debt just to buy food and retrenchments are happening everywhere.
Banks are experiencing cash liquidity challenges, water, electricity and the internet are becoming unaffordable, and fuel prices are on their way up again. 
Recent reports disclosed that even the Oshakati mortuary is underfunded and the staff working with dead bodies every single day are on the verge of a walk-out due to antiquated facilities, unhygienic conditions and gross underpay.
People of this country at all levels are nervous, insecure and afraid of losing what they have worked a lifetime to build.
Facing this reality, the bar for decision-making on which state-funded trips to take and how long to stay abroad, must be raised. 
Unless this recent travel to Abu Dhabi was fully sponsored by the UAE, or there are secret benefits to the nation yet to be revealed, this trip should have been avoided. 
While our head of state likes to be treated in an exclusive presidential manner when he travels and enjoys the luxurious reception an oil-rich Gulf State can offer visiting dignitaries, was this the time for such a jaunt?
There are needs and wants to be managed when money is tight.  We believe this trip was a ‘want.’
The ADSW is an annual conference and unless business ground was laid in well in advance in order to set up deals that the president would sign once there, what is the point? 
This Abu Dhabi junket has been justified as an opportunity to have discussions with UAE officials.  We wonder:  what would a multi-billionaire UAE oil sheik have to ‘discuss’ with the president of a indebted, non-oil producing African country whose entire GDP likely equals that sheik’s personal cars, travel and household budget? 
The UAE head of state was probably wearing a watch that costs as much as one of our presidential cars. What commodities can we offer that the UAE does not already purchase anywhere it chooses and in the quantities and varieties that it can easily afford?
Such a discussion was not a meeting of equals and therefore we fail to understand what ‘discussions’ that will ease our economic depression could be held? 
If Geingob was prepared to beg for cash, we could all swallow our pride and understand the real reason for the trip.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.
We urge the president to look hard at photos of hard-faced young men storming TransNamib facilities desperate for manual labour jobs and think seriously about the perceptions raised by the images of his luxurious, hard-currency S&T filled, executive travel. 
We all have to give up things to help ease Namibia out of this depression, non-essential, cosy presidential visits must be one of those sacrifices.


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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