Kindergarten politics

24 August 2012

The strike at the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation that led to a total news blackout across large swathes of the country for six days finally ended on Wednesday this week.
The striking NBC employees only ended their industrial action after Government seemingly managed to pull off an extraordinary magical trick.

Somehow, it succeeded in conjuring up the N$8.9 million the State broadcaster needed to fund salary increases for its staff.
We can now breathe a sigh of relief that the whole sorry saga has finally ended.
The NBC strike is typical of the sort of shambles that makes this country look like a banana republic.
The shutdown of the airwaves should not have happened in a country with efficient governance, good financial management and proper budgeting procedures.
The image of Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Joel Kaapanda has not emerged from the affair in good shape, and it may well have put the final nail in the coffin of his political career.
People in Windhoek and other large towns might have shrugged off the blackout of NBC news services as minor irritant.
They have alternative sources for news and entertainment like newspapers and satellite television broadcasts.
For people in the lower-income groups and the rural population the NBC represents their only lifeline to news and information.
They rely heavily on the national radio services, and more specifically the indigenous language services, in their daily lives.
From what one gathers the NBC has once again become a political football in the run-up to the Swapo congress scheduled for November this year, which will in all likelihood select the country’s next president..
These days it is not about what best serves the country’s interest, but all about who supports what candidate, petty political squabbling, backstabbing and naked political ambition.
Minister Kaapanda appointed Albertus Aochamub as Director-General of the NBC only two short years ago, apparently believing that Aochamub would be an easily manipulated political tool in his hands.
Now some of Kaapanda’s close political cronies have apparently convinced him that politically Aochamub is somehow suspect and supports the wrong candidate to become the country’s next president.
So what does the minister do? Well, if we are to believe what we hear he deliberately sets outs to sabotage not only Aochamub but also the institution he as minister has responsibility over in order to contrive reasons for sacking him.
The NBC apparently gave Kaapanda written submissions for an additional budget appropriation for him to table in Cabinet.
The minister promised to table the submission as a matter of urgency, only for the corporation to find out months later that Kaapanda allegedly deliberately withheld the Cabinet submission.
If, true this is all very shameful and the tactic has clearly backfired on Kaapanda whose reputation now lies in tatters.
We find it disgraceful that politicians should make public institutions victims of their own infighting and petty political squabbles.
When the public broadcaster finally went back on air, the minister blamed the ‘unfortunate’ situation on ‘loopholes’ in the system.
However, one has to wonder whether the loopholes were not of his own making.
In recent days, we have also heard a great deal of loose talk about the importance of the NBC to national security.
Those who advance this argument base it on the fact that if a coup d’état took place in the country no one would know because we would not have the NBC to announce it.
This is an extremely dangerous notion on several levels, and people need to stop this wild talk.
Firstly, in an insidious way, it legitimises the idea that the main purpose of the NBC is to serve as a propaganda tool for the political masters of the day rather than as a public interest broadcaster.
We have fought an uphill battle ever since independence to disabuse our politicians of exactly this kind of primitive thinking, but now the media is inadvertently endorsing the idea.
This ill-considered argument furthermore trivialises the role of a public broadcaster in a democracy.
To suggest that the main function of the NBC is to serve as a platform for some tin-pot dictator to announce that he or she has seized power through the barrel of a gun reduces the broadcaster to a joke of sorts.
It was disappointing to see NBC Director-General Aochamub also joining this bandwagon.
The continuing belief that the NBC exists to serve as propaganda tool for politicians is exactly what landed us in trouble in the first place.
We do not know whether Minister Kaapanda is right or wrong in thinking that Aochamub is busy pushing a particular political agenda at the NBC.
What is clear though is that in the heated atmosphere leading up to the Swapo congress, political labelling and vilification has reached a fever pitch.
Often the labelling appears to be based more on perception than reality.
This often leads to wrong-headed conclusions because the political agenda – and whatever serves people’s interest at the time – shapes the perception.




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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