Despite local analysts welcoming the recent exposé on the country’s fishing sector, a development which has led to the resignation of two cabinet ministers, while also claiming the scalp of Investec Namibia Managing Director, James Hatuikulipi, who was also forced to step down from his post, the Presidency is adamant these are acts with a regime change agenda.
Presidential Spokesperson, Alfredo Hengari, maintains the timing of the publication of the scandal and the collaborative actions by the international media plus the negative publicity from the local media, were all concerted efforts aimed at tarnishing the image of President Hage Geingob and his administration ahead of the elections.
“As per our media release, there is no question about the fact that the timing of several negative media reports is solely intended to sway voters. It is not innocent. Any democracy where attempts are made by domestic and foreign actors to shape outcomes would be under threat,” he said amid reports Qatar broadcaster, Aljazeera was planning to air its own documentary on the alleged corruption in the country’s fishing industry.
“The content in the media has been alarmist and biased with the objective of tarnishing the image of the President and the Administration, including the country. Nowhere are you going to hear from the media that Namibia is one of the top four best governed countries in Africa. You will never hear about Namibia’s successes in building up an admirable social safety net, one of three in Africa South of the Sahara. You will not hear at this time of elections that S&T has been cut from around N$600 Million to slightly above N$200 Million, a cut of 62 percent. Our admirable fight against inequality and poverty eradication through the food bank and other initiatives does not get to the headlines.”
The analysts who spoke to the Windhoek Observer, however, rubbished the claims, and put the blame on the snail’s pace of investigations by local authorities to bring those that had been fingered to book, amid calls for the resignation of Anti-Corruption Commission Director General, Paulus Noa.
“As far as I'm aware, the timing of the WikiLeaks reveal and linked media reports is because during 2019 the whistleblower lost patience with the foot dragging by Namibian authorities that were supposed to be investigating the case. Hence, he decided to go via the media and WikiLeaks as a more effective means of getting action taken. He seems to have been right, as the media exposé has already resulted in two ministerial resignations and the freezing of bank accounts,” Political analyst Graham Hopwood said.
Ndumba Kamwanyah said the timing of the reveal by the Icelandic broadcaster, was more influenced by viewership numbers rather than perception that the foreign government-owned broadcaster had a hidden agenda.
“I think the timing of the production and planned broadcast have more to do with gaining more viewership ratings than influencing the outcomes of the election. What a good timing for a broadcast to garner more viewers than before the election? Viewer ratings matter for broadcasters because they are crucial sources for revenue generating through advertisement/commercials,” he said.
Henning Melber also ruled out the possibility of any sinister motives by the media houses and WikiLeaks, who had played a critical role in the reveal.
“I find it difficult to see this as a kind of conspiracy aimed at influencing the election outcome in Namibia as a hidden agenda. Investigative journalists normally do not operate with such timetables or schedules but are keen to publish their findings once they have established sufficient evidence. That this happens to coincide with the Namibian elections might be a side effect but not a primary motive,” he said.
Melber dismissed sentiments that the reveal, which has resulted in calls by opposition parties and the public for the arrest of those involved, was tantamount to election meddling and would have a heavy bearing on the voting patterns of Namibians in the upcoming election.
“I think the voters who change their minds because of the news now so prominently disclosed are not a decisive factor. Those critical of corruption will be confirmed in their views. Those who feel that government is doing enough to fight graft will not be shaken. After all, the main culprits identified had to face the consequences. The current discussion if the consequences were sufficient is not a decisive one in my view as regards voting decisions. There were reports on bribes and wrong doing during Trump’s election campaign and he still became the US president,” he said.
Kamwanyah said the international interest in the “fishrot scandal” was driven by the need to highlight the level of alleged corruption in the country’s fishing sector.
“I don't think we can label the ‘fishrot” exposé by the international media as meddling in our election. I think the international media's interest in this issue is driven by the nature of the issue at hand. This is an issue that involves many countries as well as many international campaniles, not just Namibia,” he said.
On whether, Namibian democracy was under threat due to the concerted efforts by the international media and WikiLeaks, Kamwanyah said, “No. If anything, the exposé is actually protecting our democracy. Corruption is a threat to democracy and even more dangerous if combined with international corruption seducers/bribers.”
Melber said the disclosure of wrong-doing by the ministers and their partners through the collaborative efforts by the three organizations, should be viewed as a contribution to good governance and not a threat to Namibia’s democracy.
“Not at all. I think such actions should be seen as a contribution towards more democracy in Namibia. After all, transparency and accountability are substantial elements of democratic governance. Such disclosures do not erode democracy, rather they put the legitimacy of those who maintain that Namibia has no big problem with corruption, in question. But this is no threat for democracy but maybe even a constructive contribution to contribute to good governance in the medium-term perspective,” he said.
“I did not see the film but from what I have been reading from print media, I think they did a great job. We actually should thank both the local and international media involved for protecting and saving Namibia. This issue is about our democracy, our economy, our resources, our livelihoods, and our children's future. It has serious consequences for our country,” Kamwanyah added.
Melber said criticism that the revelations were aimed at portraying the ruling party and the presidency in bad light were unfounded.
“I have not yet seen any unfair opinions voiced against the President or the SWAPO party beyond the fact that the scandal involves people positioned in the existing power structures and hierarchies. I have noted that President Geingob seems to suggest a plot to damage his credibility or that of the party. But this credibility is damaged by the culprits, not those reporting on their criminal activities. I think the President is barking up the wrong tree. If the reports would start blaming the President for the scandal without any credible evidence, it would be another matter. But I have not come across such reports,” he said.