The Time Traveler: #Fishrot

13 December 2019
Author   Hugh Ellis
The Fishrot scandal has been all over the front pages for more than a month now.
Two former cabinet ministers, Sacky Shangala and Bernhard Esau, await trial on corruption charges, along with four other alleged kingpins in the quotas-for-kickbacks debacle.
I say ‘alleged’ only because the Observer’s lawyers require me to do so; the evidence against all of them appears damning to say the least.
Hopefully the Icelandic bribe-givers, as well as the Namibian bribe-takers, will also soon be in the dock, in one or the other country. But that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that bribery is wrong, whichever side of the table you sit.
I can’t remember a time, except perhaps for the Avid court case in the early Pohamba years, when a corruption scandal has so captivated the Namibian public.
As someone who has long believed in investigative journalism, and castigated the Namibian media establishment for not investing enough in it (a criticism that, in general, remains valid), I am heartened to see the media, for once, playing a leading role in the drama.
In a time when some are suggesting that Twitter might replace newspapers entirely, it is good to see The Namibian, along with Wikileaks and the Icelandic media, exposing skullduggery that would otherwise have remained hidden.
I think the anger of the Namibian public at this latest scandal, when other offences have been allowed to slide, suggests that people are tired. Exhausted.
Hopefully, this will be our ‘enough is enough’ moment. Hopefully, people will speak up and join protests, and not let the matter rest until justice is done, and until our fisheries administration is reformed so as not to allow this sort of thing to re-occur.
As the proverb goes, a fish rots from the head, and hopefully this case will make it clear to our President that Cabinet is a place where every member must not only be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ but must be completely above suspicion.
Beyond that, I believe it is time for us Namibians to question what this reveals about where we stand and what we believe in as a nation.
Before Independence, all progressive Namibians could stand behind a clear goal, no matter what smaller differences divided us: we wanted freedom. An end to Apartheid-South-African rule and the SADF’s military occupation.
What do we want now? And how are we going to get there?
If you ask most Namibians that, you may only get a vague reference to Vision2030, probably the line - which I don’t think many truly believe by now - that we should have a standard of living comparable to a rich, developed country by 2030.
I doubt the average Namibian could say how that is going to be achieved. What’s worse, if we interpret ‘rich/ prosperous country’ as only meaning we should strive for individual prosperity, with no thought of our communities and the country as a whole, then we are setting ourselves up for fishrots.
It isn’t a particularly ‘politically correct’ thing to say these days, but all countries are governed by a mix of ‘the market’ and socialism. In today’s Namibia, in my opinion, we have neglected the socialist side of the equation.
We often seem obsessed with ‘creating wealth’ without asking who we are creating wealth for, and how we are going to ensure each person gets a fair share of the national cake. Our businesspeople (still businessmen, more often than not) score awards and big contracts and forget to name a single worker who helped them get there.
What’s worse, we act as through history began on March 21st, 1990. We don’t question how the old colonial wealth often determines who is wealthy today, and beyond the vexed question of land, we don’t seem in the state of mind to do anything about it.
It’s not going to be easy, but it will take more than a court case to solve the national malaise exposed in #Fishrot. It’s going to take investment in better systems. Beyond that, it’s going to take a wholesale redefinition of what we’re about as a nation.
Hugh Ellis is a poet and a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. All views expressed here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at


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