The PM should find a way out of the transition

28 November 2013

In an interview that came out in the November 2013 edition of the Africa Report, Prime Minister Hage Geingob provides a laundry list of challenges facing Namibia, including land reform, poverty and a lack of industrialisation. Moreover, the Prime Minister infers in the same interview on the need for a stronger emphasis on industrial and mining beneficiation as a means to enlarge the tax base in order to deal with challenges in education and infrastructure development.

Perhaps more important, the Prime Minister concludes the interview with a lesson from China where there is strong believe in accepting investors on their terms and putting the nation first.

Namibia is too small to effectively pursue such an approach. It does not have the population, nor does it have any specific competitive or comparative advantage that would allow the country to pursue a consistent policy of ‘charity starting at home’.

Our inability to become a niche country is also compounded by the absence of basic skills in the form of skilled artisans, including advanced technical skills in diverse sectors. These in essence do limit what investors can do in Namibia in terms of value addition and beneficiation, which are exceedingly critical to employment creation and poverty alleviation.

It is nevertheless crucial that rhetoric and policy-adaptation with regard to addressing these challenges do go hand in hand.

Thus, it is rather comforting to hear the Prime Minister expressing concern about the challenges that we face, including providing pointers in terms of how government is dealing with these pressing challenges.

It is also more comforting when the Prime Minister is a potential future Head of State of this country. In that capacity, he is and ought to be in a far better position to take a long-term view of the challenges we face and how best we can address them.

However, there is a caveat here and urgent questions should emerge in our quest to take decisive action that would allow us to transit from the current phase.

The desperate question that we have faced over the past decade - which sadly has marked a period in which we have been stuck in a permanent transition is: How can Namibia be re-engineered in order to deal with the current state of affairs?

The default answer is leadership. But leadership and leaders can also function in a default mode to a point where the country defaults and implode.

It is why Prime Minister Hage Geingob should seek to steer this country on a qualitatively different trajectory. Three reasons should provide that space.

First, as a leader who has been privileged to witness the different transitions in leadership, including his role in engineering the current Namibia, should provide him with the vision to start to question and probe what it is that can be done differently. Second, having had the opportunity to pause and to look at Namibia from the outside should have provided the current Prime Minister with the reflective space to envision a different Namibia from the one he left behind.

Third, his lonely, but necessary walk through the political desert should have served as a time to think and reflect about the mistakes those who were caught up in the facts of daily political life and leadership would be unable to detect.

There are many policies and routines in Namibia that have become path-dependent. In light of this path-dependency, even when policies are sound, the routines of those implementing them make it impossible for changes to occur because they have an interest in the status quo.

In part, this in turn explain why we are stuck in a transition, irrespective of noble intentions in policy and on the part of certain leaders. Being stuck in a transition is also a function of the pervasive politicisation of every layer of public leadership and public endeavour.

Transitions ought not to be permanent, but intermediate spaces to a better future. It is this future that a Prime Minister and future Head of State should try to secure at all cost.

Alfredo Tjiurimo HENGARI is Head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.


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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