Namibia: Interview with Hifikepunye Pohamba

Hifikepunye Pohamba

President (Government of Namibia)

Hifikepunye Pohamba

Since taking the reigns of the Republic of Namibia on March 21st 2005, after 15 years of independence, You obviously set yourself some political and developmental objectives geared towards economic freedom like “preserving the stability and peace that Namibia is currently enjoying and continue with the policies that have seen the country develop socially and economically ». How far have you executed them?

Well you put it rightly the taking over of the Government on the 21st March last year. It did not bring change in the policy and the manner how we are dealing with the economic development as well as the social development in our country. This is so because I belong to the Party, the SWAPO party that has liberated this country and ruled the country the last fifteen years as you have referred to. The constitution of the republic obliges us as a country and as politicians as well as leaders of a political party to have a limit of our office.

Sam Nujoma, the Founding Father of this nation, when his term expired I succeeded him through elections and my responsibility has been and it continues to be the promotion of our party policies, for example; every election when it comes up we have a manifesto of the party where we promise our people what is going to be done, where we promise our people that we will continue to do A, B, C, D for you. Now when I took over we had the programmes already on board under the National Development Plan Number Two and our Vision 2030. We are continuing developing towards that. We have done a lot in implementing the decisions towards that for the social upliftment of our people, and economic growth. The economic growth is very important because its through economic growth that we will be able to meet the needs of our people and one of the needs is to bring the development to them, for example in the rural areas. This is what we have been doing and we continue to do so. I am very happy to say, we have made some achievements in the last 11 months since we took over because we continued to implement or to work on the projects that we found, and the word we found perhaps is not applicable because we have been there all along. These are programs that were initiated by us under the leadership of Sam Nujoma.

For instance we have been building a railway from Tsumeb in the north to Ondangwa. According to the information that was given to me on that project come May or June this year we will be able to open the railway in Ondangwa. Ondangwa is situated in what used to be the communal area, an area which has no development whatsoever. Is for the first time some people who had never been able to travel to the other parts of the country would be able to see a train. And with the train we wanted to go up to Oshikango. Oshikango is to the border of Namibia and Angola.

This is also designed in line with our policy as members of SADC. [There] has been economic integration of member states of SADC; each country is trying to put up infrastructures like the railway to the borders so that we hook up. We will be able to have an ongoing economic relation between our countries as members of SADC.

The other one is the completion of several roads that we started when Sam Nujoma was still in the office. This [included] the road in one of formerly deprived areas or regions - this is the capital of Kunene Region, Opuwo the north-west of our country. The road has been completed from Opuwo to the point where we decided it should end and the other road that we have finished is between Okahao and Outapi in Omusati Region.

This is just to mention a few, trying to explain the continuity that we are embarking upon. There are many things, the social upliftment of our people is ongoing, but, yes, indeed, we have some shortcomings, call them `challenges’, and we are working towards the achievements to overcome those challenges. There are many. One of them is HIV-AIDS, which is really affecting our economic development and many lives have been lost. These are some of the things. There are progresses and challenges that we have seen. But we don’t retreat when we are confronted with challenges. We believe that as a country we are together, not only as a government for those running the government. We are together as people; private sector and the public sector of the economy as well as the civil society. We are working together; as long as we are working together we will make some achievements like we did in the past.

The Republic of Namibia is blessed with natural resources such as diamonds, copper, fish, uranium, etc. For the past 15 years the country enjoyed a very stable political situation and offered a very competitive environment. What is your view about the current economic situation and 3 years down the road?

It’s true Namibia is a rich country. We are rich in minerals, agriculture. We are rich in fisheries, just to mention but a few. It’s also true that we have been here for 15 years now, but it is also true that before the 15 years we are also talking about we have had vicious colonialism system - the apartheid South Africa who ruled this country. What they did was to [primarily] deprive the people of this country’s education and we never had a university in this country. Is after independence when the University of Namibia was build. If you don’t have people who are skilled or educated when it comes to development you will have difficulties

I have spoken to countries the country is rich in minerals. To send somebody from a primary school to the university. You can’t do it in 15 years time at all. If somebody goes school, he spends about 7 to 8 years from the basic education before he/she goes to the tertiary education.

The natural wealth that I am talking about in the soil of this republic need people with expertise and we don’t have them ourselves up to now. We have, but not in our critical fields such as mining, not in critical sectors, perhaps as fisheries, we have not done well on that. I should not say we have not done well. We are doing well, but the time between the independence and now, we are falling short of expectations. So we can not be expected to do much without skilled people of our own. However we are grateful to the countries who are friendly to us and who have been assisting us. These countries and the organization such as the UN systems have been helping us, but again somebody comes and helps you for 3-4 years, then he/she goes. There you go to look up for somebody else while you are continuing with the process of training your own people.

We have those challenges, especially in the field of education which affects the development of our economy as well as social development in this country. It will take us some time. But [fortunately] we have been assisted by friendly countries with which we have [mutual] co-operations. Today, this morning, I have had a meeting with the people from the United States who have been sent by the government of the United States of America to come and see us on the programmes of the Millennium Challenge Account. The USA Government has been helpful to us in the past and even now they have honored us to be eligible for the recipients of the assistance through the Millennium Challenge Account. Is not only USA helping us. We are being helped by other countries on the bilateral as well as multilateral relationships that we have with these countries. On that one we are very grateful. And a lot of what we are doing is because of the assistance we are receiving from these countries and organizations.

Historically the Republic of Namibia has been very strongly economically linked to South Africa. What strategies have your government devised to broaden the scope of international trading with other nations worldwide?

Like I said earlier on, we, as a region, under the SADC, are doing everything possible to work together – South Africa, Namibia, up to Malawi. In the Indian Ocean we have Mauritius and many other countries in Southern Africa that are members of this SADC organization and we work together to develop our economy with the idea to have our economy integrated. Indeed, historically, we have been under South Africa economically. Even after independence we keep that relationship.

A lot of things that you see here in the shops everywhere are imported from South Africa. And the South African apartheid regime deliberately has seen this country as a dumping ground of the South African products and this is why we could not develop it or even build tertiary institutions in this country. So we were looked at as a dumping ground of the products from South Africa. Today it its no more considered in such a way. We are now doing it on an equal basis – on the basis of the organization of SADC – and we are promoting the trade between the two countries within the SACU. Yes it is not going to be a [given] balanced equation. Because, South Africa in our scenario in Southern Africa, we consider South Africa as a developed country and Namibia as a non-developed country. So a lot has to come from South Africa, but we are trying also to establish our industries within the country.

We have started doing it, some are operating, and some are in the process to start operating soon or later. This is the situation with South Africa. Not only that, they are economically supportive to Namibia, but they are doing it to many other countries in Southern Africa, so we don’t feel jealous about it or what we feel is that we must, through this integration, strengthen our economy.

The Republic of Namibia is a rich country in natural resources offering many investment opportunities in different sectors. Your government is enabling public-private-partnerships in order to achieve projects as the “Green Scheme” in the North-East of the country. This is opening a window for foreign investors. How will this benefit international partners in general and Namibia in particular?

This will benefit the international partners in many ways. We have spoken about the Green Scheme for instance. Through the Green Scheme the products that we intend to produce, whenever we have a surplus we can give this surplus to other countries, being it in Africa or elsewhere. For example, if I give beef to Europe and elsewhere to me this is one of these economic interactions internationally between other countries. At the Green Scheme internal and regional is very helpful. First, we feel that Namibia should not depend on the outside world when it comes to food.

We should depend on the outside world when it comes to agricultural implements that we can not manufacture. But we must use the implements that we import from the outside to cultivate the soil, for instance, and make food so that the people of this country can produce their own food. Because food is very important. If you have no food then you can even spend valuable things such as diamonds or many cars on a loaf of bread when hungry. This is what we are concentrating on, to develop a Green Scheme in a country and encourage individually, particularly farmers, to produce food not for them alone, but for the benefit of the nation. We are working on that this is one of the programmes that we consider to give priority to. They did not start when I took over the Government. They have been there, but my Government has a duty, and indeed a responsibility, to promote the Green Scheme. To the level it was intended when it was originally initiated by the Government of Swapo party headed by Sam Nujoma.

Your government is eagerly striving towards the realization for the noble goal “vision 2030” which aims to see the country prospering in many ways (economically, poverty eradicating, attract international investments, etc). How would you contribute to this?

This is our vision. We have been working very hard, to engage in the preparation of our vision. You need a lot of things. I spoke about education. For Vision 2030, the intention is that we should have our own skilled people. Who can run the economy of this country? Who can run social development of this country, without depending, as is the case now on the outsiders? We need to do our own things. At this time that is the intention. It is true that when I look at the pace that we are developing towards that, and I see the speed of the time is moving too fast.

I wish, if I had the power, to apply some brakes, so that it moves slowly, but this is not possible, so I see us working against time for us to move for the implementation or for what we want to see come 2030. However I do believe in the English proverb which says where there is a will a way can always be found. We have a will that come 2030, we will look at ourselves as a developed nation that can do or run its affairs without too much help technically etc etc. This is how I look at it. We have a will and determination that come 2030. We will reach our objectives as we had planned them.

Your personal experiences are also of interest to us. Could you tell us about your career up to your promotion to President of the Republic of Namibia as well as your greatest accomplishment during your time as resident?

I am not a professional. Maybe if I am I have been a `Freedom Fighter’ and I am a person or one of the persons in this country who have been very unfortunate because we engaged ourselves in the struggle of independence of this country. Many colleagues and I never enjoyed our youth hood in this country. We have been in exile. Not as ordinary refugees, but as freedom fighters. We came in 1989 as victorious because what we have fought for was to be achieved. We fought for democracy and justice for all our people.

Now as I am talking as a happy person because our people are now enjoying freedom, peace and stability. Democracy is on a daily basis being promoted in this country and gaining the momentum. The freedom of speech, freedom of press and other freedoms as enshrined in our Constitution are here. Our people are free. Speaking about freedom, I am happy to have been given the political mandate by my people when they went to the polls in 2004 and decided to elect me to be their President. That to me is an honor and I feel happy and, indeed, I say to my people, I don’t want to disappoint them. I must do everything, through their advisers, of course, everything that promotes their interests in this country.

So I am not a professional person. Yes, people say being a President of the country and Head of the Government, I am a politician. I did not go to school to learn politics. I learned through the process of the struggle, because we engaged in the struggle, thinking and having at heart the interests of our people. So through that process we began. We started as freedom fighters and then in the process became politicians and here I am.

We’re here in the Republic of Namibia to promote the investment opportunities of the country. What would your final message be to our readers concerning these opportunities?

When you made the introduction of your publication you said it is widely read by very important people, the leaders in industries of the businesses of the world. My message to them is a message of invitation. I am inviting them first to come and visit the Republic of Namibia – a rich country, a wealth that has not been tapped. They can go around the country and talk to the people and see where they can participate either themselves directly or through local partners. It is an invitation to those good people to come and invest in this country. We have the resources, but we are failing to explore and exploit due to skill deficit. If they come we share our resources with them in accordance with our investment laws. We have conducive investment laws with numerous incentives for investors. Let me guarantee, those who come here as an investors that they will be able to export and repatriate their profit to their countries of origin. Our Country as I indicated earlier on, is peaceful, politically, we guarantees the security of the investors in all respects. I say, please…come and join us in the economic development of this rich country.