Namibia: Interview with Nangolo Mbumba

Nangolo Mbumba

Minister of Education (Government of Namibia)

Nangolo Mbumba

Education is one of the backbones for the development and the democratization of a country. Could you give us your thoughts on the evolution of the Ministry activities from its creation to today?

In the past we had two ministries; one for lower education from grade one to secondary school and the other one for higher education which covered teachers training colleges and universities.
When President Pohamba came into power, he said wanted one ministry and my terms of reference also indicate that this ministry is responsible for science and technology. We also cover primary, secondary and tertiary education.
We had work to do merge those two ministries and the culture and style of doing business was not the same. We have overcome that stage now and we have one administrative structure. That is at the national level. In the meantime, within the regions, we have 13 administrative regions. In every region we have a Regional Education Director. Within our budget allocation, there is money for each region depending on the needs of a particular region. That is the kind of decentralization we have so that regional authorities have a say in the education and training of their children.

Could you tell us about some of your sector’s key figures for the last 3 years (Number of students, universities, etc)?

Starting with the budget, we always get between 20 – 24 percent share of the overall national budget. However, our economy is small and therefore our budget, national budget for this year will only be NAD15 billion that is over 2 billion US. You may appreciate our predicament in running a country with that kind of money. In terms of the number of learners, we have about 500 000 learner enrolled from grade one to tertiary education. This represent one third of the population. We have, excluding lecturer at tertiary educations, about 20 000 teachers employed in the both primary and secondary schools.
Of the NAD15 billion, we get NAD3billion allocated to us which is comparatively, a big portion from a small budget. This is simple in line with the constitutional provision to ensure that all children of school going age are in school. And they are in schools at least they must have a teacher. The teachers must be paid a salary. We are nevertheless having development partners, who have been helping us in the development of infrastructure such as classrooms, schools and erasing the backlog created by the past imbalances. We are fortunate to have a population that is eager to learn. The parents would rather send their children to school and therefore the government is under tremendous pressure to expand the facilities and the availability of learning possibilities.
However, we cannot contend with what we have achieved. We demand quality education. We want children to improve to be able to read properly to pronounce better and to learn new things such as computer to be able to work in banks and companies.

What is the literacy rate in the Republic of Namibia?

Nationally we are up to 85 - 90 %. We have done and that is why I am saying parents are encouraging their children to go to school.

Do you receive any assistance from the international cooperation?

The UN agencies assistance us so and continue to assist us a great deal. We had a number of countries that were also willing to assist us to stand on our feet. These included Sweden, Holland, Germany, Spain, Japan, France and many others, I can’t exhaust them.

Your government has set a goal that you call “Vision 2030” which aims to see the country prosper in many ways (economically, poverty eradicating, attract international investments). How would your ministry contribute to this?

The main thrust was that we truly realized as we were moving towards the 15th anniversary of our countries independence that it was not enough to just to count the number of children in schools, schools, the number of professionals, the number of we needed to improve the quality of our education in terms of performance in international examinations. How good are they in languages, in science, in mathematics and how good are our managers of educational institutions? How well prepared are our principals? How well trained are our teachers. Apart from the education, apart from the education, because of the policies we have; vision 2030; aiming to become a developed country, to have a knowledge-based society as opposed to natural resources. We realized that we have ton change our education system if we are to achieve that. We have to have efficient education system that produces technically competent human resources. It is hence aimed at improving the education system. It covers early childhood education. Above all we need to expand our primary education. Staff it with well trained teachers and have furnished classes with tables and chairs for to create a conducive environment for learning. We need to cater for the children that cannot be absorbed by the tertiary education who account for 50 percent of matriculants annually.

Are the local languages encouraged to be talked?

Languages are encouraged to be talked in schools, to be spoken and people are encouraged to express themselves in their mother tongue.

What are the main objectives for the Republic of Namibia for the next years?

We must add value to our products to bring more revenue and hence we must prepare our people to be competitive within the country to be competitive within the region and to be able to occupy international position. That is a huge responsibility and a huge mandate to try to train as many people as possible but overall to move from agrarian based economy to a modern economy that produce products that can be bought by Spaniards, Poles, Russians, Americans and Canadians. Right now we produce items that we sell in raw material; diamond, copper, uranium, zinc, export. We want to be able to do those things we can do, do be done (processed) domestically. We want to produce our own engineers. We have for instance the water situation, where either we have too much water or we do not have water. We have to produce our own water engineers. We have a lot of struggle in implementing capital projects because of the deficit. We are slow because we do not have architects, we do not have quantity surveyors and engineers to design those projects and carry them out. The construction industry and companies need technicians who can measure quickly and precisely and construct those projects and have their salaries and move elsewhere to do something else.

Your personal experiences are also of interest to us. Could you tell us about your career up to your promotion to Minister of Education as well as your greatest accomplishment during your time as Minister?

I was born a teacher, by a teacher, I grew up as a teacher and now I am a teacher. I went to the then Ongwediva Junior Secondary School for three years before going to Oshigambo High School which had a reputation of being the best school in the northern part of the country built by Finish Missionaries. I was there for four years. And that is where I started my political career. There was one old man called Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo who was instrumental in recruiting us to politics. In 1965 we left Namibia. I was in Zambia, went to the USA. Having done that I spent 10 years in Angola teaching in schools. I was Secretary to Cabinet before I was sent to Walvis Bay to negotiate for the return of Walvis bay to Namibia. I then held several ministerial positions including, agriculture, finance and information.

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?

Namibia has succeeded in maintaining democracy for 16 years. It had the most peaceful transition from the founding president to the incumbent. We continue to be a multiparty democracy. In terms of promoting democracy, in terms of working together with civil society, working together with the private sector, maintaining harmony amongst multi cultural, multi religious communities, we have natural resources and basic infrastructure and good connections by air and road. We have good airports.
This is the place to come and do business, we have a young and small population enthusiastic to learn.