Empowerment of local communities is key to unlocking the economic and social potential of the Kunene Region. This is the opinion of Ambassador Joshua //Hoëbeb, who is the Governor of the Kunene Region. As he marked six months in office, New Era’s Francis Xoagub had a one-on-one interview with him on a wide range of issues such as tribalism, development, unemployment, etc.
Ambassador //Hoëbeb, a retired school teacher and a seasoned diplomat with a proven track record, played a key role in the independence struggle of Namibia, especially the integration of Walvis Bay into the mainland. He served as Namibia’s High Commissioner of Namibia to Botswana during the volatile years of the boundary dispute between the two countries over Kasikili/Sedudu Island.
The soft-spoken //Hoëbeb, who turns 76 this year, is known for his impressive record of quiet diplomacy, resolving deep rooted political differences using his political maturity and charisma.
Because of his remarkable record, Namibia’s second President Hifikepunye Pohamba recalled him from retirement in 2010 to serve as the Governor of the Kunene Region. This is the only region still under the control of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA). New Era had the privilege to interview him at his office in Opuwo.
NE: What was your reaction when you received the news that you were appointed as Regional Governor of the Kunene Region?
AJH: “Of course, I was very surprised. I had no idea why the President decided to appoint me to become Governor of this region. I had no idea I had been appointed to this hot seat, but who am I to complain? In fact, I am one of the party members who democratically elected Pohamba to the office of the second President of Namibia, so why should I complain? It is a trust that he bestowed on me that I could not say no to. When I voted for him to become the President of this country, he did not say no either. At the age of 76, to exchange one’s private life for public life to become the head of the Kunene Region, the most marginalized region, is no mean feat! It is a region that has been neglected for a very long time. In fact, the neglect had not started at independence. The neglect had been there for a very long time, unlike those regions south of the red line. The region is completely different from other regions, almost like the back of the moon. But it is also the most beautiful part of the country inhabited by a mixture of the Damara-Nama, Himba, Ovatjimba, Ovazemba, Herero and Tjimba tribes with their unique cultures of which we as Namibians can be proud.”
NE: When Namibia attained independence, a number of major projects were introduced, such as Vision 2030, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), decentralization, etc. What are some of the challenges and problems your region faces in terms of meeting these goals and in the implementation of these projects? Can you list some major developmental projects that are being implemented in the region?
AJH: “The conclusion that Vision 2030 has to make is that Namibia is an industrialised country. We are just some few years of reaching that target. However, Vision 2030 is a national long-term development blueprint that aims to transform the country into a newly industrialised, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030. Vision 2030 is there and all of us, including the central government, the business people, people who are charged with development programmes, will all work towards that goal, so that we achieve some degree of reaching Vision 2030. But that is coupled with a massive education programme that we have to undertake if we really have to become an industrialised nation by then. But without a broad-based educational programme, I do not see how, come 2030, we will become an industrialised country. But I don’t have to be gloomy. One has to be optimistic and I am confident that the young people will ultimately have the answer as to whether we will reach that goal. If they are sufficiently energised then I am sure miracles can happen that either just before or slightly after 2030, we may achieve the desired goals that we set ourselves.”
NE: When you took over office as the Kunene Region Governor, you took over an administration riddled with tribalism and politicking. A clear case in point is reports of tribalism at one of the schools. What is your take on this and is the scourge of tribalism being addressed?
AJH: “When I took over governorship of this region, I had no doubt that my tenure would not be a bed of roses. I knew that I was entering a region with some degree of disadvantage and instability. One simply did not come on a political ticket that warrants me to make political promises to the electorate in the Kunene Region. I did not come on the basis of those promises. I was appointed by the President to come and see what can be done. My take on some of the things I discovered is that there was some degree of suspicion at the beginning among the various groups. You know this region is divided into Kunene South and Kunene North. If I can explain the scenario – Kunene South is largely Damara-Nama and mixture of other groupings as well. The Kunene North largely consists of Herero-speaking communities. I have seen the challenges that we have here.
We are dealing with a community that chooses not to be like that but history has dealt with them. What I am trying to say is that a portion of the community is still deeply rooted in traditional beliefs, while a section of that community has already made that transition to modernisation. I as Governor, am leading a community that is culturally divided. Secondly, the language discordance is my biggest challenge when serving this great community. However, I have been assisted by my colleagues in the office and the people out there. The generosity of accepting me as a Governor is surprisingly enormous so that I feel accepted by the larger portion of the Kunene communities. I expected that there would be differences along political, tribal and ideological lines. But it is rather the way one has to work along those differences that will create a united front. In fact, to a larger extent, we have succeeded in calming the situation that had the potential to derail the work of the Governor. If tribalism was detected at two schools in the Kunene, we have at least between 50 and 55 schools. Therefore, tribal manifestation at these two schools is not a yardstick to say that it is the situation in the region. One has to recognize the hazards of tribalism, but if we work hard, we can overcome it. On the contrary, I was surprised to observe that inter-tribal marriages are on the increase. I believe this will foster unity and nationalism. Although the past 20 years have seen the Kunene Region going through some challenges, they also recorded remarkable progress in terms of development and improving the lot of the people and this is enough reason to give thanks to God for his guidance and protection.”
NE: Serious allegations of financial irregularities have been made against the Khorixas Town Council, which resulted in a probe by the Anti-Corruption Commission. What is your office doing in terms of addressing these issues?
AJH: “This matter is in the hands of the judiciary. I would find it premature to pronounce myself on the issue at this stage.”
NE: Private sector investment and business interest seems to be almost non-existent as evidenced by the absence of big shops such as retailer shops, commercial banks, a university campus, and vocational training centres in the Kunene Region. What are you doing in terms of addressing this particular issue?
AJH: “Things that attract people whether for residential purposes or business are numerous. One of them is the availability of facilities. Just imagine if one has to move to Opuwo from affluent areas like Windhoek or Walvis Bay! They would like to see certain things in place before they move. For example, the availability of water is a major component why they would like to move or be attracted to come and make an investment. The development you see in the north is based on the availability of water. Not so much the availability of underground water but water that is transported along channels and pipes. For example, the water channel from Ruacana. That is a given impetus for growth. So you must have water. What is the situation in Opuwo? Even though the quality of water has improved over the years, the quantity has not improved yet. If business people want to make an investment they would like to know how much water there is. Are schools available for their children? Are other facilities available such as recreational facilities? People want to move when they see these things are in place. Business people are like tortoises. They move when things are OK. But when the things are not conducive they retreat into their shells and hide. However, there are some positive developments taking place that are a stimulus for economic growth. Presently mining and exploration activities are taking place in the region. These are positive prospects for economic development in the region.”
NE: To my knowledge the Kunene Region is the only region where the Office of the Governor is, so to say, ‘separated’ from the Kunene Regional Office. Any explanation for this situation?
AJH: “I think it’s a question of mathematics. The size of the building determines how many offices can be accommodated. When the Office of the Governor was created there was no office for the Governor in Opuwo. The governors who were here before were not resident but rather non-resident. In addition, they had their political constituencies and responsibilities. They would come here for the purpose of council or management meetings and return to their constituencies. That was the situation. However, when I became the Governor of the Kunene Region, I took a deliberate decision to either run the office through a cellphone or I should come as a resident Governor and leave behind my family in Grootfontein. I decided to be move physically to Kunene to become a resident Governor in order to render my services 24 hours to the residents. Obviously, when I came I found a congested regional office and decided to move into a house which was reserved for the former governor. Apart from this interim arrangement, plans are being made on how the Governor can be accommodated by adding another wing. But things take time, as money has to be sourced to realise that dream. Maybe, one day I will move back or the Governor’s office will be on a separate piece of land. But that does not mean the Governor’s office is detached from the rest of the regional office.”
NE: Many Kunene Region inhabitants have of late expressed their concern about the danger posed by elephants to humans. Are there any plans to find a long-lasting solution to this problem?
AJH: “It is true that we are receiving reports of these beasts. But most of these are verbal reports or through the media. The mere fact that elephants are found in places that they were not seen before is an indication that the herds are growing in the Kunene Region. And when the population grows, it invites human and wildlife conflicts. That is the situation we see currently in the Kunene. I was surprised when somebody mentioned that the elephants they saw were close to the town of Khorixas. This is surprising for me too.
For somebody who experiences this it must be very scary and frightening. Even one elephant can be scary because of the sheer size. But I am sure the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has an eye on the situation and they have to decide. Culling is a decision that has to be taken at the end of the day. Elephant culling is a science. You can not kill a group of elephants from a herd as they will retaliate. Scientific research has shown that culling, far from reducing numbers of elephants may actually increase them by accelerating breeding rates. I do not know whether culling is a way out. Obviously the Governor’s office is concerned as lives are threatened and we have taken note. But nothing has been done yet. The programme of peaceful coexistence for the sake of tourism may have also contribute to an increased number of elephants. Normally, they will only attack if provoked or threatened. Elephants are naturally docile animals that do not attack humans unless provoked.
• To be continued