16 Years Seem Like a Few Days Ago

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In a few days’ time, Namibia will be celebrating its sixteenth birthday. Looking back at the time span of independence and self-determination thus far, it feels like just a few days ago when the trumpets sounded, horns blared, and the African drums boomed to usher in the new era. Yes, it sounds like last week when Heads of States, Kings, Princes and Princesses, Friends and foes alike, descended on Windhoek to welcome Namibia to the community of nations. The ‘viva’s’ and ‘Ilililili’s’ are still freshly echoing in our ears. How time runs! With the same speed of light that time flashed us into sixteen years of freedom, so also has the regular democratic elections we have held, brought us new MP’s, new Ministers, new Councillors, and of course a new President. Welcome Mr President, tall, youthful looking and handsome. What with the local media and sceptics giving Mr Pohamba a hundred days last year after his inauguration, I was stunned into silence. Everybody with a mouth was virtually dictating to the President without him hearing it, what they thought he had to do. “Now, Pohamba should really ‘hamba’ (go) with Namibia, and take us to greater heights, where we belong.” “Pohamba should first get to grips with corruption. We want to see action within a hundred days.” “Hooo, I tell you. Pohamba knows what so and so did and will soon put the economy on track.” “I like him because he doesn’t point his finger at anybody.” I tell you, pundits had a field day telling us farm boys what fireworks were soon to be unleashed on the Namibian political scene. The new President was nagged ad nauseam. And now, within a few days, Mr Pohamba will celebrate his first year in office. In the African idiom, it is one rainy season gone by. And if it has to be measured literally, “what a rainy season”. The Pohamba spirit of leadership, establishing itself in the seat of authority, came down hard. It didn’t rain but poured. My ancestors, the Botswana of old, selected the names of heroes precisely according to great natural events taking place. Pohamba can now be named ” Rapula”, meaning “Father of the Rain,” because barely in his first year in office, it is raining cats and dogs, with dams overflowing, forcing sluice-gates to be opened. And if the people of Mariental should take heart, it might not be a joke to say, “The spirit of Pohamba” will repeat the same heavy rains season after season after season for his entire term of office. Who knows, Namibia might just be in the right weather cycle of the millennium. Fortune, like misfortune, never comes once. Planners could do themselves a great disservice if they neglect to move dwellings from low-lying areas to higher ground throughout the country. Shack dwellers should better move away from riverbeds, even if they have not run for centuries. The Pohamba era probably has many surprises, and I have heard many people say they have never seen this kind of rain in Namibia for ages. The President had a hectic twelve months of state visits abroad, and local visits to the regions. This was part of the political honeymoon. He still has to sit down and get to brass tacks, get to grips with the main task before him. He is right; some joker somewhere out there says Namibia’s is a middle-class society. My foot! When eighty percent of the population is poor, one cannot speak of a middle-class society. Poverty levels in this country still have to be determined fully, before anyone can make a sensible assessment, and draw conclusions. But of course, it is also not unusual to hear a governor here, or a governor there, saying Namibia is a very rich country. How on earth can one make such a bold statement when his or her house might be the only mansion in the neighbourhood dominated by shacks? There are countries on this planet which have been independent for over two hundred years or more, but which cannot make boastful statements of affluence. And so my President, the great monster on the mountain that must be killed is poverty. Sixty percent of our population live in rural areas where many rarely ever know where their next meal will come from or from whom. Yes, in many extreme cases, ignorance plays a major role. But one can’t ignore the following: – The price of consumer goods is very high and basic foodstuffs are often inaccessible to the man in the street. People resort to eating mopani worms. – The price of fuel determines the price of food. Higher fuel prices mean higher food prices. Fuel prices are escalating and no one knows where they’ll stop. – The catchword is transport in Namibia. Ask any business concern, any supermarket, any dealer why goods cost that much and you hear: transport from abroad is expensive. Matter closed. – The price of staple foodstuffs of our people, although subsidized, is still beyond the reach of the majority. A twenty-kilogram bag of maize-meal takes a large slice of the monthly wages of the average farm worker. – Of late, other merchants have come on the scene with low quality cheap goods that have no market value in Europe. A new shirt virtually disappears into shreds within a week after being washed. The poor cannot afford regular shopping sprees. – The disappearance of thirty million Namdollar creates the impression that Namibia can afford to lose such an amount. That is the value of ten new primary schools of ten classrooms each by the way. Even wealthy America cannot afford Enron. – Tons of food for the poor, donated by foreign countries, are left to rot in warehouses. Africans, what are we doing? We don’t have the capacity nor the means to produce enough food to feed ourselves. What is this? Furthermore, we cannot hold one man responsible for blunders of this magnitude. But let me accentuate the more positive side of the year that was. If we were all watching with baited breadth to see the new President unleash whatever it was we thought would make us pat ourselves on the back and say: “I thought so. He is doing exactly what I thought he would,” then perhaps we were very disappointed. Mr Pohamba has walked a long journey with Tate Kulu, the Founding President and Father of the Namibian Nation. Good leaders must also be good followers. In my old Setswana tradition, the elders say, “Mo tlhako ya kwa pele e gatileng, le ya kwa morago e tla gata.” Literally translated: “Where the front hoof (of a cow) steps, even the back hoof will step.” The Owambo people will probably say: “Ekondo longombe ohaliliate muali lokomesho.” In traditional leadership parlance this simply means: “A good leader follows the good example set by his predecessor.” And that is what our new President is doing. In an article I wrote to bid farewell to the President back in 2001, and which was published by an English daily in Windhoek and titled “Exit the President”, I said, and I quote from my article: “Whoever comes into State House after Sam Nujoma, must make Namibia proud. It must be like food brought in a dish by an elderly and knowledgeable person, always good. “Shawana metiti omkuluntu eshitulamo.” It is my contention that the man who occupies State House today, is a leader that even the previous President is proud of. Considering the fact that Mr Pohamba was Dr Nujoma’s own choice, Namibians all round share the same view on this matter and that is: “The right man at the right place at the right time.” We pray for his leadership: we pray for his success: we pray for his family. It could be anyone of us at that helm, and we would also be uneasy. It is a great responsibility, a great challenge, and a thankless task. We stand united behind the President during these vital four years lying before us. The Afrikaans poem “Komaan” (engl. Come on), exhorts us to work with the words: “Daar is werk. Daar is ‘n nasie te lei.” (There is work to do. A nation is waiting for leadership). Tate Kulu, Dr Sam Nujoma, has opened the sea route into the future, as did the daring explorers of old. It is up to us now to help President Hifikepunye Pohamba to find his way through the myriad of intricate and mind-boggling problem-networks waiting to be untangled, to the benefit of our people. We can now truly welcome the President into his five-year term of office. The nation is ready to make its contribution in terms of moral and physical support to our new leader, and to really prove to the world beyond that Namibia is united in thought, word and deed. It is getting late in the day, and we cannot afford to shirk. Pohamba needs us. We have to take our rightful place in the community of nations. To be able to do that, we have to put shoulder to the wheel. There are still many loose ends that need tying up. The economy needs to be put on track Unemployment is a serious problem, while education really needs big brains to be dealt with. The large number of failures entering the unemployment scene can only worsen an already critical situation. Crime is escalating by leaps and bounds, with criminal elements acquiring new and scientific methods of evading police detection or capture. Recently a dangerous drug-dealer is said to have vanished from a police station and has since evaded police capture. Our health services, although quite reasonable, still need a lot of upgrading work to bring things to the required standards of modern living. More Namibians must become involved, or better still, be assisted and trained to be entrepreneurs and become employers. Outsiders putting up shops and making Namibians labourers in a new independence situation, are not opening the eyes of the people to the opportunities of liberation, but actually saying: “You were better off during the colonial era.” Agriculture must open the opportunities of diversification and convince our rural farmers that wealth comes from the soil, and that they are sitting on it all the time, even under the trees as they drink tombo. Finally. We wish you strength and we pray for you, Mr President. May your efforts be blessed with success, and may your wishes come true in the spirit of Namibian liberation. The men and women who died, will not rest in peace if those of us left behind do not make this freedom worthwhile. Viva freedom!! And may God bless you! Andrew N. Matjila-

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