By Griffin K Nyirongo
Some 26 years ago in a crowded Dublin public place, I met a group of four young Namibian men who, like me, were pursuing studies in Ireland.
After some self-introduction, the bond of friendship was cemented there and then. This friendship extended to my empathising with the plight my new-found friends were in. Unlike me, they were in exile, a result of apartheid South Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia. I was to learn later that all the four had at one time passed through Zambia.
I recall how, with my Namibian friends, together with other activists from South Africa, Ireland and other African nations, participated in the successful picketing of a large Irish supermarket chain to protest against their importing fresh fruits from apartheid South Africa.
My participation in the protest was done in the true spirit of Zambia’s total commitment to the liberation struggle.
My link to Namibia had begun when, as a student activist at the University of Zambia, I attended several public lectures on the liberation struggle, some of which were addressed by Swapo representatives, and through reading the Swapo publication ‘Namibia Today’.
Little did I know that some 23 years or so later, I would serve as my country’s representative to the ‘Land of the Brave’ but by the grace of our Lord, it is an honour that was bestowed upon me and that I will greatly cherish. Upon completion of my studies, I left my Namibian brothers who still had some years to go in their studies. I was later to be reunited with one of them when he travelled to Zambia shortly after Namibia’s independence.
Unfortunately, he was no more when I arrived in Namibia to take up my appointment as Zambia’s High Commissioner to Namibia on August 8, 2005. He, together with another one of the four had since passed on. May their souls rest in eternal peace.
The bond of friendship nevertheless continued with the remaining two. Somehow, I kept track of them and we communicated intermittently. In 2003 I met one of them, not in Namibia, not in Zambia but of all places in Paris. I have since my tour of duty in Namibia been in close contact.
My stay in Namibia has been very memorable. Namibians are truly friendly and sincere people. As a Zambian, I have found that the bonds of friendship are cemented instantaneously the moment you meet, a truism that I learnt 26 years ago in Dublin. It is because of this bond of friendship that my work in Namibia was made easier and enjoyable.
It is no doubt that the deepening in relations between the two countries has greatly benefited from the rapport that exists between our two Heads of State.
There are a number of high points that where either initiated, concluded or on which significant progress was made during my tenure that I will treasure as contributing immensely in growing the relations between Zambia and Namibia.
One example of this is the memorable State visit by His Excellency Dr Levy Mwanawasa to Namibia in 2007 during which he was also guest of honour at Namibia’s 17th independence anniversary. It was during that visit that the ‘Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of Dry Port Facility at Walvis Bay’ was signed.
This agreement is an important lifeline to enhancing the development of trade corridors in the SADC region.
The inauguration of the 220 KV transmission line from Victoria Falls in Zambia to Katima Mulilo in March this year was another highlight in the furtherance of economic ties between the tw0 states.
Between 2004 and 2006 trade between the two countries grew from US$15.1 million to US$17.2m with the balance of trade in Zambia’s favour. I am certain that with the increase in the export of maize to Namibia the trade volumes will continue to grow.
Zambia is geared to becoming the grain basket of the SADC region and hence we need to open up new markets for our grain.
The first-ever Zambia Trade Day in Windhoek was held in March 2007. The event coincided with His Excellency Levy P Mwanawasa’s State visit to Namibia in March and was aimed at introducing and promoting Zambian exports into the Namibian market. One-on-one meetings between Zambian exporters and Namibian importers were held and a mini-exhibition showcasing Zambian products was on display.
I am happy to note that a follow up visit was made in April 2008 from which I am definite that concrete orders will materialise. Furthermore, it is planned that a full complement of Zambian exhibitors will participate at this years’ Windhoek Agricultural Show.
We also had the first-ever tourism road show in August 2006. In collaboration with the Zambia National Tourism Board (ZNTB), a promotional road show to promote linkages between Zambian and Namibia tour operators was held in Windhoek. This has been followed up with the participation, for the very first time, by the Zambia National Tourism Board at this year’s Tourism Expo in Windhoek.
Through such initiatives, Zambian and Namibian operators are being encouraged to promote tourist attraction in each other’s country and offer packages that include visits to both Zambia and Namibia. In this vein, I would like to encourage airlines in both countries to continue with discussions to introduce direct flights between the two nations as part of their contribution to promote tourism in and between Zambia and Namibia.
It is my hope that the discussions that we have started in this regard will soon bear fruit. Critical to this is the conclusion of the Bilateral Air Service Agreement which is still being discussed.
Significant progress has been made with regard to the Zambia Namibia Joint Venture Agriculture Project (ZANAP), which aims at producing agricultural produce for the two countries. The land for the project has been identified at Sesheke and the feasibility report of the project is being considered in the two capitals. The project entails production on the Zambian side and processing plants to be set up in both Zambia and Namibia.
On people to people interaction, the launch of the Zambia-Namibia Express bus service in March, 2005 has increased the visits to and from Zambia and vice versa. The bus, which serves the Lusaka-Windhoek route, parks at a parking lot across the Chancery of the High Commission and is most of the time full.
I enjoyed, whenever time permitted, standing on the balcony of the Chancery to watch the passengers and their cargo loading onto the bus.
There have also been low points during my tour of duty.
Recognising the lows will enable us to improve upon our approaches in addressing them in future. One of the low points of my tenure is the non-existence of a Namibia-Zambia friendship association through which the two countries’ historical bonds that have its roots in the liberation struggle would be passed on from generation to generation.
We must pre-empt a situation where the heroic contribution of Zambia to the liberation of Namibia is lost with the passing on of those who lived through the struggle.
I implore all progressive citizens of Namibian and Zambians in Namibia to seriously look into setting up such a forum.
There are a lot of Zambians professionals and others working here in Namibia, who together with the significant number of Namibians who made Zambia their second home, could form the nucleus of a Namibia-Zambia friendship association.
The continued commitment of cross-border criminal activities, albeit reduced, by some of our countrymen is another low in our relations. Stock thefts on either side of the border have continued.
We should continue to sensitise our communities on the common border on the need to eradicate criminal activities. Our communities along our common border need to be alerted to the consequences of illicit activities and implored upon to report such activities to the authorities.
On the whole, my family and I leave with fond memories of Namibia. It is indeed the land of contrasts, beautiful scenic contrasts if I may add. The diplomatic community has been very supportive of one another and through their cooperation and friendship one’s job is made easier.
The various government, public and private institutions, including the media, always have their doors open and thus enormously contribute to one being able to conduct his/her work in a very conducive environment and with minimal obstructions.
I can only attribute this enabling environment to President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s openness, humbleness and sincerity, for which I say thank you and may the good Lord continue blessing him and the Namibian nation.
Notwithstanding this, there are issues outstanding that need expediting for the benefit of our two sister countries.
To the Zambian community, it is my hope and prayer that you remain united and continue to be one another’s keeper. To the wonderful people of the ‘Land of the Brave’, your welcoming and infectious smiles will forever remain embedded on our hearts. It is our sincere prayer that the Glory of the Lord will shine upon this land.
– The author was, until a week ago, Zambia’s High Commissioner to Namibia.