Ohangwena Region has a large population of San residents and efforts are being made to integrate these marginalised Namibians into the broader society. Despite these efforts, a large portion of San people in Ohangwena still live a semi-nomadic life. This has partly contributed to the large number of people living below the poverty line, with unemployment, teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse and illiteracy the dominant problems here.
Despite all the challenges, over the past five years the region’s education sector showed significant improvement, ranking third in the country in terms of the Grade 10 pass rate. The region’s road network system has also drastically improved in recent years.
New Era Northern Bureau Chief Helvy Shaanika recently interviewed Ohangwena Regional Governor Usko Nghaamwa and asked about the challenges and developmental prospects of the region.
Some community members in your region complain that they are not kept abreast with what is happening in the region. Could you please share with us what are the ongoing developmental projects in Ohangwena?
First and foremost, it is not true that people in my region are not briefed about what is happening in the region. I engage my people, from my constituency councillors, to headmen, to schoolchildren. In fact, I take it upon myself to go out in the communities and hold meetings to discuss social and developmental issues facing our region.
On the developmental projects, we have quite a number of capital projects and projects by individual businesspeople. Let me start with the roads. We have Onhuno-Endola-Okatana and Omugwelume-Oshakati roads that are being upgraded to a bitumen surface.
A new gravel road, Etomba-Omundaungilo is also under construction as we speak. Because we decided that this project should be a labour-based project, Etomba-Omundaungilo road has employed quite a number of youth. Via this road, a number of schools and clinics in the area will also be accessible.
We’re also upgrading and modernising Onhuno-Eenhana road. We’re going to make it wider. Other than that, the gravel road – Oshikango-Edundja-Etomba-Eembaxu road – will also be also upgraded to bitumen surface. There will be also a new road that will be constructed from Onhuno passing through Ohangwena to Oshikango. These are the immediate projects. We have more in the pipeline.
You have only mentioned roads, how about youth projects that directly address youth development and employment creation?
Ohangwena Region is one of the regions in this country that has produced quite a number of professional people. In this region alone we have quite a number of medical doctors. We have produced lawyers, we have produced youth across various careers and professions. In terms of performance [Grade 10], we are third in the country, which means our youth are not doing badly.
Having said that, Eembaxu Development Centre, which is currently under construction, will train youth in various vocational disciplines. We are also busy upgrading Eemheke Factory that will manufacture different types of oil and greasy substances.
Other than that, we have Eenhana Vocational Training Centre, which trains youth, including those with skills who do not have qualifications and professional know-how. We have quite a lot of people that know carpentry, as well as electricians and welders that are self-taught. We have evening classes for these people. This will give them an advantage and expand their businesses, as they will have documents to prove that they can indeed do the job.
According to the 2001 and 2011 National Census, Ohangwena Region ranked within the top five regions in the country in terms of people living under the poverty line. The region also has a high rate of unemployment. What are the main contributing factors to poverty in Ohangwena?
The major cause of poverty and unemployment in this region is the school dropout [problem] at Grade 10 and 12. Of course we’re number three when it comes to Grade 10 performance, but let us face the fact, if you have 8 000 children sitting for Grade 10 examinations and 50 percent passes, it means you have 4 000 children going straight to the street in one year. This number will just add to those that have been accumulating over the years and you should expect more the following year.
The cause of unemployment in Ohangwena is nothing but lack of education. We do not have medical doctors and lawyers from this region in the streets. We don’t have people with qualifications that are unemployed. This [problem] has not yet reached our region.
Do you now have any solution or intervention to this problem?
This is the reason why I have taken it upon myself to visit schools and seriously address it during community meetings. I have also tasked my councilors and traditional leaders so that all of us can preach the issue of commitment towards education.
Your region is one of few regions in the country that have a large number of marginalised San people. What are you doing to address their plight?
Marginalised communities are cared for by the Office of the Prime Minister. It is, however, unfortunate that they do not get food as regularly as they should be getting, because sometimes food arrives to them really late. But in my own view, food assistance is an immediate thing. The San community can only be integrated into the society if we start with the children.
Children at a very young age need to be taken to boarding schools far from their parents, where they will mingle with children from other tribes.
For example, San children in Eenhana or Okongo need to be taken to a boarding school in Omaruru, because if they are just in Okongo they will not improve. They will continue to be influenced by their parents every day, because they live with them.
We need to build boarding schools so that these children can see and get inspired by children of the Caprivian, Damara, Ovawambo, Ovaherero, Kavango and children from other tribes. We need to do this so that as the parents’ generation is being phased out, the young generation will emerge with a different mindset.
Are you saying San people cannot take care of themselves?
No, I’m saying San people are just victims of colonialism. Yes, we were all colonised but the enemy colonised people differently. San people are hardworking people, because if you employ them, or if you give them work to do, they will do it properly.
Our problem as a society is that we isolate them and don’t give them serious responsibilities. We continue to make them feel as if they are inferiors. For example, you will find someone finding San people [living] in a certain village, and that person will [just] take over as headman. Instead of you honouring the people that you have found at the place, you become their master.
And Oshiwambo men that make babies with San women, instead of taking their children and bringing them up, like all of their children, they leave them with their San mothers to languish in poverty. This should stop. If you make a baby with a San woman, take responsibility, bring up the child together with your other children and send the child to school.
If you go to Okongo you will also find some men from other tribes sleeping with under-aged San girls. This is a crime and these people should be punished heavily, because they are taking advantage of the most vulnerable members of society.
And finally is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I just want to address the issue of young people insulting leaders. People should respect their leaders. In every country, the president is the Head of the State. It does not matter whether he is as educated as you are, or not educated, rich or poor. He should be respected. This thing of insulting national leaders on SMS and Facebook is indiscipline. Apparently it is democracy. What democracy? That is pure indiscipline.