President Hage Geingob was a guest this week on Voice of America’s Straight Talk Africa programme, where he spoke to Shaka Ssali on Namibia’s path to a prosperous future and his vision for the New Africa.
First Lady Monica says you’re very sincere and it is your idea to eradicate poverty. Tell us about that.
Namibia is a rich country. Everybody says that, but inequality in Namibia is about the worst in the world [despite] a small population. I’m thinking of this vast country and it’s true it is a dry country, but with a small population like this, we shouldn’t do things half. Why should I say, halving poverty is better…? Say poverty eradication. Of course we will go step by step. I was condemned by my colleagues, asking ‘where have you ever eradicated poverty?’ After we came here to the UN we adopted [a plan to] eradicate poverty by 2030. Ours must be to eradicate poverty by 2025.
What specific steps have you taken so that people might not end up saying: ‘President Geingob is simply talking the talk, but can he really walk that walk?’
That is the problem and we discussed it at some point. We Africans have good glossy papers. We talk, but implementation is a problem. And I say that this plan, the Harambee Prosperity Plan and the first thing is governance architecture. We in Africa have a problem of accountability, because of transparency. So, I have a mathematical formula. A+T=TR. Accountability plus transparency equals trust. Africans have lost trust in many of us leaders. We’re not accountable, we’re not transparent. So first thing I did was to declare my assets.
Why did you do that?
It is not required, but some people see me in these suits and think that maybe I have a lot of money, or I have illegal money. I decided that first would be to start at the top. I’m talking about accountability and transparency, so let me be transparent. And I did that with PricewaterhouseCoopers. One guy came from America, who was part of the reviewing. I opened up, but [people] were even saying I have foreign accounts. I was UN secretariat staff and I have my credit union account, which they’re not going to close. I always bank with whatever remains there. They did their own check-up. My wife joined me too, because it was good for her to do that, but it was not to be holier than thou. It was just to start with what I’m talking about. Trying to walk the talk. I said I must be transparent, so that I can hold the others also accountable, so that they can be transparent. How can I tell the ministers to do this and that if they do not know what I have?
How have they reacted?
I discovered that you have done reasonably well in terms of alleviating poverty. You have lifted around 400 500 people from poverty. Do you think that is enough for the last 25 years that you have been politically independent? Look at Graziano da Silva, he lifted more than 20 million people from poverty in eight years.
Well, I do not know about that. Is it better to have 500 000 than zero? We have done that. It was the beginning and we’re doing it. I do not think that having zero lifting is better than 500 000. Besides it is an ongoing struggle… We’re only 26 years and we come from a different background of racial discrimination and apartheid and we have to maintain peace too.
Brazil had a bit of theirs too?
Yes, but were they oppressed that way? Were the blacks there oppressed by foreigners from outside? Namibia had whites, who came and oppressed the blacks.
Talk to me about some important decisions that you have made so far? What is the single most important decision you have made in your presidency and the single most regrettable decision?
There was tender for airport [upgrades] worth about N$7 billion and I thought there were unethical means used to award that tender. I stopped it through the ministries and, to my shock, as I was travelling here the court apparently said it was wrong. I think we may appeal that. I think I was starting with a bang. People are saying that there are no consequences in government, but then the court is saying the government was wrong in stopping this tender. The point is, tender rules are very clear. This is money coming from Treasury and you must follow the tender rules and this was not followed. Courts are independent in Namibia. I accept the court’s decision and I will appeal.
Is that something you regret?
I regret it because I want everybody to join the fight against corruption, but at the same time see it to be a very significant effort. It could have set the stage.
What does education mean to you?
Education is the greatest equaliser. Education opens all the doors and in Namibia starting with our founding president, he valued education.
What about the teachers’ strike in Namibia?
The teachers are voting [on whether to strike]. The teachers do not want to accept five percent that the government is offering. They want eight percent. After the Labour Commissioner declares a dispute, the unions must return to their members to ask whether they can withhold their labour. Government can equally withhold payment. No work, no pay.
You were a teacher, does that help you to sympathise and empathise with them?
Obviously, we do, but I also have a problem. There are those who are unemployed, who do not even get a cent to be added on five percent. Let us hold hands. While we agree with them, we’re saying, however, there are others who do not even have a cent. They’re talking of politicians getting more money and so on. Politicians were denied increments. All these years that I have been in office we didn’t increase and there is a committee dealing with this, and not us.
Many African leaders are pushing for Africa to withdraw from the ICC. What is your government’s position on that?
In Africa we must develop processes, systems and institutions, such as courts and so on. If I have those things, I must have my own courts in Africa.
… If they are transparent.
Well, let us not jump to conclusions. Our courts are transparent. They are independent. We must establish all that then we’re not going to need the international court.