Below are selected parts of President Hage Geingob’s speech yesterday at the opening of the second Swapo Party policy conference, currently underway in Windhoek. The conference – which kicked off on Sunday – ends on Thursday.
Namibia not a sinking ship
When I look at the current state of the SWAPO Party, I am filled with a sense of optimism. Across our continent, there are individuals and groups who have always propagated Afro pessimism, or the notion that sub-Saharan Africa is a region too riddled with problems for effective governance and economic development. Lately, Afro pessimism has taken a new shape and has entered the Namibian narrative under the guise of activism. We now find what I term Namibia pessimists, who in their assessment of the state of our country, consistently paint a picture of Namibia as a sinking ship and feel personally offended when the statistics prove that Namibia is a country on the march. I have always been an Afro optimist and a Namibia optimist. Fortunately, the world agrees with me and the statistical evidence proves me right. Namibia is cited by various international reports and media as a shining example of good political and economic governance.
Economic emancipation high on agenda
On the domestic front, we have our Vision 2030 policy which outlines our aspirations to become an industrialised nation by 2030. This vision is supported by our National Development Plans and the Harambee Prosperity Plan, which is aimed at fast-tracking our progress towards 2030 and beyond.
It is, therefore, pertinent that SWAPO becomes a party that is at the forefront of the movement towards economic emancipation, just as it was at the forefront of the movement towards political independence. This requires that we change with the times and I am fully confident that due to the fact that we have always been a party which is progressive in its approach and political philosophy, we shall meet these challenges.
Party has faith in the youth
I am encouraged when I witness the constant rejuvenation of the SWAPO Party through our youth structures. This gives me confidence that SWAPO Party is a party on the move. At party level, the party has always reinvented itself by promoting young people. SWAPO has always depended on the youth – be it at political or military level. Some of us joined SWAPO when we were 20 years old before moving on to firmer positions in our political development.
Following independence, the practice of promoting the youth has been continued by the government leadership. Youth leaders who show potential and promise are filtered through the system by being given exposure as members of parliament or as deputy minsters. We have youthful deputy ministers like Peya Mushelenga, Juliet Kavetuna, Bernadus Swaartbooi, Natangwe Ithete, Kornelia Shilunga, Lucia Iipumbu, Christine //Hoebes, to name a few. Some others have been promoted to full ministerial positions, for example Pohamba Shifeta, Albert Kawana, Pendukeni Ithana, Netumbo Ndaitwah, Uutoni Nujoma. They were once all deputy ministers and moved on to become ministers. Comrade Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila was a director general at the National Planning Commission who later became minister of finance and is now prime minister.
The Swapo Party Youth League has always been an embryo through which the young political revolutionaries are groomed. This is where the young people’s political teeth are sharpened. Today, we have young comrades like Veikko Nekundi, who is also an MP now, Mandela Kapere, Tomas Indji, Armas Amukwiyu, Erkki Endjala, Festus Ueitele, Henock Kankoshi, and many others who are following in the footsteps of their predecessors to become the leaders of tomorrow. The SWAPO Party school is a welcome development in ensuring that comrades understand the constitution and ideology of the party they represent.
Disagreeing to agree
Like all organizations, we are bound to have disagreements from time to time. This is human nature. SWAPO’s culture is that while we may disagree internally through party structures, it is not our nature to disagree outside and through the press. It is appropriate for us to discuss the strengthening of party platforms to air and resolve grievances.
I regret that there is no paper that is dealing with inner party matters. For instance, I would have thought we would deal with the pressing issue of elections within SWAPO and procedures for the vetting of cadres. Currently, we have experienced several situations in which cadres have been elected in their regions only to be removed after intervention from SWAPO Headquarters. Comrades, this is sending out a bad signal with regard to our inner party democracy. I am not saying that we should not vet cadres but let us put criteria upfront rather than have Headquarters take decisions that may potentially go against the wishes of our people. I feel that this is a matter which warrants interrogation during this conference because honest self-reflection is a key requirement of ensuring we remain true to our core values.
Country is not mismanaged
Firstly, ruling parties often become irrelevant because of economic issues. I would, therefore, like to see more robust debate on the economy. In particular, I would like us to dispel the notion portrayed by our enemies that the country is being mismanaged, that it is bankrupt and on the verge of collapse. For example, when Fitch released its assessment of the Namibian economy, a perception was created that our rating was downgraded. That was never the case; Fitch merely changed its medium outlook about the Namibian economy from stable to negative. Government has already instituted mitigating measures to ensure that we weather the storm of declining revenues and the impact of the commodities downturn. That is why in the Harambee Prosperity Plan we deliberately use the phrase that we must protect our fiscal sovereignty at all costs. This is something that the SWAPO Party has always protected. That is why we have steered away from borrowing money from Bretton Woods institutions. We have seen the devastating effects that loss of fiscal sovereignty has had on many African economies through structural adjustment programs. This shall and will not happen to Namibia under the watch of the SWAPO Party government.
No deviation from NEEEF
One of the most renowned economists, Joseph Stiglitz, says that the only sustained prosperity is a shared prosperity. As SWAPO Party we are very much aware of this truth. This is why we have adopted the slogan of “No one should feel left out”, and why we talk of inclusive economic growth. When prosperity only benefits a few, it can never be sustainable. Let me also clarify my position on the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework [NEEEF]. The development and passing of NEEEF is a SWAPO Party resolution. We will never deviate from the principle of a more equitable economy. Suggestions that I do not support NEEEF cannot be further from the truth. I merely questioned our approach on one aspect of NEEEF, namely the ownership pillar. I have also invited those who are against NEEEF to submit their proposals on how to address the income gap in Namibia. The truth is that despite progress, Namibia remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Let us therefore hold hands and see how best to reduce this and other divides in our society.
Hunger of the stomach
Let me refer to the paper on Food Security in Namibia. My key observation from the paper is that the government has put a lot of money into the green schemes. However the results presented in the paper suggest huge leakages both in terms of production as well as job creation. Even during harvest time, government green schemes do not employ a lot of people. First and foremost, we should interrogate whether Namibia really gets value for money from the green scheme. Could food security be improved by involving the private sector through smart reforms, instead of letting government shoulder the burden alone? The Harambee Prosperity Plan suggests that the maize triangle be integrated into the green scheme concept. The green scheme however focuses on irrigation agriculture, whereas in the maize triangle the focus is on rain-fed crop production. Could farmers in the maize triangle and other areas with similar features be incentivized to plant more through smart interventions to mitigate some of the risks associated with rain-fed crop production?