Windhoek-President Hage Geingob says instead of feeling pity for himself because of the blame he gets for the current economic conditions Namibia faces, he relishes the opportunity to prove his leadership acumen and determination by steering the country out of troubled waters.
Speaking exclusively to New Era on Friday, Geingob refused to concede that his tenure came at a bad time, coupled with sharp declines in SACU revenues, devastating droughts and a global economic slowdown that has particularly negated growth in commodity-dependent nations.
The President responded with a resounding “no” to the question of whether he considered himself the country’s unluckiest head of state ever, saying the slowdown provides him with an opportunity to prove his detractors wrong.
“To the contrary, no. I tell my colleagues that we now have an opportunity to prove ourselves. What are leaders for?” he said, ahead of Independence Day tomorrow.
Namibia turns 27 years tomorrow following independence in 1990, which came as a result of diplomatic engagement and a bitter war against foreign enemies.
Geingob was appointed the country’s first prime minister in March 1990 by then President Sam Nujoma, who led the liberation struggle. Geingob – Swapo’s chief representative to the United Nations for years – also served a second stint as prime minister from late 2012 till his inauguration as the country’s third democratically elected president on March 21, 2015.
His term coincided with economic headwinds that necessitated finance minister Calle Schlettwein to review and cut the budget by a massive N$5 billion late last year, but Geingob looks at the cut positively, though he described it as a “painful” exercise.
“Great leaders must emerge from events like this,” he said.
He said his war against corruption is no fluke, neither is it a PR stunt to appease onlookers.
“I was warned by a leader in West Africa that I must be careful that if I declare war against corruption, I’d have people coming back at me,” said the President, who publicly declared his N$50 million wealth after taking office. Geingob is, by law, not required to publicly declare his assets. His wife, businesswoman Monica Geingos, also declared her wealth at the time.
“Tenders like the N$7 billion airport one, are just done without people following procedures. We can’t allow that,” he said of the tender that led to the government’s defeat in the High Court after Geingob ordered the tender to be cancelled. Government is appealing the matter in the Supreme Court.
“The airport tender was first at N$3 billion but suddenly we were told it’s at N$7 billion. And I must just watch on idly? No.”
“Look at the storage facility [at the coast]. Too many things where people are being reckless. We are not targeting anyone. We want blacks to come into the mainstream economy, but they must not take shortcuts. People must follow procedures.”
One of the notable steps Geingob took in the past two years of his presidency so far was his revamping the country’s foreign policy, in which he injected economic diplomacy with a high tempo.
“Gone are the days of cold war. We haven’t really spoken about developing the people. Our focus as countries has been on repaying countries that helped us attain our independence.”
“We are bringing in skills to negotiate with other nations to help develop our economies. Our ambassadors must be economic diplomats, not political diplomats. They must talk about trade figures, our infrastructures and facilities,” he added. Geingob used the opportunity to assure Namibians that the government is not broke as suggested in many quarters.
“I can assure Namibians that we believe in transparency. We’ll not hide anything. We realised we have economic headwinds. Oil prices going down in Angola, SACU revenues going down and foreign reserves being affected by huge international contractors who get paid in foreign currency.”
“We are already projecting that the deficit would go down by three percent. Growth would be at 2.5 percent, the highest in the region. With good rains that have come, the prospects really look good. We’ll take fair criticism but your freedom, which I fought for, ends where mine starts.”
“We are not against criticism, but we’ll defend ourselves and our families. There are elections every five years. When you are not happy with our work, you can democratically remove us,” he said in an interview wholly published in this edition.