Otjinene settlement is surrounded by the largest constituency in the Omaheke Region and equally boasts the largest cattle population of all the Omaheke communal areas. It is not coincidental that the settlement was the first to be proclaimed as village council from among the five targeted by the government’s decentralization drive.
Since the settlement moved along to proclamation, the village council has vigorously promoted development and mounted numerous schemes to this effect. Among the projects undertaken is their Annual Agricultural and Industrial Expo that has ever since attracted investors to the village for the last three years. Many corporates, semi-state and non-state actors have over the years flocked to the settlement in search of business opportunities and many have found some potential leads to explore, while industrial and other plots have sold like hot cakes, albeit at a pace that some regard as sluggish at best.
An added advantage to the promising expansion of business opportunities is the tar road that branches off the Trans Kalahari Highway at Gobabis to link with Grootfontein in the chest of the country. This road was completed in 2017 and was recently commissioned by Namibia’s Head of State. This road was planned and budgeted for over twenty years back, but funds had to be redirected to other projects, much to the dismay and consternation of the Omaheke and Otjozondjupa residents.
In the end the regions celebrated a happy ending and the road is now fully operational, cutting the distance between Otjinene and Grootfontein to just 228 kilometres. This road has also reduced the distance between Gobabis and Grootfontein via Windhoek with a staggering 280 kilometres. That in itself is a huge positive and many motorists, heavy duty drivers in particular, those who travel from South Africa, cannot appreciate enough what this means to their business, personal safety of the drivers and from the hassles of traffic offence fines along the road.
This year’s expo was regarded as rather low-key compared to the preceding two. It got off to a slow start and the Saturday activities on the premises were sidetracked by the horse racing event ten kilometres outside the village. Komberetha jo Muramba was doing her final race as the horse was officially retiring and you had to be insensitive not to witness that historic event.
The day culminated in a big bash that brought together the combination of the regular expo revelers and those who came only for the horse racing. And the evening showcased reputed names in the music industry, the likes of Big Ben, The Dogg, Ongoro noMundu and Diop. The highlight of the expo was the small and large stock shows on display from farmers across the Omaheke, Erongo and Otjozondjupa regions.
The mainstay of the large stock was the Brahman breed while the show was stolen by the Feld Master, Dorper and Damara sheep on the small stock side. From the results obtained and the prizes scooped, it seems that Namibia’s communal farmers are of age and they compete favorably with the commercial farmers for placing the best products on the market.
The Omaheke Regional Council has for yeas prepared a number of settlements for proclamation and to this effect in 2003 the council organized consultative workshops as prelude. One such initiative was termed “The Change Project of the Omaheke Regional Council”. A series of workshops took place in Otjinene, Epukiro, Otjombinde, Khoridor Number 13 and Aminuis. The workshops started with a two-day consultation in Otjinene with Governor Veendapi McLeod of Omaheke leading the drive. McLeod opened the meeting with the message that the challenges facing Omaheke were enormous and the solutions had to come from the people of Omaheke themselves, with assistance from the government and elsewhere, not the converse.
I participated in this exercise as private consultant to the project. I developed the conceptual framework and roadmap, the speaking notes for the principal actors, facilitated the workshops and crafted the final reports.
My conclusion after all these was that the exercise was plausible, albeit with attendant challenges such as the infrastructure that was in a state of disrepair. The three schools were the hardest hit and to date not much has changed. Utility bills were unpaid and this was not happening inadvertently. There was tenuous commitment on the part of the communities to the facilities of the settlements and this situation seems to have persisted to date. Some of these settlements had no functioning settlement committees and those that had, the committees often lacked purpose.
It seems that the Otjinene Village Council grapples with most if not all of the challenges that were articulated in 2003. It is caught between a rock and a hard place. Council must generate income from the local economy in order to provide needed services, but the community remains reluctant to contribute rates and taxes. The alternative is for the village council to entice investors and the drive is on. Otjinene has moved along steadily and the current breed of councillors and their development personnel seem engaged in a hard mission. Only time will tell how the Otjinene development project will unfold and progress.