However, as the years wore on, and with historical events exposing us to taking certain policy positions, including but not limited to the war in the DRC in 1998 and the crisis in Zimbabwe since the last decade, our political rhetoric became inconsistent with the values that we tried to promote in our domestic order.
Zimbabwe and our involvement in the DRC seem to have accentuated and created a toxic environment in which our foreign policy started to radicalise without any strategic objectives for the country. Within the context of such radicalisation, we seem to have shifted our mindsets and interests articulation to and through some of the most totalitarian and authoritarian regimes such as North Korea (totalitarian) and China (authoritarian) as models for inspiration. Within the SADC region, we chose to fail at all cost with an erratic Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe as a result of liberation alliances.
These models seem to have done damage to our internal democratic order, and shifted our liberal political order as espoused in our constitution to a security-mindset rooted in damaging Cold War paranoia. First, the security mindset has become visible in the manner in which the state tries to manage the public space as evidenced by significant increases in the intelligence budget, and the purchase of sophisticated equipment to tap into citizen conversations. Just like their Chinese or North Korean counterparts, we now have Namibian citizens who are scared of having sound and unsound cellphone conversations. While phone tapping may not be a pervasive activity, the paranoia has become entrenched. An insecure State thrives on it. Second, we have symbolically caved into this mindset by erecting buildings, including a concrete-laden State House whose instincts intone pervasive security considerations. Every other parastatal has now been classified within the security mindset to which many competent Namibians would have to be vetted and ultimately excluded. This is just one part of reflections about political bruises that emerged as a result of uncritical engagement with regimes of the China type.
Even if the 2006 China African Policy articulated partly through the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) speak emptily of sincerity, mutual respect and peaceful development, China’s economic relations with Namibia have become one of the most contested aspects of our bilateral foreign relations. The aggressive nature of China and its involvement in our socio-economic life has come to represent a cactus and a source of tension and friction for our political economy, in which the ordinary Namibian citizen (and not the connected politician with a daughter with a Chinese scholarship) has become the first casualty. As such, Namibians of all walks of life have now come to view China’s presence with suspicion and disdain. This suspicion is not the result of uncritical China-bashing or turning China into a punching bag. Much of it has substance given what ordinary citizens observe and live through on a daily basis. If the French had come to dominate and loot every lucrative aspect of life in post-colonial Francophone Africa, China had pushed the envelope further by sending its uneducated citizens to perform manual labor on government tenders; its businessmen running cuca-shop style outlets at our national university and cheap retail shops in various parts of the country. Yet, we expect South African companies to do deals voluntarily through unofficial BEE rhetoric and charters. Chinese state owned companies seem exempted from these requirements and now shockingly dominate the construction industry and other areas of procurement through government tenders without any substantive benefits to Namibians, apart from the (sometimes) defective buildings and price inflated scanners of the Teko type. To the detriment of progressive governance, corruption has become institutionalised in some of these practices.
This ugly part of the China-Namibia relationship does present threats and not boons to our national interests. It is not helpful for government to be in denial and try to deflect attention from what is undoubtedly one of the biggest threats to the indigenisation of the Namibian economy, and efforts at dealing with unemployment. If the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry pronounced itself as it did a few months ago on the Chinese presence and practices, it is incumbent upon government to defend the interests of Namibian businesses and citizens. It should not waver in its commitment to Namibians. China does not waver in its economic commitments to its citizens and national interests. It is the therefore urgent for the Minister of Trade and Industry, Hage Geingob, to move out of the slumber when it comes to amendments to the outdated Foreign Investment Act and protect Namibia with urgency. It is long overdue. Every Namibian politician should find it abnormal for houses in a poor country with 51 per cent unemployment to be built by the Chinese!
China for its part must also realize that its business practices could be met by indifference by the ruling elite - but the palpable tensions with the local populations are not in its strategic interests. Its actions could undermine the positive aspects of an important relationship. China should therefore as a matter of policy, review practices that undermine local efforts at dealing with Namibia’s critical challenges, including local ownership of the Namibian economy and chronic unemployment. If China is to be seen as a responsible emerging power, it must ground its foreign policy into ethical concerns and a positive-sum game. The adverse will not only be costly to the official Namibia-China relationship – it is potentially starting to cast China as reckless neo-colonial power, albeit of a different type.