AFRICA is a continent that reduces a good number of its people to hopelessness. There is always that strong sense of the impossibility – following a minimalist approach to issues of development.
This sense of hopelessness has been created and sustained, mainly, by African governments and their rulers. And the question that ordinary Africans and concerned outsiders always ask: why is it that the richest continent should have a lot of the poorest people in the world? Why should a 10-year-old child go hungry in oil-rich Gabon, oil-rich Nigeria, oil-rich Sudan, diamond-rich Botswana, gold-rich South Africa or uranium-rich Namibia? But recently our Minister of Information, Joel Kaapanda, when lashing at The Namibian newspaper said in the context of Namibia, that the country was on course.
What I want to raise here today are some of the questions of our time. The first and perhaps the most crucial is how do you celebrate the birthdays of most of our leaders especially the top brass while at the same time we let others die of hunger?
What do I mean? A year or so ago, our President Hifikepunye Pohamba came out strongly against the Basic Income Grant (BIG) for unemployed Namibians and others to be made universal in the whole country. Pohamba made what should now have become his most dishonourable statement since he became President of the country. But it is not just Pohamba – also some other ruling party politicians.
Every year all the newspapers are usually inundated with messages from well-wishers across the length and breadth of the country wishing our leaders good health and a long life. Some papers usually carry special supplements just dedicated to birthday’s wishes. Close to 90 per cent of all these messages would come from government ministries, regional and local councils and parastatals around the country – even the loss making parastatals.
Now perhaps what President Pohamba and others don’t know is that all those messages don’t get published in newspapers for free. They cost money and a lot of it. A full-page advert can cost anything between N$9 000 to N$11 000 depending on the colour and newspaper in question. But that’s the range. And these ads don’t just go to one paper but a number of them. And we do this every year, and not just for Nujoma but for the top leadership of Swapo/Government – Pohamba, Nahas Angula, and Hage Geingob among a host of others. To be fair, Pohamba has openly called for a stop to this practice, but it is besides the point.
Putting all this extravagant spending together, we are probably talking about a couple of million in taxpayer money being spent to wish the leaders happy birthdays. Personally I have no problem with private individuals spending their money on this. But to public money, I say no. This is morally unjustified and unnecessary – after all, life is precious whatever one’s station in life.
The point is that this money which is spent on useless ventures must be put to better use, including paying for the BIG project that Pohamba and others are rejecting outright. A N$100 in contemporary Namibia is peanuts but it can still make a difference in someone’s life.
Coming back to the Pohamba statement: ‘We cannot dish out money for free to people who do nothing’. It’s hard to believe that such a statement would have come from someone elected to lead a country unless, of course, he has forgotten the role of leadership. A leader is supposed to provide direction and vision and these very people who have voted you into power are in need of a direction. When he was President, Nujoma, said Namibia was going to follow the ‘Swedish Model’. We have seen nothing like that. Instead we are travelling in a totally different direction – maybe we don’t even have a direction at all.
It seems like the early promises of ‘milk and honey’ for all come independence is now fading away for many. Instead President Pohamba and his administration are consolidating a pure class-based society. And no one beside the elite is benefiting from the country’s resources. Thus contemporary Namibian society now revolves around theft of public resources by a few, corruption in higher places, money and power. It also revolves around symbolism, populist rhetoric rather than substance – a lot of talking and no action.
In the meantime, the bewildered masses are wondering what has happened to their country. They are jobless, landless, homeless, poor and hungry. And in the middle of the harsh Namibian winter the poor will take the beating. Namibia is thus increasingly becoming a country that is unable to provide for the basic necessities to the majority of its population. Those are the classic characteristics of a failed state.