Listening to president Hage Geingob’s new year’s message, the question remains: Will 2024 be another year of promises or one of delivery?
To be fair, the verdict is pending.
We will know more in a year from now.
But what we can predict with some degree of certainty is that Geingob will then again not shy away from singing his own praises.
Indeed, comrade president, and admittedly so, a lasting drought, a world market with unfavourable prices for Namibian primary commodities and the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic have created unforeseen challenges beyond your control.
But putting the blame only on external factors is a weak excuse for crisis management, which has left the marginalised at the margins.
You confidently claim that Namibia will be better off when you leave office.
Let’s contrast this with a fact check:
- Namibia remains the second-most unequal society in the world.
- The annual average per capita income has not yet returned to 2015’s levels.
- Government debt to gross domestic product rose from 25% in 2014 to 70% now.
- The country’s unemployment, in particular among the younger generations, is higher than ever.
Almost half of the population is fighting poverty, hoping to secure a decent daily life without fear of hunger.
Children face malnutrition and stunted development. Some have starved to death. This is a national disgrace.
High inflation rates have catapulted basic food commodity prices to exorbitant heights. Ordinary families battle to make ends meet. Promises of a better future gloss over the harsh realities most people are facing.
Maybe, comrade president, you should just take N$200 and a shopping basket, visiting one of the grocery stores in town. Try with such limited means to purchase enough to prepare a decent meal for a five-person family – and forget about a bottle of wine.
With a daily subsistence and travel allowance – notably without any expenses required – exceeding multiple times the average monthly income of ordinary Namibians, you would be up for a surprise.
You claimed that N$3 billion were spent on drought relief between 2016 and 2019.
In contrast, over N$10 billion are required per year only for interest rates servicing debt.
Without explaining where the money should come from, you confidently express the hope to increase the monthly old-age pension to N$2 000, if not even N$3 000 before leaving office.
You claimed the year made “giant steps to collective prosperity”. You filled 10 minutes with a preposterously triumphant hymn.
Stating that under your 10-year presidency the country will be in better shape means, in fact, that it has recovered to some extent from the shocks since 2015.
You could legitimately claim some credit for this. But don’t invent more.
Namibians deserve better than an annual ritual of a self-appraisal out of touch with realities, bordering on a mixture of fantasy and wishful thinking.
Statesmanship requires modesty and a sense of reality as regards the living conditions of ordinary people – including those who cannot afford a TV set and have no energy supply to watch your televised speech.
The declared “march towards shared prosperity” will at best remain a long one.
The stated commitment to hold hands should reach out to the poor, not the rich.
So rather explain how the expected long-term economic boost thanks to the exploitation of the natural wealth by foreign companies would trickle down to ordinary people on the ground.
The ‘Year of Expectations’ as “a new beginning for the Namibian house” should lay the sustainable foundation for flat buildings providing shelter.
To allow all Namibians a decent, dignified life in security, it should not be a gated community for the prosperity of a minority, as a protected island in a sea of poverty and destitution.
Claiming “giant steps” having been taken under your leadership and guidance during 2023 borders on megalomania, seeking to construct a myth.
As so often, seeing is believing.
You are sharing the lionskin before hunting.
If you deliver on your promises, the praise is well deserved. Otherwise, your speech remains just a populist blunder.
Comrade president, please stop building castles in the air and get real.
You have 15 months left to build a proper and reliable legacy, based on the realistic assessment of your period in office.
Nobody will blame you for showing integrity by being realistically modest.
You may have wanted more, but be satisfied with what you have and what you have not achieved.
*Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974. He was the director of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit from 1992 to 2000.
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