Cups of rice after poll boycott threat

Food dished out ahead of general election

31 January 2020 | Disasters

A few cups of rice per household at Ngone village in Kavango East were enough to convince many villagers to participate in last year's general election, after many had planned on boycotting it because of what they perceived as selective distribution of drought aid.

Prior to that, rice was only distributed to a few identified vulnerable homesteads in the village – a decision which drew the ire of equally desperate members of the same community.

Rice was distributed a week before the nation went to the polls, distributors confirmed.

Aggrieved members of the community who spoke to Namibian Sun, including Ngone village headman Gervasius Shampapi (82), said the manner in which food aid is distributed at the village leaves much to be desired.

They allege that the food is always delivered in the evening around 19:00 at the house of the Ngone village development committee (VDC) chairperson Fillomine Haikera, whom they accuse of distributing the food to those who are in her good books.

The headman also claimed that he was being sidelined when food arrived at the village. In the past he was always invited when the food was offloaded and tallied, he said.

“Why must the food be distributed at her house and why should it be in the evening? People are hungry and they are asking me to address the issues but what can I do if those who are sending the food don't make an effort to say I must be included in the process and see who is benefiting,” Shampapi said.

When Namibian Sun visited Haikera's homestead, she confirmed that the rice was measured out with a tin cup but denied allegations of favouritism.

Haikera said 53 ten-kilogram bags of rice, boxes of tinned fish and bottles of cooking oil had arrived from the Rundu Rural constituency office and were meant for only 53 beneficiaries - 10 severely vulnerable members of the community and 43 others living with disabilities

She explained that the food was meant to be distributed in such a way that each family received a 10 kg bag of rice, four tins of fish and a bottle of cooking oil.

But things did not go as planned after other community members threatened to boycott the election unless they received some of the food.

Haikera said it was on that basis that she decided to cut open the bags of rice and use a cup to divide it according to the number of people in a household. Ngone village is home to 198 households.

“It is true that the rice was distributed using a cup which is equivalent to one kilogram. Some people got five cups of rice while some others got three. It was not supposed to be like that as the food was only meant for the 53 identified people but the people insisted and threatened that they would not take part in the election, which was a week away,” Haikera said.

Haikera said another consignment of drought-relief food from the government and the Red Cross Society of Namibia was delivered to her homestead in December.

The Red Cross consignment consisted of 53 ten-kilogram bags of maize meal, boxes of tinned beans, tinned fish, salt and cooking oil, while the government consignment consisted of 63 bags of maize meal, boxes of tinned fish and cooking oil.

She said the December distribution went well because only those who had registered and had the necessary documents received food.

“The issue was just with the November rice but from there on, everything went well in December,” she said.

Haikera said what happened in November was regrettable but understandable in view of the fact that everyone was affected by the drought and the food aid was not enough.

“I hope government will take stock of what happens when only a few are selected from a community which is affected severely by hunger and poverty,” she said.

When contacted for comment, Rundu Rural constituency councillor Michael Shikongo said he was aware of the incident but it was the decision of the VDC and the people of Ngone village.

“What I know is that only 10 households in Ngone used to benefit but this time around some of the villagers stood up and said they wanted to benefit and wanted the rice to be distributed in a cup. By law it is not allowed,” Shikongo said.

Shikongo admitted that the food aid is not enough.

He said more than 14 000 people who met government criteria had registered for drought relief but they were informed that the government could only cater for 1 900.

He said what made matters worse was that the Rundu Rural Constituency inherited nine new villages during the split of the former Kavango Region, which brought the total number of villages in the constituency to 37.