Chewing on the tobacco politics

21 June 2019 | Opinion

There has been much ado about the envisaged Chinese-backed Zambezi tobacco project since it was first mooted many years ago.

This week secretary to cabinet, George Simataa, was at pains to explain why government has now given the green light for the initiative.

He said this was due to the envisaged socio-economic benefits it would bring to the region and Namibia at large.

Simaata said the project is anticipated to create 7 120 permanent jobs, as well as temporary jobs during harvesting seasons.

He added the 10 000 hectares will be subdivided into 2 500 hectares each and be utilised on a rotational basis for maize, animal fodder, tobacco and the construction of factories, offices and operational units, such as warehouses, a water reservoir of 60 000 cubic metres, accommodation facilities, a clinic, a school and roads within the plantation.

Among the objectors are former health ministers, the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement and the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN), with the latter calling on cabinet to “rethink” its approval.

CAN said it had cited concerns, such as the severe consequences for the environment and the people of Namibia.

It said further that the project contravenes agreements concluded with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Largely lost in the smokey haze has been the role of prominent politicians in the saga.

Swapo Oshikoto regional coordinator Armas Amukwiyu is the local partner in Namibia Oriental Tobacco, while land reform minister Utoni Nujoma apparently facilitated a cabinet presentation by the Chinese investors in June last year.

Although Amukwiyu is widely believed to have had a fallout with President Hage Geingob and his faction ahead of the 2017 Swapo congress, where he stood for the Team Swapo camp against Sophia Shaningwa, who was the president’s candidate for SG, they both still represent ruling party interests.

It is therefore inescapable that the politics behind the tobacco project is either a reconciliation or members of both camps lighting up to benefit.

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