President too quiet in crisis – Kamwi

The former health minister and analysts have questioned President Geingob’s deafening silence as the nation buckles under an epic surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

14 June 2021 | Health

STAFF REPORTER

WINDHOEK

Former health minister Dr Richard Kamwi is among those who believe that President Hage Geingob’s silence, as the country endures its worst wave of Covid-19 cases yet, is fodder for pandemonium and uncertainty.

Geingob, according to State House, has “fully recovered” from a recent bout of Covid-19 and Kamwi believes the head of state – having experienced the dreadful virus himself – should lead from the front.

Geingob has not addressed the nation on Covid-19 regulations since late last year, assigning this responsibility to the health minister, Dr Kalumbi Shangula.

At the time, daily infection reports averaged about 300 cases and death from the virus was an infrequent occurrence.

Currently Namibia is recording over 1 000 cases daily, with deaths from the virus in the double digits every day.

On Saturday, for example, Namibia recorded 1 399 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 64 205. Shangula, in his daily updates, also confirmed recorded 12 Covid-19 related deaths, taking the country’s death toll to 993. Namibia was expected to surpass the 1 000-deaths mark in yesterday’s update, which was not available at the time of going to print.

Baffling silence

Kamwi, who left the health portfolio in 2015 when Geingob became president, says the new surge in infections is a huge concern and the head of state must address the nation to announce what measures are being rolled out and to allay fears.

“This should have happened long ago,” said Kamwi, who is currently a member of the African Union Taskforce on Covid-19.

“The silence of State House baffles me. Why can’t the president have briefings like he did so well last year? Those efforts were lauded even at international forums where I serve and, ironically, the situation was not as delicate as it is now.

“Namibians listen better when they are addressed from the first office,” the outspoken doctor said.

In just over 30 days, State House itself has lost five employees to Covid-19.

“Now that we have a crisis, the highest office in the land is stone-silent. A thousand cases daily for a country with a small population as ours is a huge infection ratio. State House ought to address the nation based on advice from the ministry of health.

“We have huge challenges with the availability of oxygen and hospital beds – but we are only hearing these things from the media and not from the officials themselves.”

Kamwi says he speaks to Shangula regularly, adding: “The minister himself is trying.”

Kamwi says while Geingob’s voice is missing at a time of crisis, it is the responsibility of more than just the president to speak to communities.

“It’s not first time we are faced with a pandemic crisis. HIV & Aids was killing more people than Covid-19 and it has no cure. How did we go about it? It was not only ministers but the entire national leadership - president, Cabinet, traditional leaders, the church and civil society. It’s not a one-man show.”

Looking for leadership

Businesswoman and media personality Hilda Basson-Namundjebo yesterday quipped on Facebook: “I am really interested to know whether we still have a government in this country. People are dying at record rates; we see one minister running around trying to address the Covid challenge and then for the rest, there is silence.”

The executive director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Graham Hopwood, said: “We are now clearly in the midst of a severe public health emergency. Many are looking for leadership in the form of actions to reduce the spread of the virus and a clear pro-vaccine message. I do get the sense that a lot of people are worried and frightened and there is a need for reassurance and leadership from the top.”

Presidential press secretary Dr Alfredo Hengari did not respond to questions on whether Geingob intended to address the nation any time soon.

Shangula also did not respond to questions on whether new regulations were being contemplated.

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