Reflecting on reflections

Herma Prinsloo

This piece was prompted by a number of news articles and reflective pieces that appeared mainly in the last edition of The Namibian (23 December 2021). Most of them are still relevant or should, I say, are burning issues as we enter 2022. Some people might hope that it would be a different year. But as they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

There were two front-page headlines that caught my attention. The lead story was: ‘Kabila’s secret Namibia trip’ and the other: ‘Windhoek man living in car for years’.

Then on page two of the paper the two stories are juxtaposed in pictures. Perhaps as if to underline the point that a picture is worth more than a thousand words. The captions read:

A) Frans Barthormeus standing next to his car, which he calls home.

B) THE BIG BOYS ... Former DRC president Joseph Kabila allegedly inherited this property from his father, Laurent Desire Kabila. The villa is situated north of Windhoek.

Frans’s story speaks to the issue of poverty and to the cruelty of our municipalities – which have been unable to provide decent housing for residents that prompted the Ombudsman, Basilius Dyakugha, to quip that “the apartheid regime built houses”.

But 30 years later we are building shacks. The mass housing scheme was just a ‘scheme’ and a total flop mired in corruption Namibia- style where no one is ever held responsible when things go bust – people are innocent until proven quilty, the first line that is taught at law schools.

But what would you expect from our town councils and municipalities? Because most of those who vie for mayor or CEO positions are people from rural villages with no understanding of urban sociology including social housing, geography, economics or politics. As Danny Meyer tersely puts it: “At every turn, and staring us right in the face, is poverty, and an ever-widening chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.”

The Kabila soap opera opens with the electric gate/fence to his villa for us to have a rare experience of the affluence, glamour and opulence at its best – befitting a king and queen. It shows how the Kabilas and the Nujomas of this world have marshalled their political power to enrich their cronies and families at the expense of the ordinary citizens of their respective countries by exploiting state resources especially the corrupt-prone fishing sector – the Angolan and the DRC fish quotas are used as conduit for all the corrupt deals through which billions are shared with the politically well-connected including the Namundjebo/Tilahuns of this world who now own a good chunk of the Windhoek CBD. ‘Presidential families feast on Tunacor’, was a screaming headline in The Namibian early last year (27 January 2021). And here enters Samaki Fishing Enterprises, said to be managed by the Isabel dos Santos of Namibia, Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun, and her Ethiopian-Namibian husband, Haddis Tilahum-Namundjebo.

And this relatively unknown couple, politically speaking, is said to be close friends of another country’s former president – Joseph Kabila, and former president Sam Nujoma. And to top it all up, the couple have been appointed as honorary consuls to the DRC, allowing them to travel on diplomatic passports to smoothly facilitate the fishy deals between the two regimes and their rulers. That the Namibian fishing quotas are given to two of the most corrupt regimes in the region should surprise no one.

But what vexes me most is that while we are on the issue of corruption; here are two Western democracies, the UK and Norway, dishing out millions to corrupt regimes. In an opinion piece: ‘Africa Cannot Confront Climate Change Alone’, by Kristalina Georgieva and Felix Tshisekedi in The Namibian, it is pointed out that the United Kingdom recently agreed to provide US$500 million to the DRC to curb forest loss. Norway has a similar agreement with Gabon for US$150 million.

First, the DRC is one of the most mineral-rich countries in Africa. Secondly, and according to news reports: “Kabila’s trip was undertaken as a global media investigation was finalising an expose on how between N$2.2 billion and N$3.6 billion was embezzled from the DRC during his last term in office.”

Both Norway and Gabon are leading oil-producing countries. So why should Norway provide aid to Gabon? Gabon, along with Namibia, Lesotho and Mali, is ranked among the top four corrupt African countries by Afrobarometer. It is also a known fact that Gabon’s former ruler Omar Bongo and his clan, including his son and current president Ali Bongo Ondimba, used to own a fleet of cars in Paris, France, pointing to a systematic looting of the country’s oil resources. The Bongo clan also has the biggest property portfolio in the ‘Ill-Gotten Gains’ case. Does that ring a bell in similar but different cases? ‘Fishrot’? The ‘Congo Hold Up’? ‘State Capture’ (SA)?

Roman Grynberg wrote an excellent piece on: ‘How to stop corruption in the fisheries’ in The Namibian (July 02, 2021). But no one would listen to him because I know that our president, H. G. Geingob, is not someone who is amenable to critical/scholarly advice, otherwise most of the problems that we grapple with today would have been addressed ages ago.

Quo Vadis Namibia in 2022? “This is a year that could return if we don’t stop making the same mistakes over and over again, expecting different or better results. Like re-appointing the same people with the same mindsets to lead key institutions...” wrote Lazarus Amukeshe.


Namibian Sun 2023-05-29

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