Namibian President Geingob's image as a flamboyant intellectual filling the shoes of a skilled statesman is showing wear and tear. Intolerance and temper limit his ability to engage with critical views constructively. Add to that an aloof and dismissive attitude bordering on arrogance, and the people of Namibia have reason to worry about the prosperity promise.
In 1837 Hans Christian Andersen wrote the fairy tale of an emperor who in his vanity only cared about clothes. Two weavers promised him to tailor the finest outfit from a fabric invisible to anyone who is stupid or unfit for his/her position. At a dress rehearsal the emperor and his Cabinet pretended not to see that he was naked.
When marching in public procession, his subjects played along, afraid of being considered unfit or stupid. But a child innocently stated the obvious, which led to the public admission that the emperor was wearing nothing at all. While he suspected the assertion was true, the emperor continued the procession.
Hage Geingob was, as usual, well dressed at his last press conference for 2015 in mid-December. But the outfit could not hide some less fancy accessories. While concern over his performance is growing, his efforts in keeping up appearances display signs of exhaustion and impatience.
Namibians welcomed Geingob as President wholeheartedly. He promised efficiency, transparency and accountability. During his first nine months in office the initial euphoria was gradually replaced by reluctant doubts if he indeed will be the blood infusion, which provides the organs of Namibian society with fresh stamina.
Geingob's image as a flamboyant intellectual filling the shoes of a skilled statesman was showing wear and tear. Intolerance and temper limited his ability to engage with critical views constructively. An aloof and dismissive attitude bordering on arrogance occasionally emerged, which many so-called well-educated people display when in positions of power.
Increasing considerably the old age pensions single-handedly when moving into office undeniably improved living conditions for the elderly and their families. But like a few other gestures the intervention remained rather spontaneous tokenism. A systematic policy is more than playing to the gallery.
The Namibian house, created as an appealing new metaphor, remains badly furnished despite a lot of highly paid staff employed as handymen and women for the move and the interior design.
At his last press conference for the year, Geingob stressed that transformation requires “the adoption of a shared strategic vision that speaks to the aspirations of all”. Has Swapo not such a strategic vision? Why then does the party's political programme guide Cabinet policy? Was Geingob not campaigning with promises that there is a plan?
The President added that such planning is required “to design suitable, coordinated and executable interventions” to respond “to the complex problems we face and bring us closer to the prosperity promise” (note the word promise). Does this mean Vision 2030 is finally dismissed as the fairy tale it always has been, and that the national development plans (NDPs) were just futile exercises? And had Geingob not recruited an “A-team” on top of an enlarged Cabinet to assist with such designs?
But the prosperity paradigm was so far only applicable to the selected few in well-paid positions affording lavish lifestyles. To express in the media release on 14 December “hope (sic!) that effectiveness of government will improve”, sounds not like a plan.
Meanwhile, the prosperity for the selected few comes at a rapidly growing rate of state debts, accumulating at a worrying pace without creating material assets in return. Investments are barely contributing to local employment and sustainable development.
Prestige and privilege instead of productivity is what the PPP (standing for public private partnerships) translates into. The beneficiaries are mainly a few close to the party machinery and in positions, which control access to natural resources. This is governance on borrowed time and borrowed money in violation of a social contract. Generations to come will inherit a plundered ruin instead of a proper Namibian house.
Strategic interventions should of course be based on sound knowledge. If the head of state however claims to be unaware of his salary and the salary of those he recruited, one wonders on which knowledge strategic interventions are based. Ignorance was also claimed during the press conference on 14 December with regard to big transactions with taxpayers' money.
Rebuking unpleasant enquiries by flippant and evasive remarks is anything but creating trust. Announcing a week after defending the airport mega-project the termination of the tender awarded and the re-opening of procurement procedures is no sign of determination (and notably does not reverse the decision). It rather illustrates a lack of proper insights due to sloppy homework when refuting criticism earlier on. The result is a haphazard governing style that undermines and not strengthen trustworthiness.
In early December the questions by a BBC reporter during the worldwide-televised “Hard Talk” disclosed a similar lack of authority.
Geingob's vagueness on matters such as a solidarity tax and a basic income grant as eminent domestic policy matters or on speculations over a naval base for a foreign military super power as a crucial aspect of foreign policy was no sign of competence.
The one person who, despite such erosion of social capital, remains fully confident in the President's capability is the President. His statement at the press conference on 14 December commended “the efforts of the top four in government, namely the President, the vice president, the Prime Minister and deputy prime minister”.
Modesty seems not to be among the virtues of the one who took an oath to serve in the best interest of the Namibian people.
* Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974. He is director emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala and extraordinary professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. This article previously appeared in The Namibian.
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