‘Let’s hold our hands, march forward in unity and same direction’ …as Geingob speaks on SADC regional integration, industrialisation and African unity

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In a bid to find out the progress, challenges and plans that have so far been made ever since Namibia took over the SADC Chairmanship in August 2018, The Southern Times team recently interviewed, President Hage Geingob (PHG).  The President highlighted the issues of climate change, industrialisation and regional integration, among other issues. Below is the interview.

TST: Mr President, you took over as SADC Chairperson last year and at the time you took over, the region was facing several challenges such as the prevailing climate conditions and election issues.  Could you shed some light on your experience over the past few months and what you have achieved?

PHG: As scholars do, I would like to ground the interview first with a little background.  SADC is a Regional Economic Community of the Africa Union (AU). Our founding fathers, the extraordinary  personalities, Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere and others had differing views on continental integration . The Casablanca Group under Nkrumah wanted a wholesale immediate union government under the United States of Africa. Mzee Nyerere, leading the Monrovia Group, in his wisdom agreed with the principle but cautioned that ‘we do not have similar systems, we must first harmonise at a regional level’. Therefore, the idea of RECs, that we must first have common policies and practices, including ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), SADC and other RECs we have today reflects the consensus of a gradual approach. In SADC, we have to harmonise our practices, systems, governance architectures. It is what we are doing.

My point is, in Africa, inside the African Union and maybe the United Nations too, we have good policies. But they are not always executed properly. We rush to decide and then we fail to implement them because of a lack of consensus and political will. As professors do when they fail to implement something, they change the terms to a new concept. At SADC level, we have been struggling to implement trade integration. Still, we went to a tripartite trade area through COMESA, SADC and East African community.  While we did not even start implementing, we went on to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Did we really implement what we had decided to implement? Is there free movement of the SADC citizens? I am talking about people-to-people movement,  free movement of goods and services. We have an obligation to get it right.

 At a political level, we had worries and anticipations about the Democratic Republic of Congo. DRC is a very interesting country. Kwame Nkrumah wrote a book about the country in 1965, and the crisis he mentioned about the Congo lingered on for a very long time. I am optimistic about the changes taking place today. The DRC is a very important country, bordering nine other countries, it is the heartbeat of Africa as President Sam Nujoma used to say. When President Kabila informed us at the SADC Summit here in Windhoek about his intention not to stand for elections, all of us applauded his move. He chose a candidate, Emmanuel Shadary, and no nobody questioned that. For many of us it was a sovereign decision for as long as it was done within the framework of the Constitution.  President Kabila said that he did not want any foreign observers or any foreign financial assistance. He further went to say, “I only want the SADC and AU observers” and the country organised elections. The Congolese people voted.  We were quiet worried that there was going to be crisis and we kept asking ourselves, “will the elections take place?” Miracles happened, elections took place in a relatively peaceful climate. That very fact alone is a success in the context  of the DRC, that elections took place and a very few people died.  When the results were announced, we thought that there was going to be a real war. Thank God, nothing happened. It was a pleasant surprise. The losing candidate Martin Fayulu and his coalition, as it is supposed to be done when you have processes, systems and institution, appealed to the highest court and again, nothing happened. 

It is at that juncture that could have affected SADC and AU family.  The AU Chairman thought we should meet and in SADC, we are always meeting on the margins of key AU meetings. Some of you were saying that the SADC Chairperson is quiet on the DRC. But I did what I had to do, I made direct contacts with about 10 leaders in the region consulting while assessing the situation. I called a Double Troika meeting, We met in Addis (Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia) instead of Windhoek after President Kagame had requested for a meeting  with SADC. Our meeting as the SADC Double Troika occurred separately and with the AU separately, so we did what we are empowered to do as SADC. Then after coming up with our decisions, we then went on to hear what AU had to say. So we met and discussed and we then announced our decision.

When I came back from the inauguration of the new President of Madagascar, I received a call from DRC President Kabila, informing Namibia and SADC that ‘no one should tell our court what to do, the court must announce the result and they must announce them now’, and that happened.

TST: The SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, took time to point out that if it was not for your leadership, we would not have seen peaceful transformation of power in DRC. What is your take on that?  

P.H.G: Well, that is so kind of her, but it was all team work, as the SADC Chairperson I had to consult widely. When I assumed the Chair of SADC, there was a joke that as SADC Chair, Namibia was going to be working for DRC and Madagascar, with the two countries heading to elections during our tenure. Both countries were hotspots with previous elections disputed and in some instances leading to loss of lives. The DRC elections took place on 30 December 2018. They were peaceful, and now they have a new president inaugurated on 24 January 2019.  But I must say that it was not smooth sailing, it required coordination and consultation. There were building blocks leading to that peaceful conclusion. The SADC-ICGLR Summit (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region) on 26 December 2018 and the SADC Double Troika Meeting in Addis on 18 January this year were critical in ensuring that peace in the DRC prevails after elections. I also met the new President Felix Tshisekedi recently. He thanked me personally,  Namibia as a country and SADC for the support given to his country. I must say that we were honoured when Tshisekedi came on a courtesy visit here in Namibia just to say thank you.  When Tshisekedi came to visit us in Namibia, we had a long conversation and of course I cannot disclose on what we discussed in details, but basically it was on how to proceed after elections.

 We are now entering a phase where we accompany the DRC after elections. That process has already started and I cannot reveal everything, but the point  and advice I always give and shared with President Tshisekedi is: ‘Look you don’t make peace with your friends,  you make peace with your enemies’. We share the example of what we have done in Namibia, how we got an absolute majority in the elections of 1999. Yet we sought to calm the fears of those who doubted our ability to manage the finances of this country. So we made Otto Herrigel the Minister of Finance and Gert Hannekom Minister of Agriculture.

Zimbabwe also did the same with Morgan Tsvangirai where he was made a Prime Minister through an inclusive political agreement in 2008.

  President Felix Tshisekedi and former President Kabila have agreed on a coalition government because President Tshisekedi does not have the parliamentary majority.

TST: You mentioned the need of coming up with policies using SADC industrialisation policy as a tool to enhance member states economically as well as promoting regional integration. Has there been any progress in line with implementing the policy and what is your assessment of the progress made so far?

PHG: I am the first to admit that we have not made the envisioned progress as set out in our successive documents. We wanted to have a SADC Free Trade Area by 2008. We are lagging behind our goal of a Customs Union by 2010, a common market by 2015, a monetary union by 2016 and a single currency by 2018. But, the history of regional integration across the globe is full of examples of targets and goals not met. The citizens of our region should not feel dejected and look at the progress we have made. I can assure them that in guiding frameworks such as the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ (SIPO), the region possesses consistent and comprehensive programmes of long-term economic and social policies that will yield the expected outcomes and results. The progress we have made in converging infrastructure in the areas of water, energy, ICT, meteorology and transport is notable with greater cooperation and connectivity between member states. Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe have dry-port facilities in Namibia. Namibia has an industrial park in the eastern part of the DRC – that is possible with regional integration and the policy convergence that emerges out of it.

Industrialisation without controlling your resources and value addition is not an easy thing. We have to build infrastructure, we need investment here so that we can create employment, create industries to produce goods. We are very far from doing that.  Education is needed, training is also needed. Countries were not built by PhDs like we have here, they were built by artisans. So our people need to have vocational training to do things with their own hands. In Namibia, we are making good progress on that front with VETs centres under construction and enrolment exceeding the HPP (Harambe Prosperity Plan) targets.

Africa has possibilities. Some are blaming the Chinese because they are allowing them to come in on their own terms. Don’t blame the Chinese, blame the government.

Whoever comes here, must come on our terms. If they are doing something wrong, they are doing that because we are allowing them to. I went to China when I was still a Minister of Trade, to talk to their leaders to find out if they were aware of how the Chinese were behaving in our land, that they were violating our laws bringing in their own manual workers to push wheel barrows yet our unemployment was high. They listened and said, ‘look we have opened up to private companies and they go to Africa’. President Xi reminded me last year during my state visit there, ‘We have good Chinese and bad Chinese, the same way you may have good Namibians and bad Namibians. So those who are committing crimes in your country, let your laws take care of those ones  breaking the laws of your countries, let your countries handle that’.  The point is they must come on our terms so that our laws must be obeyed and pay our people money for overtime so that our people may not be exploited.

Industrialisation is a slow process which involves training. And now we are talking about the fourth industrialisation with the rise of artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, digital technologies and so on. These are new ways of working without using muscles and sweat. Training of our people in all sort of ways is needed to respond to the changing circumstances.

Africa has moved, we are just being condemned and condemned but if we look at the African countries that I have been visiting, you will see there is a change, there is a change.  But when free people see the light at the end of the tunnel they start making noise, this shows that they have hope in their countries because if they did not have hope they would just sit and suffer silently. When they see light at the end of the tunnel, they want to rush to get to the channel to be rich overnight and others want to be rich too, so that’s where the problem is.

We are doing well in infrastructure development, look at our country for instance, the infrastructure development is so unbelievable. Value addition is the key. If our diamonds are going as raw stones, how are we industrialising? You must add value to the stones we have, our marbles, for example, are going all the way to South Africa where there is someone breaking them down and adding value, then send them back to us, but we can do it here. So that should be our approach, we should add value to our natural resources.

TST: Since we are lagging behind the continental free trade area, there are those who fear that the development will kill small markets like Namibia. What are your thoughts regarding this?

PHG: Germany products can destroy Namibian products or Chinese products can also do the same. So we should not bring fear in this. Let’s say it is a welcome development. The bigger the market, the better for the countries and our own resources too.  Botswana and Namibia have similar resources, commodities, meat and diamonds. But if we can industrialise and add value to these products, we can still send them to Botswana too. We should allow goods and services to move freely in a bigger market, instead of being afraid. People moving freely is now part of brain circulation and not a brain drain. Criminals should be kept out and the necessary investments in systems are critical. We need AU passports that people can be issued with by individual countries. There are business people who may want to move around freely. If they cannot move, how can the goods and services move freely? So these are things that we need to look at.  We are more against one another as Africans. When Germans come here, we roll out the red carpet, we welcome them. But when we go there, how do they treat us?

TST: You mentioned the AU passport, and we know that you have been a proponent of the free movement and lessening the visa restrictions. What are you doing to your fellow member states in the region to ensure that they follow suit?

PHG: It’s a very difficult situation. Some countries are advanced, they have good conditions and lifestyles, that is most parts of southern Africa and also Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, we were the ones who were reluctant initially because we thought we were flooded. That was the fear, we did not fear the problem of people coming in but it was also the fear of drugs smuggling and criminals, and so on. So we are saying now, let’s just arrest the criminal and allow those who are innocent to move freely. This does not mean just to walk in the country. In Europe, you don’t just walk in, they have the ID and once the ID is presented, all the information comes out of their computer systems and if you are a criminal you will be caught and be sent back or arrested.

 TST: We do not want to be negative, but looking at what is happening to the EU and BRICS (Britain, Russia, India, China and South Africa), again there are those who are doubting our intentions of regional integration and whether it will work since it is now failing in Europe.

PHG: You see, if Europe is failing, we are not failing, they have their own problems.  In our case in the region, we say don’t rush it and don’t regret it. We are sovereign states, that’s why things  are moving very slow because we must convince one another and prove the benefits of unity and intra-Africa trade and that is what is happening. We have to educate our people, we are basing our fears on ignorance and we do not know one another.  I learnt about Africa in America, and not here. So we have to exchange views through exchange programmes and tourism.  In fact, it has already started that many other Africans are coming to Namibia for tourism during Christmas time, African tourists from Botswana and South Africa are also coming here.  African Presidents vacation in Africa. Therefore we must not fear integration, but it takes time, do not rush it, if we rush it we make mistakes and break up again.  So it is long term planning and the idea should not be dismissed.

TST: For the past three or four years we have been facing a lot of challenges emanating from the El Nino weather phenomenon, what can we do to mitigate the effects of this problem?

PHG: Do you know when I visited SADC headquarters we were taken to a centre of weather forecast for Africa. But we don’t even make use of it. I did not even know that it existed.  Namibia is a dry country. We do not have resources, so with independent intervening variables, you plan for something and these variables which are independent may come unanticipated, and they divert you from what you were planning for. That is what these El Nino factors are affecting, and yet we know about these. I travelled to some parts of the country, and in the north there is some omahangu. But we have to first buy from our own people and then buy somewhere else. We are ready and we cannot fail to take care of our own people and let them die of hunger. However, it is going to be tough.   Those with cattle, they better start selling them now. People do not want to sell their cattle because of their cultural value, but the cattle are going to die. While we are trying to get out of the economic crisis, and there comes this El Nino problem. Climate change is a reality in Namibia.

TST: What are the other sectors that have been affected by the effects of this climate change?

PHG: Agriculture mostly, and also weather patterns. If you go to the coast, they never used to have rains but it is now raining. They never knew rains and they don’t even know how to handle so much rain. Recently, I was talking to someone jokingly saying that in Namibia, you must ask for drought control and at the same time ask for flood control, because while we are having drought here, somewhere in Zambezi there will be floods. That is the challenge, and you are there to solve it.  Leaders are dreamers and they are there to share their visions and dreams that is why annually, I come up with a theme and then it will be up to the ministers and the people to actualise it.

TST: There are disease outbreaks that are coming as a results of the effects of climate change.

PHG: Of course, there are diseases such as hepatitis B and E. These are migration and poverty diseases. They are spread by people moving freely and settling on unserviced land. We cannot take a hardline and chase them away. If we do, they will say we are treating them as the Boers used to treat them. We have to come up with a plan.  People are just coming, and setting up their own things and start crying saying that there are no services whereas it was not even planned for in that area.  So that is the problem that we are now having. Between Angola and us, there is free movement. If our cattle are vaccinated and the cattle from the other side of the border are not, then we cannot control them.  We depend on one another on survival. I told the police. They must be on alert because once a person puts a shack it’s his right basically. The police must stop them before they move in, people are making noise while building up those shacks where will the police be? The police must stop them before they build, once they build we can’t just chase the children in the streets just like that.

TST: On the SADC note, our final question is, what is you dream for SADC? As a person who fought for free a SADC and you have dedicated yourself to the service of the people?

PHG: The dream for SADC, will be the dream for Namibia and the dream for Africa because we are one, and the dream of the world too. Inclusivity spells harmony and exclusivity spells conflict and war. So first in the Namibian house we must hold hands, we cannot go and unite with other countries if we are not united here, it starts at home.  Our development and what we are talking about must start here. Industrialisation must start here, then to SADC member states, and eventually  Africa. But, it will take time.  I am a pan-Africanist, I believe in one Africa. Proper coordination must be achieved.  We are only about 1.4 billion, we equate ourselves to big countries like China and so on. So unity is key. I think we shouldn’t despair. We are part and parcel of Africa. SADC is our region and we must harmonise our activities, have free movement of people, people to people contact, goods and services moving freely. Do you know how long it took for EU to be where they are today? It took them over 50 years. It took them time until they reached the top.

Young people have faith in Africa and SADC. But first in your own country, then SADC, then Africa, and the world.  It will be one Namibian house where all Namibian people are not going to identify themselves as tribes but as all Namibians. It should be the same for SADC where we are going to see each other as children of SADC, and not Zimbabwe, not South Africa and Botswana and so on. Some of us  were welcomed during the struggle in other parts of Africa, I always tell the story of my stay in the  DRC in 1964. I didn’t have any pen, nothing, not knowing any Lingala nor French.  But they were feeding me and they said: ‘Congo et Sud-Ouest Africain est un’, which meant that Congo and South-West Africa are one.

They gave me food and beer and we were laughing and so on.  So those of us who survived in Africa have a strong faith in the future of Africa and the world too.  So let’s hold our hands, march forward in unity and in the spirit of Harambee, always in the same direction.

TST: Thank you Mr President for your time

PHG: You are welcome.

 

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