Over a month ago, Namibia celebrated its 22nd anniversary of independence. For a few, the event marked a reflection of the country’s transition since it broke free from the threshold of colonial oppression.
But for many, however, the celebrations were merely cool water on the parched tongues of many Namibians who have hoped for a changed approach regarding the country’s political, economic and social challenges.
As the first citizen of the country, the focus expectantly fell on President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who upon his inauguration in March 2005 pledged to root out corruption with all his might. In the same speech, he was also clear on improving productivity and efficient service delivery in Government.
Although many claimed before Mr Pohamba's inauguration that he would be remote-controlled by his predecessor and mentor, founding President Sam Nujoma, he has shown that he's a leader in his own right and a man with a mission.
He has time and again reiterated that his praise for Mr Nujoma was due to the immerse contribution Nujoma pledged to the country’s independence.
“When I say this, they say I am a puppet,” Mr Pohamba once said, referring to him praising Mr Nujoma for the leading role he played during the liberation struggle.
“I am then a progressive puppet. Many of the people who say I have been a puppet, they have been puppets,” Mr Pohamba added while at a Heroes’ Day commemoration at the southern port town of Lüderitz in 2011.
Indeed, as soon as the new Cabinet was announced, Mr Pohamba ensured that he got them to adopt the ruling Swapo party’s manifesto as the guiding document for government programmes for the next five years. Yet, he was also quick to stamp his own mark.
Shortly after he was sworn in, Mr Pohamba named runner up to the Swapo presidential race, Nahas Angula, as his Prime Minister and immediately charged him with the responsibility of setting up a long-planned anti-corruption agency.
Mr Pohamba’s ascendance to the country’s pole position, although somewhat scripted to the letter, inspired a new wave of confidence in the citizenry – most of whom were still licking fresh wounds caused by a wave of inequality, segregation and inhumane treatment at the hands of the former colonial masters.
In Pohamba, many Namibians felt a sense of belonging and were inspired to dream of a Namibia where many of the wrongs of the past years could be corrected. For the first time, opposition politicians were encouraged to consult and touch base with the head of state, an offer they made good use of.
Civil society and religious groups equally had their fair share of audience with the president.
Slowly, Mr Pohamba was endearing himself to the people. His humility was indeed fast paying dividends.
To date, Mr Pohamba seems to have walked the talk. He has reduced the number of foreign trips undertaken by members of his cabinet, and importantly, the President's words and actions are resonating with civil society.
A reader once remarked in a local daily on her astonishment at how well she was treated by the President’s small motorcade on the road from the international airport: “There were no sirens, flashing lights or traffic officers, and Pohamba's motorcade stopped at a stop street to give way to other traffic. This is the kind of act that I want to salute and honour by actually giving him the right of way," she wrote
All is has however not been a bed of roses with Pohamba's administration. A gloomy atmosphere hangs over the economy with a struggling fishing sector, and the perennial problems in the education system which need frequent address.
Pohamba’s stance to root out corruption has inadvertently turned into a sing-along tune which analysts say is reminiscent of a toothless bulldog – all roar but no bite.
While the anti graft body preyed on small time school secretaries who pocketed petty cash, the big fishes that have been fingered in multimillion dollar – or at times even billions of dollars – were left to swim free.
Although Namibia has one of the higher GDP per capita among Sub-Saharan African countries, it also has one of the most unequal distributions of income and wealth in the world (Gini Coefficient of 0.6 versus an average of 0.43 for all MICs).
Reducing inequality in income distribution is one of the major and most difficult challenges facing Namibia, where well over 60 per cent of the national income is captured by the richest 10 per cent (or less) of the population. In fact, the present state of the remaining 90 per cent of the population of Namibia is comparable to their counterparts in the African LDCs.
The lack of adequate manufacturing activities in the country is a colonial legacy that neglected industrialisation, training of engineers and other professionals, and foreign direct investment.
Thus, the country’s pre-independence industrial policy and strategy was based on domination and exploitation by the colonial power that created dependency and adversely affected local initiatives.
Favourable and incentive based industrialisation policies and strategies introduced after independence to promote a modern industrialization process and attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to fill the investment gaps have not been successful.
The Government of Namibia has been struggling to put in place the right policies, priorities and plans to redress the inequalities with due regard to fairness and adherence to national and international standards. But, inadequate resources are a major impediment for more rapid progress in this regard.
Poverty, another challenge for the young government remains a huge thorn in the flesh of lawmakers since independence in 1990. It has many dimensions encompassing low human development, social exclusion, ill being, lack of capacity and function, relative deprivation, vulnerability, including uncertain livelihoods and lack of means to meet the basic needs.
Of Namibia’s total population of 2 million, around 35 per cent are estimated to be living below the poverty line of $1 a day. Most of the poor live in rural areas, as do the majority (more than 60 per cent) of the total population.
Appropriate policies, strategies and plans have been designed but additional resources are required to constructively and decisively reduce poverty. A number of the policies and strategies have been incorporated into the long-term Vision 2030.
The road ahead
President Pohamba has little time left to attempt catch-up play, as his current and last term ends in March 2015. He is constitutionally restricted from serving more than two consecutive terms.
Many have had mixed emotions on how to rate the humble politician, to has secured consistency in most government programme after inheriting the country’s top post.
At party level, Mr Pohamba is expected to hand over the reins as President of Swapo at the end of 2012, when the party holds its watershed congress
Already, speculations on the next person to step into his shoes have been doing the rounds.
Political commentators have however predicted that the expected new broom – who would almost be assured of becoming the country’s next president given the party’s support base – would find it hard to bring about radical changes.
They predict that such a person would simply carry on the programmes initiated by his predecessors.