CHARLES NAMOLOH: Marshalling with great confidence
MAJOR General (Rtd) Charles Hồ Chí Minh Namoloh, the Minister of Defence’s impeccable national security credentials comes alive as he discusses the Namibia Defence Forces’ 20th anniversary.
An officer and professional soldier with great intellectual powers, Charles Namoloh (CN) is someone who takes everything seriously, who would be able to inspire the troops and earn their respect but probably not earn their love, until after the battlefield.
The war-hardened soldier with battle scars and service awards to prove it discusses the journey of Namibia’s defence forces over the past 20 years of independence, touching the wide ranging issues that have carried the military since 1990.
PF: To start with, how should I be addressing you, Honourable Minister or Major General?
CN: I am a General. I earned it. Ministers are appointed and can be removed. Address me as Major General. You do not go to an academy to become a General, but you go to war. After successful military combat, operations and strategies, you are awarded a title. I will take my title to the grave. Major General Hồ Chí Minh, Charles Namoloh.
PF: Even your business card has your nom de guerre?
CN: Yes. I named myself Hồ Chí Minh during the liberation struggle after my hero, Hồ Chí Minh, a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary and statesman who led the Vietnam independence movement from the 1940s.
He is a respectable leader who fought and established the communist governed Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeated the French Union in 1954. He remained a highly visible figurehead president until his death. There is so much about him that pushed me beyond the limits during the struggle.
PF: You are now in charge of the country’s defence. Namibia is one of the few countries where the military does not pose challenges to ongoing democratisation efforts. How is this being achieved?
CN: This is being achieved by recognizing the supremacy of the Constitution which clearly stipulates the subordination of the military to the civil authority.
PF: Well said, so what role does the military play in the present political set-up and environment?
CN: The members of the Namibia Defence Forces (NDF) are taught to be non-partisan in politics. This means they should not side with any political party. They are instructed not to wear colours of any political party or to appear at political party rallies. They are however free to vote for a political party of their choice. This is their democratic right like any other citizen of our country.
PF: SADC has been relatively peaceful over the past 20 years in terms of military involvement in politics (coupe d’ etats).There have been pockets of political tensions though, yet the army has largely remained steadfast, unlike in other regions of the continent. How do you explain that?
CN: Some countries in this region, Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia, were in prolonged wars. After the liberation struggles, we helped each other get up. We all felt it was time to rebuild. We created structures for confidence building measures. Suspicions amongst countries were eliminated. There are now bilateral agreements between the countries most of which have helped integrate SADC security.
Besides individual country policies that do not recognize military interventions, we also have a SADC security organ, the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee. SADC is by far different from other parts of the continent.
PF: One of the success stories of the NDF’s 20 year existence has been the integration of former enemies into the national security structure. Twenty years ago, how hard was it for this process to be made viable? Putting together people who had been trained to hate and kill each other. How do you describe it today?
CN: Yes, you are right; it was difficult to mould young Namibians who were trained to fight each other in one unified NDF. But because soldiers are used to military order, this made the process easier, although there were some difficulties. This was a vivid example of national reconciliation adopted by SWAPO. I am proud that no life was lost during the process of unification and that the NDF remains unified and committed to defend the motherland.
Even the integration of ex-combatants in the NDF has been successfully implemented.
PF: What other role does the Defence Force play in contributing towards the development of the country, besides the security role and regular armed service?
CN: It is true that the Defence Force, with other state agencies, act as the insurance of national security and by that it ensures a secure environment for economic growth and harmonious interaction of the citizens of the land of the Brave.
The Defence Force also provides assistance to communities during emergencies such as floods, drought and outbreak of epidemics. Besides this, the members of the NDF participate in Peace Support missions abroad through the United Nations or African Union. This is in line with our Foreign Policy of promoting international peace.
PF: How and where does defence blend with Vision 2030?
CN: Vision 2030 is a marathon. The Ministry of Defence will be the first one to reach the goals. Why am I saying so? Because our target is to be advanced in all the priority areas of government, ICT, Health and Education, among others. By 2030, we will have hundreds of officers with PhD and Master’s Degrees in the military. We have started already taking most of our members to top institutions to attain this. Technology wise, you might not know this but we are already ahead of most if not all ministries, in ICT advancement. Everywhere in the world, it is the military that designs technology.
It is the military that has first-hand detail on every advancement and we are on track. I was first introduced to computers in 1982 in the Soviet Union, by the time they became popular here, our military had knowledge of the industry already. Even today, there is nothing you can tell me, personally about computers. ICT changes every day but I try to move with the trends also.
PF: How do you describe the security threat level in the country at the moment?
CN: At the moment the security threat against our country is minimal. Namibia is at peace with all her neighbours and all other countries in the world. We have regular annual bilateral joint commissions on defence and security with all our neighbours.
All our neighbours are members of SADC and its Defence and Security Committee. Through these mechanisms confidence building measures and trust between our countries are enhanced.
I should however caution that we live in a dynamic world where changes can happen unexpectedly. We, as custodians of our country’s sovereignty, should therefore be vigilant at all times for any eventuality.
PF: You have mentioned the dynamism of today’s world. How is Namibia adapting and adjusting to the changing world of security? How are you meeting the country’s defence requirements?
CN: Besides what I just mentioned before, one needs to know that Namibia is not an island which is immune to what happens elsewhere in the world. Any security threat however remote may have an impact on our country. For example, if war breaks out in the Middle East we will be affected because the price of oil will go up.
Also, our values dictate us to support justice and condemn injustices perpetuated against innocent people. The plight of the Palestinian people and the yearning for independence of the people of Saharawi deserve our sympathy and morale support.
PF: How ready and efficient is Namibia for immediate deployment against any perceived or actual threat?
CN: We are ready. Our training motto is “Train Hard, Fight Easy”. The NDF continues to train and acquaint itself with developments in the defence sector.
PF: Are there any areas where the Ministry is lacking in terms of technical skills?
CN: Technical skills will never be enough. We train at various institutions such as UNAM, Polytechnic of Namibia and International University of Management just to mention a few. Our personnel are also trained in other countries such as China, RSA, USA, Zimbabwe, Zambia and India to acquire skills such as Aircraft Pilots, aircraft technicians and maintenance, psycho-social counseling, hydro graphics, land survey and many others.
PF: Are you not worried that we rely on training from other countries mainly because we do not have a Staff College of our own? When will training institutions be established in Namibia?
CN: We do not have a staff college, but we are busy building our Defence Academy in Okahandja. We already have military training centres but I am not worried because courses in the military are internationally executed.
PF: How motivated is the Defence Force at this moment in time? For the past 20 years, perhaps the motivation has been coming from the excitement of helping in the consolidation of the structures. But what motivates today’s uniformed personnel?
CN: NDF members are motivated. They are patriotic and know that they are here to defend their motherland. They understand the strength and weakness of our national economy, which consequently limits the ability to address all our needs. They are motivated to defend the gains of our struggle, which was costly and are determined to safeguard our democracy and values, which they want to preserve for future generations.
PF: Official data about any African defence expenditure is scanty at best, often deliberately concealed and rarely provides the full story. What is the full story? Are military establishments underfunded for basic military requirements, yet spend an overwhelming proportion of the budget on salaries and allowances?
CN: I cannot speak for others, but in Namibia the Defence Budget is open to the public. It can be read in all local news media and through their websites. Local economists also make comments and comparison on all budget allocations.
PF: But the Ministry of Defence (MOD) never came in defence of its 2010-2011 national budget allocation. There were questions of why you received so much “as if we are at war?” and the figures were never explained sufficiently?
CN: It is not true that the MOD never defended the 2010/2011 Defence Budget. During my presentation I stated how the money budgeted for defence will be used. For example 80% of the budget goes to Operations which include training, salaries and transport, to mention a few. It goes without saying that these requirements are needed whether a nation is at war or not.
Many MPs both from the governing party and the opposition expressed support for the defence Budget.
Some in the public who were crying foul are those who are not aware of the need for the military or just want to attract unnecessary attention. Suffice to say that, many people in the public all expressed their support for the defence budget.
PF: Who is tasked with the re-equipping of Defence?
CN: The MOD is responsible for formulating policy guidelines and give political direction to the NDF as well as for equipping, re-equipping, arming and training of the NDF.
PF: Do locals ever benefit in the country’s security because there is always this ghostly belief that only foreign entities can do business with African defence ministries? Yet locals can do as much.
CN: Your question is not clear. If you are asking whether the public is benefiting from security, my answer is yes because defence and security agencies provide a secure environment for social harmony and favourable conditions for economic development. They are the assurance for peace and security...
PF: Business wise, Major General?
CN: Well, the answer here depends on what we require and local capacity or capability. If we want Mine Resistant Troop Carrier Vehicles we buy these from Windhoeker Maschinen Fabrik (WMF), for building materials, food and fuel local companies are contracted. However, if our requirement is aircraft there is no local company that can supply us with such equipment. The MOD procures equipment for the NDF from international companies.
PF: The only dent in this year’s national budget seemed to be the public’s clamour for a reduction in military spending as some argued that more money should be channelled to other issues of priority. Are you not worried that this increasing pressure from the public might corner government to reconsider its ‘priority’ funding to defence in future?
CN: I did not hear public clamour as you put it on reduction on military spending. In Parliament most MPs argued for the Defence Budget and no one voted against it. In the media those who argued for and against the Defence Budget were probably equal. There was no pressure whatsoever on the reduction of Defence Budget.
PF: Ok. Does defence tend to be oriented against domestic rather than external threat? How do you respond to allegations that adding more money to the defence is making defence serve regimes not society at large?
CN: Generally Defence Forces are externally focused while police are internally focused. Defence role in domestic issues is to assist in case of disaster and assist the police if so requested and render assistances to communities in case of emergencies such as earth quake, flood, drought or assist the Ministry of Health and Social Services in case of outbreak of epidemics to transport health workers and their equipment.
Namibia is a democratic country where citizens including opposition parties have the right to state their cases. But as I said before, nobody voted against the Defence Budget. In Namibia, the opposition parties are members of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security. They are aware of the needs of our troops and have expressed their support and understanding.
PF: What education role is the military playing in Namibia?
CN: Namibia, like in many other countries in the world, has come up with Defence Studies as an academic discipline, which is being taught at the University of Namibia. Defence studies promote the development of military education and creation of awareness about national security among civilians.
Defence studies also initiate the young student/soldiers and help them in understanding the nuances of defence and security matters.
PF: What is the progress of the detection and clearing of mines strewn across the country as a result of the armed struggle? Is it a closed chapter now?
CN: It has been a primary task of the NDF to clear mines and this was done during 1990-2000 when the majority of the mines were cleared. Clearing of mines will never be complete in the former war area. For example remains of the unexploded ordnance of the Second World War are still found today.
The HIV/Aids Question
PF: The Ministry of Defence has one of the biggest HIV/AIDS infection figures in the country. How true is that assessment and what are you doing to curb this?
CN: Members of the Defence Force are part and parcel of the larger Namibia population and are not immune to whatever happens in the society. They are therefore at risk like everyone else. Due to the nature of work that requires absence from family for prolonged periods, they are more at risk to HIV and AIDS.
I do not agree with you, however that, the infection rate is high in the MOD than in other sectors since I cannot recall any research done on that. MOD has mechanisms in place to address the HIV and AIDS. We have produced the MOD HIV and AIDS Policy which will be tabled in Parliament soon. Besides this, the NDF has testing and cancelling centres in some of the military bases. The NDF also provides home-based care to members suffering from HIV and AIDS and conduct HIV awareness campaigns as preventative measures. We are the only Ministry outside the Ministry of Health, who provides ARV treatment directly to our members.
PF: There are now drugs and treatments that help delay the onset and severity of infections. The Ministry has previously been taken to court for discrimination as contemplated in Section 107 of the Labour Act (Act 6, 1922),following exclusion on the grounds of HIV status alone, of prospective applicants who wanted to be enlisted or promoted in the NDF. Can HIV positive personnel be deployed to foreign missions?
CN: There is no proof that we discriminate against our members who have been infected with the virus. Promotions are considered on merit. If you are talking about external deployment, there are certain requirements that we must meet for our officers to be deployed, say, to the UN or AU, for instance. These agencies require healthy and fit people. We cannot send officers who are not 100 percent fit.
PF: Can you then recruit individuals who are HIV positive?
CN: No. If you are HIV positive you cannot join the defence force. Of course you mentioned the Labour Act and might think we are discriminating, but we have our own regulations also, which state that we must recruit people who are physically fit. What defence are we creating if we have the whole barrack fool of sick soldiers? If you become positive while on duty, we will keep you and give you the best of attention, but if you come sick already, we cannot compromise. It is not discrimination.
PF: Can you elaborate on the military co-operation between the NDF and China? Earlier, the US-Cessna aircraft equipped the NDF Air Wing, lately we have seen a lot agreements being struck between Namibia and China. Already, there has been negative talk that the Chinese made Express-trains at TransNamib have failed to deliver, besides the general feeling that China always gives second-hand attention to Africa. How assured are you that NDF is not being ripped off with equipment of low standard? The Air Force has the Chinese built FT-7 fighter aircraft already.
CN: On NDF equipment from USA and China, Namibia as a sovereign state can buy equipment and weapons according to its needs and what we can afford whether it is China, USA, Germany or whoever. We buy equipment and weapons as our needs dictate and as the budget allows. We have the capacity to determine the standard of weapons we buy.
PF: Looking from the historical background of Namibia and China, are you not worried that, Namibia’s military ties with China (a country doubted across Europe) will dent any hopes of establishing military co-operation with other European countries?
CN: On trading with China which you say is doubted by the West, the fact is that China is a major economic giant which trades with USA, EU and almost all countries in the world. I am not aware of any country doubting China in any way.
PF: What is your view on the intended SADC Standby Force; Namibia already has UN missions in Darfur, Chad, Liberia and Ivory Coast. Is this not stretching the country’s military too much? Are we not committing too much with too little?
CN: SADC standby Force aims to create and enhance regional capacity to participate in peacekeeping missions.
Namibia currently has Military Observers (MILOB) and UN Staff Officers in Liberia, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Sudan and Darfur (region of Sudan). The number of NDF members deployed in UN/AU mission is 24. Namibia does not have peace keepers in Chad since the mission to Chad which was supposed to take place this year has been cancelled by the UN as requested by the Chadian government.
PF: Finally, how do you describe yourself?
CN: Namoloh is a proud Namibian, who spent his youth in the liberation of his country. Now that Namibia is independent, my aspiration is to see the consolidation of our hard won independence and freedom and its fruits to benefit all citizens irrespective of race, sex and social status. This is the ideal I want to be identified with and live for. PF
CHARLES Dickson Ndaxu Phillip Namoloh was born on 28 February 1950 at Odibo in Ohangwena Region. A calm and hospitable man, his character is rare for combative soldiers but there stands one in the name of Major General (Retired) Charles Namoloh easily recognizable by his war nom de guerre Ho-Chi-Minh.
General Namoloh admits that while stories of herd boys rising to fame are common among today’s celebrity profile, he has a unique tale.
While many would boasts of how they rose from ‘school-holiday herd boys’ to famous individuals in society, General Namoloh would humbly admit that being a political activist at the age of 20 was just a past-time just like herding cattle, but the nerve to kill and defend became his first “profession,” and it took him to fame.
A young man who came to understand the harsh conditions imposed by the apartheid system at 20, Namoloh became a Swapo Party youth activist in 1970 and was detained in 1971 for organizing a general strike in Walvis Bay.
He dodged detention escaping in 1972 briefly into Angola before being caught the following year and flogged 21 lashes for being a Swapo Party Youth League activist before being detained at Grootfontein Prison for organizing a Swapo meeting at Engela in Ohangwena Region.
Fed up with the harassment, he went into exile in Zambia on 10 June 1973 and then proceeded to the then USSR, Moscow for a Detachment Commander course.
“My baptism battle came in 1977 east of Ondjiva. Our Commander, Zulu Hamutenya Wanandenga’s vehicle had just been attached while travelling from Ondjiva to our Headquarters in Oshana. I was the deputy commander of the platoon assigned to follow these UNITA bandits who had attacked Commander Zulu’s car. We found the enemy on the second day of tracking them and they were expecting us because of the ambush that awaited us east of Ondjiva.
But we outmanoeuvred them. I was leading a group of fighters to resist the ambush from the left while Commander Ngili Ngili led an assault from the right. We killed five in that battle. Only one of our comrades was wounded by shrapnel and unfortunately died a few days later. But that victory was my first battle and it had tasted sweet. I got the morale to fight every day,” says Namoloh.
Namoloh was assigned to fight in the Northern Eastern Front and fought alongside General Martin Shalli, late Commissioner Danger Ashipala, Helao Nafidi, Ambassador Veiccoh Nghiwete and Major General Denga Ndaitwah, among others.
By 1977, he had become the Chief of Staff of the North Eastern Front and two years later, at the age of 29, Namoloh became the Chief of Staff of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the armed wing of Swapo.
He served in this position until independence. As Chief of Staff of Plan, Namoloh organized some of the major battles fought by the Plan fighters.
In early 1981, together with Chief of Operations General Martin Shalli and Communication Chief Erkki Nghimtina the trio coordinated Operation Hendrik Witbooi.
Operation Witbooi targeted the main concentration centres in the North and battles were fought from Kaoko to Okongo and as far as Okalongo, Onavivi and Oshakati.
When Cassinga was attacked in May of 1978, Namoloh was tasked to revenge the Cassinga attack and instil much damage onto the enemy with a special commando squad.
He recruited a ‘Special Group’ of fighters for this operation whose mandate was to penetrate all the farming areas and destabilise the enemy’s stronghold.
The ‘Special Group’ later on became known as ‘Volcano Group’ because of its ferociousness, and ‘towards’ independence, it assumed the name, ‘Typhoon.’
Typhoon heightened the war as colonial farmers left all their possessions in fear, in areas surrounding Grootfontein, Otjiwarongo, Tsumeb, Otavi and many more.
Ho-Chi-Mihn became one of the most wanted men in the land that time.
“If you go to Cuba, or you meet Generals from the SADF, or Angolan Generals, they do not know Charles Namoloh, but ask them about Ho-Chi-Mihn, and then you will hear of how the war was fought. We were determined and energetic and it even got us recognition with the South Africa Defence Force (SADF). It was the highlight of my career as a guerrilla,” he says.
In 1990 at the attainment of independence, Ho-Chi-Mihn was ironically tasked with integrating the warring parties of ex-Plan and ex-South West African Forces (SWATF) into a solid army.
He was Acting Chief of Defence and Acting Army Commander but finally became Army Chief of Staff of the NDF, when everything was in order.
Because the Defence Act does not allow military officers to hold any political positions, Major General Ho-Chi-Mihn had to retire in 2005 following his appointment Minister of Defence. Namoloh has also served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Namibia to Angola, which he served until 2003.
Still fluent in Portuguese, Namoloh holds numerous certificates in military training from institutions such as Vystrel Field Academy in the former USSR, graduating as Motorised Infantry Brigade Commander (1982), the Defence Resources Management Institute at Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California, USA (1993), Nasser High Military Academy-African Strategic Studies, 1994, ICRC Symposium in Geneva. In addition, he holds Certificates of Conflict Resolution (South Africa) and Disaster Management (Indira Gandhi Open University, India).
In 2003, he was posted to India as High Commissioner and during his two-year term, became the Coordinator of African Ambassadors Group in New Delhi, before being recalled to rejoin the defence establishment but this time as Minister of Defence.
While admitting that some of his colleagues survived the war ‘by the grace of God’ he also notes that several others like him have lifelong physical limitations due to the war and ‘forever salute those that sacrificed their lives.’
He is one of the few former fighters with a knack for ICT and has a reputation for being advanced in computer technology, in some cases, more than his office staff.
“I pay homage to the President for trusting me with such responsibility. Most of the people I work with here, have worked with me before. We have been together in the struggle. We have known each other through thick and thin and it’s like working while at the same time literary cherishing what we fought for.”
Message to the Youth
“When we went to fight, we had commitment and conviction at the time. There was no alternative. We had to fight and free ourselves. We fought without any promise or reward. It was just FREEDOM. We were not recruited, we did not even apply. We just volunteered. Today’s youngsters who are tomorrow’s leaders lack that conviction and determination when there is no money. This makes it impossible for them to volunteer. Money makes you survive but it is secondary to patriotism. Regardless of political affiliation, colour, tribe or creed, patriotism is key. That is how we managed to serve under Dr. Sam Nujoma during the struggle. These upcoming leaders must love their country, know their history, and then automatically know where we are going.
Our history provides knowledge that Namibia shall “never again” be colonized. Without the love of the country, there can be no servicemen and women to serve this nation. If Namibia is to be attacked and get into danger, will today’s youth come to fight for their country without money?
Also, the youth must work hard to transform Namibia into a prosperous nation. Working hard also means studying. That is how countries are built. We need engineers, scientists, and innovators and entrepreneurs developing and manufacturing new things, and not to let others do it for us.” PF