Swartbooi puts ‘A’ in action
Karas regional governor, Bernardus Swartbooi, is the first crop of governors to be appointed by His Excellency President Hifikepunye Pohamba, to spearhead development in the vast and rich region whose growth has been lagging behind for years.
Driven by a consummate zeal and appetite for development, Swartbooi has had his hands full as he has gone to the very root cause of under-development, initiating and managing massive development programmes. The results are already visible. In this exclusive interview, he opens up to the nation about his close-to-the-heart development system in Karas Region. This is a befitting tribute for the 23rd independence anniversary, enjoy!
The journey towards the appointment:
PF: You have been in the office for the past three years. How has the journey been thus far?
BS: While it’s exciting, yet challenging, the job is not monotonous.
It is diverse; it covers various fields from agriculture, infrastructure, education to health. As a governor, one should have an eagle’s-eye. Sometimes you have to sit people down to take them through the terminologies, the challenges and the opportunities but more than that, the governor should help people see the opportunities wherever they are.
It’s quite a stretch; you are not limited to one area of any industry. You are also not stuck in an office where you need to know everything about one issue. Rather, it’s more of knowing something significant about everything. That’s why I now have an interest in engineering-related issues.
For starters, I have issues with engineers in this country not designing and/or building appealing architecture. Whatever happened to striving towards the construction of appealing, modern buildings, which have concepts that speak of the times in which Namibia intends to live!
Buildings are important; they are our physical spaces. How we arrange them and what constitutes those physical spaces is important. That’s because they help mobilise communities and societies, as well as lift up the morals to say, ‘this is how we can also be’.
Back to the point; it’s quite an important job to grow with the position, to grow with the society in which you live. But one of the biggest things in respect of the job is that it has to do with passion. It distinguishes you. It helps you become highly energised about what you plan to do; what your community dictates needs to be done; what Government policies are and which ones matter.
I don’t see it as a job, I see it as a calling.
PF: Did you see your appointment as the regional governor coming?
BS: I was on my way to the auction [one day] when I got a call from State House asking me to meet the President.
When His Excellency and I got talking after the pleasantries, he said, ‘I have decided to appoint you as the governor of Karas Region.’
‘Me! A mere me?’ I exclaimed. ‘Yes, the whole you,’ he responded.
‘Why me?’ I asked, still shocked. ‘Why not you?’ He laughed and then added, ‘I have things to do, are you accepting the job offer or not?’
I replied, ‘Mr President, I have never been called to the State House to be offered a job! So please, excuse my ignorance; do I have to give you an answer right away?’ ‘Yes,’ he said.
I told him it was a very, very big challenge to put such a complex region in my hands but that I saw it as a special presidential assignment.
Then he said it would be my assignment to go and learn about all there was to being a regional governor.
So, to answer your question; no, I didn’t expect it.
PF: The appointment of governors by the President has faced a lot of criticism. Some have even labeled it as the return of the native commissioners. What is your take on it from what people have said vis what your experiences are?
BS: I was, in fact, not comfortable with the President appointing governors. In my opinion, it should be a regional process where a lot of procedures should take place.
In retrospect, it was a well thought-out decision because the President now deals with 13 people, instead of directly dealing with 107 people.
These 13 people he now deals with are the ones he can call to order and give instructions to, and/or demand development actions from. In terms of job performance, he can assess and re-assign if there are shortcomings.
This direct contact with the President is to ensure that Government programmes and projects, in as much as they are directed and financed by ministries, are implemented. It is also to ensure that the President’s people are on the ground to study and analyse the activities and then report them back to him.
This does not only make it easier to administer the country but it also fosters efficiency.
Because the speed at which the decisions are taken depends on the distance between the subjects and the phone, it can, sometimes, be a sluggish process. If, say, you are far from the phone, you are farther from the President. If you are nearer to it, it means you are empowered because the President’s time is accessible to you.
He always urges us to just call the State House and demand to speak to him. This makes it effective; it makes the delivery of services and the streamlining of State activities quite fast and fairly manageable.
Of course there are those challenges that we actually have to wait for the permanent secretaries (PSes) to allocate permission to.Sometimes there is resistance, not to mention the bureaucracy in administrative procedures but we can always consult our PSes to sort things out.
If you ask me, the President’s move to appoint regional governors himself has made it easier to sharpen up existing programmes meant for economic development.
Regional development: The good and the bad
PF: Karas is one of the richest regions in this country with its diamonds and zinc, yet it still lags behind. Why so?
BS: Every place needs champions. The sad truth about life is that someone has to champion something for others to buy into. There are those who may even think that the champion is just being a loud mouth. But one or few out of that group might spot the value of what the ‘champion’ preaches.
That is why it is my pleasure to sit most of the big business owners in this country down and convince them that Karas is the next biggest growth point the country has ever seen. Because we champion developmental initiatives from the central government, we sell new ideas to the private sector so that they can find a niche market. We package the ideas in a way that they allow the private sector to actually see for themselves that there is a winner here.
How else do you think Old Mutual would have thought of putting up a big mall here? It’s because someone sold them the idea three years ago. I had to work extremely hard to sell the package. I’m reminded of the principle that politicians should be the principal marketers of their countries, regions, or their local authorities.
Just market your areas and don’t you go talking about, ‘When we were fighting in the 1622, this area was just a piece of land and it must remain like that...’
You should face the relevant people and say, ‘Look, we have this and that; this is the best in the world; this is the second best but it works just fine; we can offer you this and that, therefore come!’ and so on.
Why is Karas lagging behind? Well, there are no other champions. I am the one who has been championing things here. When you look at the mayor of Lüderitz or Keetmanshoop, for instance; how do they champion their towns? The story unfolds from that.
They are now realising that hey, we must actually champion, sell and package our towns as the next place of growth.
Part of the reason why people are so poor is due to the colonial economic structure. They still come, employ people, extract wealth and then leave. The services they often buy are from South Africa; they hardly invest in the growth of local enterprises.
Some of the big companies or even big mines procure their services from South African companies and I condemn that. Namdeb is one of the guilty ones. It does not grow with the community. Even at the start of its business operations, it did what it had to do to procure services from South Africans. The plan was to gradually phase in locals but that has not happened to date.
It has to do with lack of patriotism. People talk about the triple bottom line, community growth, profit-making and all these things; and yes, they are all important. However, as a company, you have to help grow and/or create sectors of national economic development, especially when you have huge deposits of minerals. This should ensure that one day when you no longer exist, these services will still be procured elsewhere.
PF: Would you say, therefore, that the best of Karas Region; the best of regional governance, is yet to come?
BS: First of all, let me just say that the President’s move to appoint governors, is a pilot study. Question is, how will it work?
Let’s first acknowledge that it’s beginning to work. Of course there are challenges. Human beings must face challenges. But it’s beginning to work because governors can now articulate a particular vision in line with a broader vision.
For instance, governors can now initiate projects that they can own up to, as far as development goes, so that the inhabitants of their regions can also start to own up to development creation.
If all the 13 regional governors owned up to development, 2.1 million people would also own up to develop themselves; not offices, not ministries and/or agencies but individuals.
If the inhabitants owned up to development, they would be confident enough to question why the authorities concerned are frustrating their development processes. They would want to see results from projects A, B and C.
The question then is; when will these projects take off? Well, the railroad project is underway, just go to Lüderitz and Aus and see for yourself. There were, however, certain delays with the projects at some point, so now the people concerned have since had to go back to fix the problems.
The Neckartal Dam project is actually on. They have built a road, fenced the area and put up electricity. Now the construction of the dam is irreversible because people are paid more than N$300 000 on a monthly basis for the upkeep of the road, electricity, etc.
The wall construction is the problem but we cannot give up just because one thing is not going our way.
As for other developments, the University of Namibia (Unam) will, this month, appoint a director to be in charge of co-ordinating the southern campus. This director will have to be based in Keetmanshoop. So it’s on.
The construction of the TB ward, the construction of the Ministry of Home Affairs offices and the SME parks in Karasburg are on a N$26m budget. The development is widespread, the water front is ongoing and we need N$430m for all that, yet we currently have only N$30m. Although we need to get the rest of the money to start the process, phase two is already on.
In policy implementation, you do not stop operating because you do not have the entire budgeted amount yet. You would rather start and then let the cash come as you proceed. That is what the colleges at the water front have to learn. I am already teaching them all about that and they are beginning to buy it.
To start with, Government money has a time limit; it’s a year’s cycle. So it is always advisable to use what you have and progress with time.
It’s not easy to be a governor, unlike a minister who sits with resources and can, from time to time, decide to move things whichever way they wish.
As governors, we have to lobby for funds from the private sector. We also have to lobby for developmental initiatives from Government ministries and the parastatals.
We have to try to influence communities; traditional leaders should get things moving. We are like donkeys who keep on keeping on. So if we don’t force ourselves to develop from bottom up, then nothing will ever move. We have the responsibility to give feedback to the President, not excuses.
We are currently working on another initiative. We have just approved the Lüderitz corridor development initiative to co-exist with the Walvis Bay ones.
We have an office in Keetmanshoop, which is managed by NamPort and the Keetmanshoop Municipality. There’s also a dry port in Keetmanshoop, which takes after the Gaborone dry port concept. The dry port will soon move to Palapye and other places that I intend to visit.
The point is; one idea should lead to the another idea, just like one success leads to another. We are now in the process of making Keetmanshoop State Hospital an important referral hospital. We hope to complete the process after the construction of the TB ward. Since there will be a university campus that will be offering public health across the railroad, this kind of set-up will be beneficial to all.
We are looking at expanding the dates and the grape project but that will take some time, as we still have to talk to business people first. Due to the difficulties we face, we need to get some good ideas from community members.
We would like to make proper use of the second biggest airport, which is the Keetmanshoop Airport. Given its international standards, we need to start fostering regular flights and so forth.
These are the challenges that have to be addressed but before that, certain things have to happen first. We have to compress development. Once we do that, then we will start selling other products and services.
The dry port could become a centre for manufacturing. Take city deep in Johannesburg for example; that deep port has had a ripple effect because it is well-developed.
We can now talk about the Keetmanshoop dry port because we have 1600 trucks going through it and that is important.
All I can say is; everything I am currently busy with is work in progress. Nothing is perfect and we cannot press the pause button yet; we have to keep pushing for it to happen.
PF: You were recently quoted as urging the Government to declare certain areas as towns. Do you have a master model behind that, given that most of the local authorities are struggling and often rely on bail-outs from the central government?
BS: The problem with many local authorities is that they do not have a major industry upon which they are built.
Swakopmund, for instance, is tourism-based while Walvis Bay has a port based under the fishing industry. Otavi is also growing because it has its cement and the gold mine.
There is the perception [which is, in fact, a reality] that there is no central business deep and broad enough to create jobs, not to mention people being able to alternatively pay for services, which would enable them gain buying power to generate sufficient retail shops and other services.
That is why local authorities suffer. Berseba Village, Tses Village, Koes Village... what do they have except for a few teachers, nurses and pensioners?
The economic bases are very shaky and in some instances, non-existent.
When you look at Rosh Pinah and Aussenkehr, the latter is now an international valley because of the grapes. It employs thousands of people. Meaning, there is, in fact, a renewable base. You can forever plant grapes. So you will continue to grow your grapes; a very viable system of economic security for a town.
Additionally, it’s a strategic area near the border of the biggest economy on the African continent. Services will now come in, not because its private land but because people cannot buy and develop properties on it, let alone start families. Even the Government would not come in and build a school and so on and so forth.
Once you declare the land public, then it would be a town administered according to the will of the people. They would elect you under the condition that you ensure they have a school and/or a hospital.
Retail outlets, banks and other institutions can now come in and say, ‘There is a growth point there, let’s be part of it’. That’s how towns develop.
If, say, you have your sustainable base, which are grapes in this case, that would be the rationale. Or take Rosh Pinah, which has two mines that employ not less than 700 people each, as a strong economic base. It has now started exploring a new mining area, so there is still 15 to 20 more years to go.
Why would I want to proclaim a certain area a town, yet it has non-renewable resources? Because we can piggy-bag it now - as far as the mines go - to be a critical player in the further development and consolidation of the town.
For the community members, however, they must, together with the Government, get the creation of other industries moving, right now! This would be seen through so that we do not end up with a near-death experience as in the Arandis case.
PF: As we celebrate 23 years of independence, what do you think Namibia has achieved and what needs improvement, as far as national issues are concerned? Are we moving forward, backwards, standing still or slowly regressing?
BS: We have done so well. The problem is, we are sometimes even afraid of acknowledging the much we have accomplished.
When Founding President Sam Nujoma inherited a post-colonial regime, there were so many differences; so many people living in poverty; so much exclusion of the majority of our people and so much mistrust.
What he and his team did was nothing short of a miracle. They ensured peace and stability for people within the borders of this country and surrounding areas. They also built and internationally branded the county as a hub for peace and stability as the rules of law and so forth. If you ran on the principles of our constitutional democracy, you would notice that it’s been a miracle.
In the second phase, very progressive, very sensible and very responsive policies were put in place to address the very concerns of the people. Along the line, also listening to opposition parties made Nujoma’s team super and we should be proud of them.
As a young citizen, I would like to look back in future and say, ‘I am grateful to these old people for the work they did’.
For instance, the late Minister of Education, Dr Abraham Iyambo’s legacy is free universal primary education. Such are the things that many African countries that have been politically independent longer than us could not further and have been unable to further to date. The will is there and it’s often implemented from time to time, maybe not perfectly but it’s being implemented anyway.
I am quite content with the manner in which the unitary nature of the State was enforced. It happened in such a way that we in the regions cannot develop this artificial sense of being ‘little separate blocks’ that can do as they please.
This unitary State strategy through which we are all one in one nation, was well-done.
The transition from one Head of State to the next was well-handled - some countries would have gone to war for that. The emphasis on young people was super, super, super! It is not misplaced, it is spot on.
That we have not forgotten the old people and have given them pensions despite difficulties in the economy, is the best thing we could ever do. I really appreciate the fact that they have built this country to where it is, hence, we cannot abandon them. It teaches us to be responsible and to take care of everyone, not to desert anyone because of age or any kind of disability.
The international role that we have played in terms of peace-keeping missions, with regards to the Middle East issue is commendable.
For a very small country such as ours, the question of our leadership stand at the United Nations is significant.
Dr Theo Ben Gurirab, for instance, was once the President of the United Nations 62nd General Assembly (in 1999). We have also been on the Security Council for some time now.
Our positions and opinions in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union (AU) have been very respected thus far. This demonstrates that Namibia is the product of a multinational effort.
PF: This country is geographically big with only 2.1 million inhabitants; where are the gaps in expediting development, given that the President looks at regions as development hubs?
BS: The President likes decentralisation. The appointment of governors is nothing but that. He has decentralised the presidency itself.
For instance; as community members, you may come to me [the representative of the Head of State] with a certain matter. I would then choose which information goes to him, with regard to its urgency and/or importance.
As such, I must be accorded the recognition as the person who represents of the Head of State in the region.
Should such a member of the community not be satisfied with the information I have given the President about their matter, they can report back so the President takes the lead in decentralisation. That is why it would be inconceivable for other ministries to lag behind. You cannot sleep on the wheel. Keep me briefed. Remember, it’s only been two years, so it’s a work in progress.
Decentralisation is not just the responsibility of a Government ministry. No! Every ministry should take responsibility for it.
You can always see for yourself if regions have the ability to make fast decisions at local levels. They have to hit the nail on the head. They know the conditions, they know the distances and they know the challenges. Hence, service delivery should be enhanced.
That way, you would have customer satisfaction because should your services be delayed or neglected, it would frustrate the citizens who are essentially the customers of the public service. As a result, you would lose credibility.
There’s the issue of bureaucracy where you find a Government agent having to ask for permission from Windhoek to use a car while on duty in another town or region. Even if they are starring at the car, they would not touch it unless they are granted the permission by the relevant authority in Windhoek. As such, sometimes processes are delayed because the relevant authorities, who should give the green light for certain activities to take place, may not even be within reach.
So however urgent something might be, you would have to wait for a director to approve the process of fixing that issue. This has to be addressed.
The President has shown us the way, now it’s up to us to follows his lead. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is already decentralising.
Through the decentralisation and the allocation of resources, someone will come and question why a region, say, Karas, which had been allocated N$500m and another one that might have got N$600m, has not performed as expected. This is when the Japanese and the South Koreans’ strategies would apply; punishing the regions that do not perform and returning the money to the central government because they are not serious. Then you would start seeing how services roll out.
PF: What is your position on land resettlement since most of it is in your region [considering your inhabitants’ best interests and those of the rest of Namibia]?
BS: The land issue is a challenge. Some of the farms that have been acquired by the State have been allocated to people, yet there is no water.
But as much as there have been challenges, there have been very good success stories. Such has been possible due to the support that has been given by the line ministry through the Agricultural Bank of Namibia (Agribank). People are now able to acquire more livestock. It has really transformed the lives of a significant number of people and we have to build on that.
The main challenge is the scale at which the farming activities take place, even with Government support.
It is for this reason that many of the commercial farms, which were once privately-owned would only employ, say, five to ten people. They would pay salaries and taxes, as well as export meat.
Before independence, the contribution made by the agriculture sector to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was 12%. Now it is seven. Part of this progress has occurred through the resettlement programme where farmers - who employed people, paid their salaries, paid taxes and exported meat - have been able to sell their farms and the units have thus become zero-production or 20% productive units.
You would have to sell at a large-scale because you would be having a target to acquire an X number of farms. What has since happened is, the Government tax-base has reduced.
The unemployment rate has since increased because, say, a farm may be four units, yet the farmer just employs one or two people. Although this scale is not tense, it has since led to a significant increase in rural-urban migration.
People began to get their iron sheets and then moving to towns like Keetmanshoop, Karasburg, Lüderitz and so on, thereby creating pressure on the local authorities to allocate land for housing and that’s what you see today.
As a result of the resettlement programme, you see the pressure on Keetmanshoop Municipality and others, of not being able to keep up the pace with the influx of people from former commercial farms. In that context, it has been a concern.
For us to get this programme to another stage, we must scale it up to N$500 000 from the initial N$200 000 budget allocation, so that a farmer can acquire sufficient livestock. By doing so, farmers would find value in becoming full-time farmers so that we are able to create the scale and the depth within such farmers to appreciate the value of this whole idea.
It has often been a cultural enterprise. We grew up and practised farming in these areas. It is important to have a little piece of land but land has to have activities taking place on it to be valued and/or to have value.
We see the cultural, social and political values of it but often, the economic value is understated. Although it’s too slow a pace; we will get there.
So to steer the resettlement programme in the right direction, we have been meeting with farm owners from time to time to discuss the way forward. The good thing about the programme is that so many of our commercial farmers are willing to train our people.
We are working on ensuring that the transfer of skills occurs efficiently. Our problem is, sometimes, when a white, strict and tough Namibian strongly advises a black, the latter is likely not to take them seriously. What this black person forgets is that this white fellow may have learnt a few lessons and if they were to remove their skin colour and listen to what comes out of their mouth, they would learn a thing or two.
The resettlement programme has also catered for almost 100% of senior citizens, which brings in the question of the succession plan. Would a father-son relationship on a farm work? Would a mother-son relationship on the farm work? To what extent? In terms of inheritance, who would take over?
I am afraid that we have to be conscious about such things, lest we experience friction within a particular family, which could have actually been the most productive. Therefore, the State must constantly examine such issues.
That so and so’s father has a farm and that he has six or seven children, four of those sons, we must examine. We would inquire from the old man which of his sons has been the steward of the farm so that we begin to build in a succession plan in the young man, including training him. You cannot start training a 60-year-old while also busy with his son’s orientation.
Should the old man pass on, Government would be confident to say, ‘Out of the 300 resettlement farms that we have, 150 are now led by a second generation of owners whom we have funded, trained and will continue to equip’. The resettlement process can only scale up.
PF: You have met stiff resistance from important people in your region, as far as politics in your region is concerned. What message of understanding do you wish to carry across?
BS: We are here to do a job; just the job. Unfortunately, wanting to do one’s job is sometimes not straightforward. There are people who do not give a damn about who fights who; they just want results.
I did not come here to fight anyone! I was appointed for a mandate. The President instructed me to spearhead development here, that’s all.
Those who fight also need development; both economic and otherwise. Although they may fight me, it still remains my responsibility, as the representative of the region, not to ignore them, even if I have to generate ideas from or for them.
Resistance is always expected. However, it is the way that you operate and the things you are expected to collectively deliver that will either transform or further deform people. It’s up to them to take it whichever way they wish. For me, it’s unity with a purpose. There is a purpose for development. I am not in the business of fighting anyone; our fight is the eradication of poverty, they need to join me.
PF: The appointment of governors has an element of decentralisation to it. Does it make your work much easier?
BS: Note, the budgets are not decentralised.
PF: How come?
BS: It is the same as the fact that some ministries are not decentralised. Very few of them have directors or deputy directors in the regions.
As a result, we end up with a situation where there are people responsible for forestry, water and extension services but who heads the ministry? No one! So we have a problem in that regard.
The ministries of Works and Transport, as well as Education have been decentralised. You can see the pace at which things are done in those ministries (it’s a snap-the-figures strategy).
That’s why budgets need to be decentralised so that positions such as directors and others must go there. That way, you would see a smooth flow of operations.
The money allocated to ministries and agencies goes to the regions [usually at the end of October or the beginning of November every year]. Therefore, throughout the year, most staff members in Government ministries hardly have much to do.
...on tribalism and corruption:
Corruption is a problem that can single-handedly destroy us. It breeds seeds of tribalism because people often believe that their tribesmen can [or will] protect them from the outside world because they are from the same village.
People do corrupt deals with their fellow villagers. It is [apparently] a way of empowering one another. Therefore, it is often not an easy thing to tell others that they are wrong for sharing available opportunities with their fellow villagers. That’s because they would only be employing their tribesmen while further consolidating the enterprise of corruption.
Corruption is the deadliest ‘disease’. If you spread it further, you will breed tribalism. One of the two does not exist without the other. It is an ‘enterprise’ that needs to function in a particular environment of tribalism and exclusion.
PF: But how do you, as the governors, advise the President that corruption is the cancer that can and will eventually eat us all?
BS: If only we could do and/or undo the human mind; it would just be a question of pressing the “kill” button to eradicate corruption. But reality is different.
I watched a film the other day about the American dream. The interesting part of it was when they stated, the other side of the American dream is the American greed.
First and foremost, it’s like the kind of relationship we have in our jobs. As a politician, you sprout from a political party. The political party has to create [in you] a patriotic and a service-oriented citizen. Then it teaches you how to think in a particular way so that you can be trusted with State resources, because it cannot monitor what everyone does.
This matter can be addressed through a growing and well-informed society that is intolerant to corrupt practices because it understands that its end results could backfire on all of us.
Because people actually benefit from corruption through the corrupt who are in positions of influence, they will continue to find means to practise it.
Therefore, it is an issue we must constantly find ways to address, by revisiting our moral campuses for the sake of our offspring.
Eradicating corruption must involve having difficult, yet honest conversations. If at the levels in which we are, we still sit with tribal inclinations, then we have a problem.
We cannot exchange one form of expression with another. Although our biggest prize has been the freedom of independence, it is not the biggest. However, it’s the most important base because it allows the avenues for the second phase of economic empowerment and transformation of colonial structures to take place. But it, too, can be challenged by the failures of the second phase.
If in the second phase of the economic struggle, we do not empower enough or share the available resources enough, then the very freedom and independence we are talking about are bound to be challenged.
Corruption can undo everything that generations have struggled and died for. That is why campaigns such as ‘My Namibia My pride’ do not touch the central nerve of what should generate pride. It is very superficial and does not benefit everyone.
Does everyone benefit from, say, mining concessions, oil concessions and EPLs? Do people benefit from State procurement services? Does everyone benefit from allocated bursaries? Do we have representatives of the students who study abroad?
If you don’t love your diversity, you will end up only loving exclusivity. I love my diversity because from where I come from, everyone is there in Karas. And l love it because when you have everyone, you get so many wonderful ideas from all of them.
PF: In as much as it is hard to deal with tribalism and corruption, given that the underlying answer lies within us, where should we seek for diversity amongst our communities or workplaces?
BS: You should ask where the rest of Namibia is. Citizens should indeed be patriots, if not, then there must be something wrong and it has to be fixed.
When people are loyal, you get the best out of them. Look at societies like America where everyone has been pulled from the rest of the world. Why has America been the largest economy in the world for so many years and it is likely to continue for many years if China does not challenge its position?
They pull everyone from everywhere as long as they can add value. We often think that little empires are sustainable because they probably solve short-term problems but that is not the case. As long as you play it fair, the opportunities for growth will eventually spread over and the trickle-down effect will be evident. The cake will be big enough for everyone to have a large slice.
When we build small empires, we should stay aware that they can only have a small impact, not to forget the intense pain they cause.
When you think you can practise corruption from your little corner, someone else also thinks they can do the same from their little corner. The problem then is, we end up with many such corners mushrooming. Eventually, they hurt the broader public.
When all is said and done, there are other mentalities that erupt from mere assumptions - that everything is corrupt; everything is a problem; everyone who has prospered in life must have stolen money from somewhere, etc. Remember that at the end of the day, people know and talk about what they see. Your day will come.
PF: What are some of the challenges Karas Region faces and how do you plan to deal with them?
BS: The challenges are generally similar, from one region to another. The question of youth unemployment, under-employment, opportunities for all, opportunities for value addition of the products that we have... The question of citizens being able to benefit from the enormous resources that we have; the question of education and training etc.
If you went to Oshana now, you would find the same problem of alcohol abuse as in any other region. But then again, there are unique areas that have differentiated approaches in addressing these challenges. These include [importantly] the question of generating sufficient interest and thereby creating capacity for the local people to do business.
If you looked at the northern, central and the western parts of the country, you would notice that people are inclined to their own businesses through co-operatives, PTYs... they enter into this and that industry and so on.
Karas has been unable to empower its inhabitants. For every State intervention, there are usually opportunities but they become useless if the locals do not grab them. So we sensitise them about getting their businesses going; spotting the opportunities and taking advantage of them, etc. We also focus on structuring people’s professional habits in a way that they can manifest themselves and demonstrate that they can do A, B and C.
We have succeeded in this regard because we have been able to support budding companies owned by few, self-driven, young business people.
In the construction industry [in the sewer works], for instance, we nurture young people in a way that they would be able to open up their self-built offices.
The second challenge, in respect of education and training, has been the inability to look beyond Grade 12. As a result, academic performances in both grades 10 and 12 have consistently been declining. In the previous academic year (2012), Karas Region came in 12th place nationwide for Grade 10 level and 13 for Grade 12 level.
The challenge is, young people hardly ever think ahead. They never imagine themselves being absorbed in tertiary institutions, or that they will one day have a good job and so on.
We have done a bit of work in strengthening the Karas Development Trust to add to the Government support given to students for further studies.
Central government has been so kind as to give us a hunting farm to strengthen the economic base of the Trust.
In respect of alcohol abuse, we have clamped down on the illegal shebeens with the help of the police. You would notice that people are beginning to nurture a sense of self-worth.
You must remember that Karas is the most commercialised region in terms of agriculture. If you looked to the left or right of the B 1, B2 and B3 roads, you would notice that all these areas have commercial farms that are privately owned. Meaning, the wealth is not equally shared, as many people have been reduced to shack dwelling.
You have to cascade it to zoom it in; go to Vaalgras Village, for instance and show them the reality. Tell them about the success stories from their own communities.
People are interesting beings; when they see things going well except for one, they are highly likely to forget the 10 that went well and focus on the single wrong deed.
They may start thinking we have drought here; that our cattle have died and our goats, gone. They may also think we have diseases here and that some of our children are alcoholics and, and, and... And oh, life is miserable and there is nothing good to pin-point, etc!
As a community, they may not think, ‘Hold on, there is the son of Mimi who is actually an engineer’. Or, ‘So and so’s son is a journalist and can help us do this and that...’ They never remind themselves of such success stories within their own communities.
Let’s remind people of their own success stories. One even has to go the point of awarding people certificates in various communities just to tell the communities that, ‘Hey wena! From your own community; from your own dusty streets, there are these successful people’.
From then on, you might start seeing a sense of, ‘OK, we can do it’ but you would have to help them.
You have to find a way to articulate, to the centre, why you need certain things to be done. For instance, why do we need to urgently continue with the Neckartal Dam project? It’s because we want to lift people up. We want to strengthen their morale and show them where the opportunities are. Should they choose not to take them, then you, the helper, would rest easy knowing you did your part.
We have had to tell the centre that we need a university to secure future generations from Karas Region; or that we need the railroad to attract other industries. One of our biggest challenges with regards to lack of infrastructure, particularly rail and road, is the awareness of the consequences of the lack of strategic thinking, perhaps. That is probably why we were unable to milk the biggest economy on the continent.
We now find out that the Northern Cape urgently needs to export its manganese, iron ore and other things. Unfortunately, no one wants to go to Cape Town and/or other harbours because they are far compared to Lüderitz. So we need to finish the railway and build a road from Aussenkehr to Rosh Pinah to connect them so we can begin to link up with the big G-20 economies in a way that a small economy would benefit from the giants.
We could probably create opportunities for such businesses and then market their services on their behalf and say, ‘Look fellas, at the Lüderitz port, you can efficiently offload your manganese. Some of you who are struggling at the Cape Town habour or Richards Bay or wherever, can now operate through Lüderitz’. That is the challenge that we need; not only inwardly but outwardly as well.
For any regional governor, the main challenge would be coping with the new appointment; the mandate to monitor and evaluate, not to mention becoming the lead development specialist. You have to be in every ministry and Government agency to find out what each one of them does, what their challenges are in processing and implementing their projects as so on.
There has also been the issue of people not being comfortable with direct interrogation, yet through that, we have been able to approach ministers to question them about policy implementations. We have the right to ask, ‘Comrade minister, there is that N$20m project, which has been on hold for a while now. What are you doing about it?’ and so on.
Eventually, you wouldn’t tell the boss you don’t know what’s going on with certain departments. Luckily for me, the sensitivity in which the central government has been approaching my constant urge for them to do A, B, C has been a very strong pillar. I trust that as a result of pondering, their approach will eventually translate into a success story.
The biggest challenge African states face is how effectively to administer their governments. This country is geographically huge with a very small population. Its regions act as administrative blocks of the unitary State. As such, it is very important to cascade the bigger vision into that of the region’s and work towards making sure that you leverage the best that your region has to offer. However, that has not been the case.
I may surprise others and say I want Karas Region to be the Gauteng of South Africa or the California of the US. This is because I have a good base. Remember, if you have the dates, you will have the grapes.
I once read a very interesting book that talked about how the Chinese have allowed regional leaders to project to the outside world. They attract American businesses, British businesses and others to invest in their regions. Using the same model, we would get investors and then offer them what we have if we are to remain competitive.
We could speak of regional economic powerhouses within nation states, not only focus on the country’s economy. But the region could also say, for instance, ‘Here in Oshana, this is what happens. As the governor of region X, I would like to lure you, the German government, to directly invest in us’...
To get them hooked, we would say, ‘Here’s the new development. The Americans have done it, the Japanese have done it; marketing themselves’. They do not wait for their central governments to support them, let alone being tightly controlled by them, as far as the economic agenda goes.
We ask ourselves what our ultimate goals are. The answers are viable employment opportunities, value addition and economic development, which we should work towards. So it has been an interesting two years.
Governors and tenders
PF: To what extent do governors get involved in the tender processes within their respective regions?
BS: Since this is a new appointment, some of our colleagues are not very comfortable with the influence governors have on such matters but it’s work in progress.
We assert our authority, as governors, by virtue of being the President’s representatives. We are making headway; we are in a position to tell Government ministries not to mess up projects for they are budgeted for.
But you still have to help people understand the point you are trying to make as far as development is concerned. A minister cannot, for instance, make public statements without consulting us, they cannot do that.
The railway project is a good example of such a case. It is nonsense! How do I, as a governor, only learn about such things in the papers? Why do they not consult? What is the problem? Being a governor means [at least in my experience] having to chase after information.
It’s not easy. You could also choose to sit and wait for people to come to you to consult you because you are the governor. But as much as that is an option, it does not work. You really have to be out there to constantly fight. Had we not done that, nothing would have come out thus far. It is a challenge you, our colleagues (the media), will have to help us on.
The new dispensation in which governors are being appointed by the President probably irritates certain people. There are those who would sabotage progress. So as a governor, one has to be alert.
We are fighting for the rail project, we are fighting for the Lüderitz Port and others, yet we operate from small offices. Governors’ offices all over the country are very small. A governor only has a personal assistant, a secretary, a driver and a clerk. The strategies we use include incorporating effort in the execution of duties if we are to stay in charge of the co-ordination of all the local authorities’ activities.
All that considered, you still find some of the ministers complaining that some key information is kept away from them by some of the administrators.
PF: Would you say the approach made by some of these mining companies has been very short-sighted?
BS: Indeed. Look at what Rosh Pinah and Skorpion Zinc mines have done, for example. The former is very admirable because it has very sensitive, patriotic people. Should I say I want this place to be a town, they would say, ‘Comrade, we are with you. Let’s talk.’ They would not resist because they understand the nature of operations.
PF: How are you handling the Vaalgras issue, given that there are those who do not support you?
BS: On the contrary, I had meetings with the Vaalgras community members early last month. They yearn for development.
They do not have a clinic, police station, proper hostel of school children, transportation services, water and electricity, etc.
Most of these things are pretty much internal matters the community must sort out itself (which it is).
What I am, however, worried about is the poverty level there. I have to do everything possible to alleviate it despite some opposition. You cannot expect to have it easy all the time in our line of work. Otherwise, you would not learn or professionally grow.
Therefore, concerns around Vaalgras are not mine to carry because most of them are historic and have to be dealt with, focusing on the genesis of the problems. I call on the community members to be united to systematically address the problems in respect of the legal processes.
Besides that, there are traditional matters to worry about; the turf that will produce the traditional chief. Who will be deposed, for instance? That is within the community turf. We do not interfere.
It is a very important constituency. I know there are hundreds of people there who support my work. Most of them now understand the Government programmes whose fruition I must oversee. They now understand Government’s approach towards development; they know Government’s expectations of them and they appreciate it.
Early last month, we had nine ministries speaking to community members about the ongoing programmes, opportunities and shortcomings. They were glad to be enlightened because they could now see what ministries do; Works, Agriculture, Health, etc. They also requested that mobile clinics be availed twice a week. Such are the legitimate concerns there are.
PF: Having come from the youth structures, would you say in your opinion, that we are doing justice to the youth of this country?
BS: On corruption, no, we are not, neither are we on the implementation of programmes and projects.
While the policies and the emphasis are right; while the budgets exist, the slow pace of implementation is wrong. As long as there is unemployment and under-employment; as long as the ideas of the youth are not being absorbed and/or harnessed, we will continue having a problem.
In the US and other countries like China and Japan, when you have an idea, you are encouraged to develop it because should you succeed, you would play a key role in the development of the economy.
But then again, the youth are not everything. I look at some of those in the youth structures and I worry. Some of them are super arrogant! One wonders whether anyone ever questions the intellectual capacities of those recruited into the youth structures or the kind of education they have received.
One also wonders whether or not these are future-leader material because they are rude, arrogant, disrespectful and have misguided application and understanding of politics, not to mention a completely exaggerated sense of self-importance.
Just like one business, one industry or one tribe are not all, youth also is not everything. It must function within a global setting. There have to be older and younger people, to add more value to a society set-up.
In terms of the politics and the structures that should represent the youth, as well as where generations of leaders should [apparently] emerge from, I often see a dismal failure. And given the responsibilities, most of the colleagues can hardly deliver.
There are other great comrades who perform. However, we must constantly remind ourselves of the youth within. In doing so, we have to place the youth at a strategic centre of policy implementations.
For instance, when I speak about education, I mean for the youth. When I speak about creating and therefore succeeding in getting the support for the University of Namibia campuses, it’s all about the youth. When I speak about the dam, the railroad and the Lüderitz harbour, I mean employment opportunities for the youth. When I speak about creating new towns and therefore creating opportunities within such towns, it’s all about the youth.
But you cannot go on and on about the youth this, the youth that all day. You know what it is you must do, you know Swapo’s emphasis in youth development. You know the policy of the State, etc, implement them collectively and address youth unemployment, skills development and youth empowerment. It’s not one single act that produces youth empowerment, no, it must be a collection of activities.
Therefore, those who claim to be principal speakers of youth empowerment, allow me to ask which youth they have empowered, yet when they get the choice between themselves and the military, they choose retired generals?
Why would you not trust yourselves, yet expect others to put you first?
PF: Tell us more about the Neckartal Dam project, the Lüderitz Port and others finally coming to fruition for the Karas inhabitants and Namibia at large, given the controversy around these projects?
BS: I like the way you put it because whatever good happens in any region, it is good for the country too. If good happens in Oshana, Caprivi, etc, it is good for Karas as well.
In terms of the Neckartal Dam, your frustrations are ours too. We, however, hope there will be no dodgy stories this time around. Tenders have been submitted and closed. So I do not see the reason why there would be any delay this time, not to mention mistakes. Lessons have been learnt from previous mistakes and they should not recur.
Should there be any clandestine agenda to disturb this development, the culprits would be doing so at the expense of the country’s progress.
Food prices will sky-rocket in the next five years. Thus, with this dam, the idea is to engage into various plantation projects including agro-food processing, to export and to sell locally.
The curve towards Namibia’s food sustainability is well in sight. Anyone who discounts its importance would be under-estimating the impact it could have not only on Karas but also the entire country.
Elections are coming up in the not-so-distant future and these are some of the merits and demerits the voting community will be looking at.
Studies of the possibilities of starting a new harbor have been done. Although there are certain complications, there are companies trying to come up with innovative ideas to address them. The conveyor belts are being built deep into the ocean to convey well into the big ships.
What is good is that NamPort’s focus is now significantly on the Lüderitz Port. Although the strategy has always been Walvis Bay, you have to look at another port and that is underway. So, a lot still needs to be done. We need investors to pull the South African companies and other institutions that have interest in developing this port.
Because of its importance as a centre for oil and gas, it is emerging as an important port for both. Therefore, the imperatives are there for attention to be given. That’s why the railroad is critical.
I was disappointed to read in the newspapers that a Government programme worth N$60m - to build the road - failed because there was bad influence here and there, hence it had to be cancelled. You do not do that! Someone should have studied what went wrong and come up with recommendations on how to improve the situation, not cancel the tender process and talk about priorities! That project is a priority.
PF: What can Karas Region and the entire country expect from your leadership?
BS: First, let me say, Karas Region is the next big biggest growth point. It has everything to leap for; from one stage of development to the next.
Mine is pretty much a humble service leadership. People will always judge. Journalists will always write about my approach to things, etc. But in my heart, I know it is all about humility, the people and the effort I put in doing the best I can.
Anyone in my position would also have to assess, from time to time, whether or not they are still up to the challenge. Are the ideas I sell realistic and workable? Are they sustainable? Will they have an impact on people? Who will use the services and benefits? Such are the things you must ask yourself while assessing your progress.
It’s a humble and human-orientated service, that is what the Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) taught us. That’s what the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) taught us. That’s what life has taught us.
Because we shall die here, let’s be buried in a country that has moved from third to first world. We see and follow the example of Lee kuan Yewiken Hu of Singapore. I have seen the impact humility has made in transforming and making contributions to societal development. I wish to leave a good legacy for my daughter and other youth to envy.
PF: Any message, with Namibia’s 23rd independence celebrations in mind?
BS: We are [definitely] one of the few countries that can look back and forward with a sense of pride and direction. We are not lost in ideological confusion, civil strife, nor do we lack leadership. We are a country that is able and constantly seek and harness opportunities for our citizens from the rest of the world.
We are a country beginning to vastly open up to the rest of the world. We are very fast learners but what do we do in terms of planning and implementing policies? We just have to get our act together in respect of taking not only the big decisions but doing big things to have big impact. We shall get there.
Twenty-three years is a short time but it is the start of a growing point for a young person. It is when a young adult learns how to do what is right by making mistakes and learning from them, to have a prosperous life in their 30s and 40s.
As a country, that’s where we are. A lot of good things have been done, so much could have been done better but there are still those that need improvement. We are not perfect but we can sit back and say we are headed in the right direction.
Look at the number of students we take to tertiary institutions, for instance. Look at free education, etc. As a former Nanso member, I know what free education means for the country for we fought for it at primary school.
Look at how our democracy has been consolidated from time to time; both in the Swapo party structures and the country as a whole.
So we can be proud; we should be proud but above all, we must look at what each one of us, as a citizen, does - individually - to strengthen national unity.
PF: Thank you for your time, governor. PF