As an author and international speaker who often leaves his audiences asking for more, given the manner in which he incisively tackles developmental issues, Professor Joseph Diescho needs no introduction to Namibia.
We caught up with him shortly after he became head of the Namibia Institution of Public Management and Administration (Nipam).
According to him, his appointment has several implications. Firstly, it is an affirmation that the Namibian leadership has realised, for this country to move forward, it has to uphold local talent limited as they might be to make a significant contribution. No country can develop without its own people’s involvement, he believes.
Secondly, he believes leaders come and go: “People should not depend on the constant leadership of an individual as if they will not grow old or die. Therefore, it is necessary for us who are still strong to be ’re-injected’ into the leadership to take it forward.”
Thirdly, as Africans, we are spiritual people who always reminisce. Once one attains a good amount of education, so much more will be expected of them and “that ‘so much more’ is what I bring with me.”
“I am coming here to be the salesman of hope, not only for Namibia but for Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and Africa at large. I’m selling the fact that as black people, we can achieve whatever we put our minds to if we believe in ourselves. So I am here to add value to a process, which is already underway. This process has several parts,” he explains.
Given the high profile positions he has held outside the country, he vehemently denies making any sacrifices to land his current job. “I sacrificed nothing at all. All I did was respond to the call of making a more organic contribution into a field I know only too well. That, in itself, is capacity building - making others do better in their own fields. I am an enabler, I am the light of what already exists. I did not sacrifice anything, I just changed gears,” he explains.
As much as he would have preferred to be a professor at the University of Namibia (Unam) or the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN), he believes given his understanding of Nipam, it is exactly what he had hoped for; working where he is the interlocutor between the Government values and its needs versus the aspirations of the nation at large.
Asked whether or not he made the right decision to take up this position, given the politics of the State-owned Enterprises (SoEs) in this country, he asserts with a sigh, “Sometimes it is necessary to jump into the mud and get dirty with the rest, so that the privilege of being critical [if you like] from outside is tested by reality.
He has been critical by observing from outside alright. But there comes a time when one cannot be a bystander. In his words, “One realises it is time to jump and play the game, but differently.”
He adds: “Nipam is where the values of the Namibian government and State are translated into visions. Our mentalities about our relevance in the jobs, from which we earn a living, must change.”
Professor Diescho is famous for being a fearless critic of the Government. But now that he is part of the fold, does his position call for any sensibility, sensitivity, discipline and decorum? He believes so.
Interestingly, it is his critical voice which won him his current position. “I am quite surprised at the confidence the leadership has in me in spite of what I was known to represent. The leadership wanted someone who could critique,” he explains, adding, “Being critical is not always negative, as long as it is not destructive. For instance, I am not going to tackle people but build them. We can only move forward if we take everyone along. I am a merchant of hope. That is what I am going to sell.”
His immediate goal is to discern issues, he says: “I must understand what the message beside the problem, for me to come up with a proper diagnosis of the state of affairs. Let’s not start by solving problems that do not exist.”
To this end, he intends to visit all the regions of the country within the first 100 days of his term - “It is then that I will look the functionaries and representatives in the eyes to know their basic understanding of why they are there; how they got there; what they expect of themselves; what they think will make development possible from the sphere of influence of where they are and so forth.”
Secondly, he promises to listen to all the grass-root stories with a ‘village ear’, not his professorial ‘hearing aids’. That is because, ‘if you cannot understand people’s stories in their primitiveness, for lack of a better word, you will never be able to solve their problems.’
“When people cry out for delivery service, it goes beyond that. They cry for the lack of respect and dignity; of the affirmation of their own humanity and of the consummation of the liberation struggle, which was meant to make life better for everybody. That is what I shall seek. Therefore, I will not prescribe solutions for they will come from all those voices. Instead, I will discern the information.
“The challenge will indeed be to take Nipam out of this building to the people and bring the people here. We cannot teach what universities teach but we will translate people’s voices into action and then use Government policies, the laws, the Constitution and the values of the republic as a road map,” he continues.
Lack of resources is a big challenge, not a stumbling block, he asserts. However, he has been assured by the political leadership that resources will not be a problem as far as Nipam projects are concerned.
The deputy prime minister recently said [twice, in a public event] that Nipam has to be given the financial resources it needs so that blame is not shifted to those who work there when they fail. “I am going to hold them to that,” he affirms.
Of course resources, or lack thereof, are meager when it comes to public service delivery. As such, Professor Diescho avows to teach his team how to work within their limits in solidarity with those from well meaning institutions from better resourced communities in the West. “We basically have to learn to do much with very little. We cannot depend on money all the time. Our forefathers and mothers produced huge results without money.”
The professor laments dependency as one of the cultures that must be done away with. “Why can’t we do and create things while we still have the physical strength?” He asks, adding, it is very important that those in authority create models in society through which the citizenry can serve without aspiring to be rich.
“Wealth should not be the greatest ambition in life but service. That said, this institution will be a service centre where demands from the ground are met and I would be naïve not to expect difficulties,” he says.
Part of the victory, he adds, will be dealing with the external envy that will emanate from the institution’s success for which he is prepared; “That is not to declare that I actually know what I’ll do but let’s just say I will cross the bridge when I get to it.”
In Professor Diescho’s view, development, service delivery and empowering the people should be the Government’s priority. It has the power to do it. What it lacks are the mental machinery to get its people where they would like to be. “If only we could do away with this serious psychosis of self-doubt and self-pity! Nipam aims to seriously combat that problem,” he says.
On borrowing from best case examples beyond our borders, he admits it will be fool-hardy not to look at other experiences in the world as he sees nothing wrong with borrowing if one does it intelligently.
“It’s like buying clothes from elsewhere but ensuring you respect your climate. As much as we will borrow the civilisation, we will make the necessary adjustments in accordance with our local needs,” he states, adding, “Let’s mind the fact that we are a crawling nation. For lack of a better expression, we need to be arrogant enough [as Africans] to show the rest of the world we can, in fact, invent and not re-invent the wheel. Nothing tells me America cannot borrow from us [Namibians] or that the Germans cannot borrow from us. If that is considered as an act of arrogance, then I plead guilty.”
He reckons Nipam is a service office, which aims to replicate [if you like], emulate, amplify, reproduce, correct and/or improve on what other people have already done while attaining a body of knowledge out of which it can build a future.
Professor Diescho assures the public that they are ready to meet the mandate they have been entrusted with.
“I derive that spirit from the current Pope. When he was elected, he did something unusual, which was an inspiration to me. Instead of blessing people immediately, he said, ‘Pray for me’. All I am asking of the Namibian people is support because by supporting me, they would be supporting their Government. Additionally, they would be supporting the three fundamental principles peace, security and stability which explains why Namibia must do what it does,” he concludes. PF