President Geingob speaks on Namibia, leaving a legacy, skillsets, newfound oil, Pan-Africanism and lifelong Nigerian mentor
President Hage Gottfried Geingob (born 3 August 1941) is the third and the current President of Namibia, in office since 21 March 2015. He was the first Prime Minister of Namibia from 21 March 1990 to 28 August 2002, and he served as Prime Minister again from 4 December 2012 to 21 March 2015. Between 2008 and 2012 Geingob served as Minister of Trade and Industry.
President Geingob was born in Otjiwarongo, South-West Africa (present-day Namibia). He received his early education at Otavi and joined Augustineum College to finish his Teacher Training Course in 1961.
I sat down with the distinguished global figure who has been in the space of the international relation since the 1960s at the State House in Windhoek, Namibia on Friday, 29th of July 2022, for an exclusive and extensive interview. Do read the excerpts.
Good day your Excellency. Lovely to be in your beautiful country of Namibia. And I’m quite impressed with what I’ve seen in the first few days I’ve been here. So, straight to the questions. I’m still trying to process the vast country called Namibia which without any doubt is a tourist delight and tourist destination. How has the country been able to spearhead her tourism drive?
Firstly, Namibia is a child of Pan Africanism; a child of international solidarity, midwived by United Nations. So, we have that flavour of Pan-Africanism and also accommodate the international community. And therefore, since people knew that during the struggle, when we were a struggling country; many people supported Namibia within the African Continent and we thank Africans for that. And therefore, people were eager in this country to maximize the unique features like the desert and other tourist sites that we have. And of course, tourists were coming during the apartheid era, but only white people as they were doing their own things. The country opened up after independence. And do remember that the United Nations was here in full force and also deployed a lot of Africans from all over the Continent. Namibia as a country opened up and once it did, tourists began visiting Namibia. That was how tourism in the country expanded. And we have the unique features that we are exposing, highlighting, and showcasing. We have the game parks which are well maintained. We have deserts which have their own unique attractions and we are maintaining them properly too.
How was your administration able to steer the economic ship during the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdown?
That was the most difficult period ever since this administration took over. We had gone through crisis management. When we took over office, we had a deficit of over 3 billion Namibian Dollars. So, there was a cash flow problem and we tried to navigate through that. And then, commodity prices went down. And then, we had Angola. Angola was very good to us but we didn’t realise that. The Angolan situation/crisis was bad and it impacted us for we suffered. And then severe drought, the worst drought we have ever had. And as we navigated out of that, bang; this uninvited enemy called COVID came and it was difficult times. So, we have basically been doing just crisis management throughout all the seven years I have been in office.
But experts are saying contrary to what others would say, that we are getting a growth rate of 3%. In a nutshell, rapid economic recovery is vital. We also want to recover from COVID fatigue, so to say, as it was devastating. And to move on, we have new ideas for green hydrogen, it has now put us on the world map. We discovered oil and we don’t want the oil to be a curse. And therefore, learn from experience from and with our brothers and how they’ve handled that, and most importantly avoid the pitfalls. We are latecomers and might learn from those who were there before us and not repeat the same mistakes (if there were mistakes.) There are sometimes no mistakes but people just say, they are mistakes, this is Africa. We are going to copy and we’re going to learn from other people. And we are thinking of the future which is energy. The other project is a long-term project that of hydrogen. So we’re planning. I would leave a legacy when I am leaving.
My few days are on the ground now and I’ve gotten feedback from some Namibians. What I’ve realised and what I can deduce from discussions with people is a key concern with citizens in Namibia, and has to do with the need for employment creation. What is the government doing about this?
Government is not a job creator, I have repeatedly said and told them this and I was and I am still condemned for that. The government’s main job is to provide a conducive environment. The first, is to train people. Now, a brief history. We had apartheid where Africans were left out of certain things. So wrongly or rightly, we focused on education. Now, what was the success of students who went through school, when they obtained their degrees? But now, that becomes a curse because you don’t get jobs. Now, don’t misunderstand or don’t confuse this part of Africa with your part of Africa. In Nigeria, there are business people who are indigenous, who are entrepreneurs; they are creative and they create their own jobs e.g. the market women concept, and those are elderly people who are having or have self-employment. Here in Namibia, because there must be a boss (a white), people expect somebody to hire him or her (not all) but that is still a tendency here; that I must be hired because I feel government must be an employment agency. Now, we are saying we cannot employ everybody, we are saying we must provide a conducive environment. Yes, we must do more because youth must be employed. It’s time bomb, as it is. But the point is, people must also recreate jobs like what is obtainable in West Africa. People create their own jobs, market woman concept,s and so on like petty selling, and from the proceeds, sending students to universities in America from the little small businesses. That concept you have in West Africa was destroyed by apartheid in this part of Africa and replaced with “you need a boss mentality” and you need somebody to hire you. And therefore you’re looking after the white man who is the boss, instructing you and paying your wages; that mentality is still there unfortunately.
And it would take a while for it to be eradicated?
Yes. And the other thing; is schools are everywhere but we must send our children to the right schools to get the skills that are matching the job market of the present times we are in which is the 21st Century. So mismatches are there.
One other question which is a concern to Namibians is if the numerous foreign trips to encourage investments, are yielding the results so far?
What numerous trips? The problem in Namibia is that we are equal. They feel the President is just as ordinary a man like them (every other Namibian). I’ve Head of State duties. You know, at my age, do you think I enjoy travelling? Going to sleep in a small hotel room and so on and I have my own property and farm? I go because I have to go. I go because I have to be there. Firstly, I’m going next week. I’m going to a state visit not going to lure investors. That’s a mistake they’re making. We have boards for that. I have a duty (State Visits) as Head of State that I’ve been declining sometimes. My brother (the Prime Minister) from Jamaica was here and we took him around. Then, he invited me for their 60th year Emancipation and Independence anniversary and he said; “You would be a guest of honour as you are a Pan-Africanist.” That is how such things begin. I’m recognized as such. I don’t just jump and invite myself. There are many invitations I have turned down when I select which to attend. But nobody can tell me when I’m carrying out my constitutional duty. It’s not for luring the business people. But even the trips have been cut down. My delegations are now 10 people, others come with 40 or 50 people. I cut down, so nobody can lecture me about how I dictate my trips and so on. It’s my constitutional duty. And at my age, I will tell you, I don’t enjoy flying. No.
During my research on Namibia, before flying in, it occurred to me that people in Sub-Saharan Africa have not done a lot of Namibia focused tourism and expeditions. And it appears a majority of tourists coming to Namibia are from the Western Hemisphere. Why so? And also, is Namibia more focused on tourists from the Western Hemisphere?
Why not? When they are the ones who have money. They’re the ones who want to come and see the animals. Now, this is the real situation of things; we didn’t sit down and say, look, we want tourists to come only from the West. There is no policy like that. Nigerians were coming here. There were a few visa problems. But things are better now. Our doors are open. For instance, people from Botswana started every Christmas, they just drive over and they camp in Namibia. Now, Southerners are coming as tourists during the Yuletide Christmas season, they have their own camps etc. And now, South African blacks are now doing the same thing too. Only thing with that is they don’t spend money in the country because they only camp and bring their own food too. So, you’re not going to be counted as a tourist. Now, the Germans will come and they will bring their money. And we’re looking for money too on our own part. There is no law which stops Africans from coming into Namibia. And that said, we are Pan Africanist. So, definitely, to prove that point, we are the first country (as you can see that African Union flag and African Union anthem) who have made it a priority to sing the AU anthem with our national anthem. That AU flag has been flying that way since our independence, knowing that we are a child of the AU and UN. So, we invite Africans to come here to Namibia, they are our brothers. But tourism is a question of spending money and you must have money in order to spend money.
Let me highlight on something not known about Namibia. Talking about refugees for instance, we are the first country who are issuing IDs and in those IDs, we don’t call them refugees. We say African guests.
Yes. I have never heard of this anywhere else. And, those who are qualified academically, we let them work. They’re working and some are just becoming Namibian citizens. We value skills and highly skilled people.
With the serenity of Windhoek and Namibia which are perfect for tech companies. Now, is Namibia and the Government thinking of positioning herself to be a regional tech startup hub for Southern Africa?
We would like to but we’re also having stiff competition from our brother who is bigger and more open. But definitely, if you look at and want to discuss about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. a committee has been working on it and deliberating about the future of work isn’t going to be the same and we must start to rethink the Industrial Revolution, deliberate/discuss more on and about Artificial Intelligence, talking about robotics. The labour as we know it is dying out. We must retool our skillsets to welcome the new technologies, without that we are going to be left behind and we are not going to be here forever as we are old and young people are here and they are the young people that we have got. But we have to help them. They just had a session two weeks ago on tech and business and young people. I was shocked by what I saw they had developed. So, that’s the way to go for there is no other way. And we must also get the skillsets from Africans. If Africans are qualified, why must I get someone from outside Africa to come here?
That is a Pan African mindset.
Yes, as we are children of Africa
What is the state of the bilateral relation between Namibia and Nigeria?
Excellent at our level. It has been excellent. Nigeria was with us during the struggle and Nigeria always contributed money to our struggle. So, with Nigeria, we have always had excellent relationship. I was mentored by Professor Adebayo Adedeji (a Yoruba man from Ijebu Ode in Ogun State).
He was the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) from 1975 to 1991. He was the first Nigerian Professor of Public Administration at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). He was also a Nigerian Government Minister, and Chairman of the Senate of then newly established United Nations Institute for Namibia in Lusaka, Zambia.
He was my mentor and he was of the UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) He became the Chairman of the Senate of the UN Institute for Namibia in Zambia, when I was preparing Namibian bureaucrats. He is the man who really taught me Africa. I remember him as he was also our economic adviser. In 2018, I had to fly to Nigeria to go and bury him. Also, his family is still in contact with me. We are family.
This is the human angle or view of African leaders that people don’t get to hear about. To the next question, pertaining to what you alluded to, so minutes ago. After Shell made a significant discovery early this year or last year, French oil corporation, TotalEnergies also made significance oil discovery in the Orange Basin, offshore southern Namibia. Now, with these oil discoveries, how will these discoveries benefit Namibians? Vis-à-vis what we on the continent refer to as the oil curse.
Well, we are the last ones we never had any doubt. It was always agreed that there is oil as we were told. Now, it is proven there is oil. Whenever, you reinvent the wheel, if there are experiences, good ones and bad ones, don’t copy the bad ones, copy the good ones and get good advice. And we in Namibia, don’t have to jump and get excited. If we are poor, we are poor. So, therefore why should you jump? That is where the secret of Botswana is. How is Botswana making giant strides?
Botswana was known as the poorest country and when Botswana got her independence, they had that mentality “we are poor.” So, when they now got all these diamonds, they didn’t get excited. They just said we are poor and they started to save their money and proceeds from the sales of diamonds. That is where their strength and the secret of Botswana is. So, we shouldn’t get excited that we are getting wealth or that we actually have diamonds. Don’t get excited. And we learn from other people’s experiences. We grew up in Africa, I have been in Africa. I know of problems in other parts of the world; in Europe too. We are going to cool it; we are going to get experts; we’re not going to get excited. It’s not going to bring anything new to our revenues since it will take time. We are going to leverage properly for Namibians to benefit from it. And we have set up a sovereign wealth fund which is aimed at that kind of new discoveries that we can easily demand such percentages go to that fund. So, that the future of Namibia is guaranteed. You’re going to finish the resources now. But let’s now start to save for the future.
What’s your take on political leadership on the African continent?
Great. I am Pan-African, so I would tell you. We had great African founding fathers, extra ordinary personalities, who told us to wake up and fight and regain dignity. People like the Nkrumahs, The Azikiwes. Those founding people who told and taught us we are oppressed; you are suffering; get up! Someone needed to wake us up. The likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Seke Toare, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and I would go forward and say Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela to name but a few. They were all founding fathers and the first wave of African leaders, extra-ordinary personalities and big guys. And therefore, they were respected as liberators and so on.
Second wave of African leadership came in a very difficult confusion and situation; Cold War confusion. So much so that we didn’t have our own policies. You had to pretend you were socialists, even if you read Das Kapital (by Karl Marx) but you are a socialist, but couldn’t do anything with them. Then, there were one party states, military coups. One party states are not bad, per se.
The third wave of African leaders came through constitutional means, through elections, and no election is perfect, look at American elections. So, don’t say flawed elections. The point is to justify being there through elected means that is, constitutional means. Many of us also have come through the term limits as a principle. And I’m a biggest believer in term limits, especially if a president is elected direct by people (like I am elected) direct by people (the sovereigns) who you are accountable to. And if you’re elected directly by people, term limits should suffice. two five year terms in our Constitution, and it cannot be changed. It should be that way.
Why should the third wave of African leaders think term limits are good and so on? You must involve and strengthen processes, systems and institutions, not individuals. If you are counting on individuals, big men, when that person is old or when that person is gone, everything will collapse. But if you are saying it’s not me, it’s not about one person, it is a question of processes, constitutions and institutions, strengthen those institutions and anybody can do it.
What’s your philosophy on and about life?
I am not a frugal personality. When I was young, I lived in America and I learnt from different people. I learned from Fidel Castro, he was my hero. I knew him personally as we had that relationship. I have met many people in America. My professor at the University in America who taught me Africa, Pan Africanism. And then, I’ve met many people in life. I used to enjoy a lifetime of partying, lifetime of relaxing, lifetime of hard-work. Whatever you do, do very well. Don’t enjoy too much but whatever you do, do it well and also be a Pan Africanist.
We used to have a Pan African Student association in America but when the Biafra war commenced in Nigeria, the group broke up. I’m a Pan Africanist and I would want Africa to unite. My lifestyle is being African, I can live anywhere in Africa, I am home in Africa and I want Africans to move freely. My lifestyle is basically I like music. I like soccer (football) and I like watching boxing. Thanks to God, I was given a healthy body that people still think I am in my sixties but I would be eighty-one years old next week (August 3). I used to take away problems from my office. One Indian doctor told me not to take problems to your bed, but I asked him, so how do I do it? I nearly died then when I was setting up this government and that removal was God’s deed. The removal or rather demotion happened when I was removed.
I got angry and said; “comrade president. I have been a loyal servant. You never called me one day to tell me that I have these weaknesses. Why did you demote me? But people come to my house, people from churches, I was born in the church and brought up in the church (imagine a freedom fighter who was brought up in the church but during the struggle I was not in the church). Things happen for a purpose. When one door closes, many other doors open, what goes around, comes around. But two weeks, and all of them with different perspectives stated that maybe this demotion that forced me to leave happened because of God. Because I was really sick. I had my blood pressure which was over 190 over 90. I couldn’t sleep and I was taking sleeping pills, not sleeping more than three hours. So it happened for a purpose and things happen for a purpose. Philosophically, when one door closes, many other doors open. Doors opened as other doors were closed. There was an African solidarity for me then. As a meeting was going on South Africa, and the participants saw what happened to me, the late Kofi Annan said; “I am taking somebody from Washington. Why don’t you go there?” I was offered the role but I said “no, my brother. I am not for exile and I am tired of exile. I want to get home and I want to relax.” When we had a meeting of the ruling party, to have a new Politburo, I came in, and I was told that I was in. But after counting for four hours, I lost by one vote. When this happened, I called the people who wanted my expertise in Washington, after the call, I went for the interview at the World Bank, got it with a five-year contract with the World Bank’s Global Coalition for Africa; and only did it for under two years and return to politics in Namibia.
What is the title of the book you’re currently reading?
I am writing a book. I have a book I am writing. For what I’m reading, I am not reading a book to read a book. I’m studying and because of that I have all kinds of books just to do more research because of what I am trying to achieve. And also, what I am working out for my book as it is a holistic collection of subject-based papers. I am not reading for fun but for study.
Dolapo Aina wrote from Windhoek, Namibia.
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