“Peace, stability, working together and unity are the secret of the success in Namibia.”
Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah was born at Onamutai in Oshana Region in Namibia during the times of occupation by South Africa. She went into exile and joined SWAPO members in Zambia. At the first Congress of SWAPO, held in independent Namibia, she was elected to the Central Committee of SWAPO Party, served in Political Bureau from 2002-2007 and held a position of SWAPO Party Deputy Secretary General in 1996. Since independence she is a member of the National Assembly of Namibia. She has played a pivotal role in advocating for the protection of the rights of women and children. Afterward serving in a number of serious offices she became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in December 2012.
How do you think a small state like Namibia could be very strong at international level? How could it be strong in international organizations and in bilateral or multilateral relations?
A country like Namibia, a sovereign state representing the people of Namibia, which is managing its foreign policy or international relations, is guided by the international instruments, to start with the UN Charter of sovereignty of member states that grant equal responsibility in the international arena. So in a country like Namibia, we conduct our international relations based on those instruments as well as our constitution. That calls for the managing of international relations in the spirit of peace, stability and mutual understanding. Based on that when we consider our international relations we recognize the right of other states, at the same time we also recognize the right of states to co-exist in peace and mutual understanding. When we approach international issues we always encourage that if any difference exists among the states, it should be solved peacefully by the way of dialogue and negotiations. We know that it is very-very important, particularly for us who got our independence after long years of liberation struggles. The UN has played a very significant role by initiating a dialogue among the fighting people of Namibia and the colonial South Africa. Though it is taking some time, at the end of the day the International Committee was able to oversee the transition from colonialism to independence in Namibia.Therefore, as much as we might seem a small country, we have a lot to offer in maintaining stability in the region and enable member states of the world to work on mutual understanding for the benefit of the citizens of the world.
What do you think of the 25 years of independence? In how many fields has Namibia improved in the international environment?
Namibia has benefited a lot that from the international system both economically and politically. As you might know I am here to attend a conference of land locked countries which is organized by the United Nations – although Namibia is not a land locked country, it is a transit country. We believe in the international economic system, whereby each country in the world should have its share. Our contribution to the development of the land locked countries is like that of a coastal state – we are working very closely with the members of the land locked countries who are our neighbours in order to facilitate access to the sea. We have done that by developing different programmes, for example we are developing our infrastructure, like the road system to the extent that now all our neighbours are connected to all wider roads. At the same time we’ve also given to all our land locked neighbours dry port in the Walvis Bay. So this is what we are looking for. In Namibia our foreign policy is also guided by our economic policy, which simply means that as we are managing our international relations – both multilateral and bilateral – , we are looking at how best we can attract investment and trade in Namibia. We know that our country still has a long way to go to address the economic challenges that our people are facing, for example unemployment. In that way we have developed wishes for 2030; we are saying that by 2030 we would want to see an industrialized Namibia. When we conduct our international relations we are promoting genuine partnership, both private and public, so that true investments can take place in Namibia in order to increase trade between Namibia and the rest of the world.
Related to your wishes for 2030: can we say that Namibia could become the engine of the whole region and with the development of the landlocked countries can Namibia also further develop economically?
Yes, in fact in order to facilitate the implementation of our wish in 2030, we have our medium-term development plans, which we call the National Development Plan. For example now we are in the process of implementing the National Development Plan 4, and one of the core points of the National Development Plan 4, which we call NDP 4, is for Namibia to become a regional logistics harbour. This regional logistics harbour is not there only to save the region per se, but also to link the region to the global market. Being a coastal country is an advantage that we have. Also being a part of the SADAC region, we now have a program of integration, and one of the main elements of this SADAC integration is infrastructure development. We think that for our program of becoming a logistics harbour we have to invest in infrastructure, both into soft and hard infrastructure. Hard infrastructure as I mentioned already is the road infrastructure: I have to tell you that Namibia is already connected with a railway to South-Africa as well as to Angola. We have recently signed an agreement with Botswana for the construction of a railway from Botswana up to the Walvis Bay. The nearest town where we have a railway in Namibia towards the Zambian border is Tsumeb. Now the design and the program are already there for us to extend this railway to go to the Namibian-Zambian border. Once it gets there, it will be possible to reach Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as Botswana and Zimbabwe. I must tell you that Namibia is having a transport forum with its neighbours which we call Trade Forum. For example, we have one with South-Africa, Botswana and Namibia and then one with Zambia, Angola and Namibia. So you see how central we are in the strategy, ready to become a logistics harbour. We are working very closely with our neighbours. So we really believe that Namibia has a potential to become a logistics harbour and can contribute significantly to the economic development, not only of Namibia but of the region as a whole.
Let’s leave the continent and come here to Europe. After the 4th EU-Africa Summit how do you see, what changes could done between Africa and the EU-SADAC relations?
The EU-African Summit took place last year. One of the issues between the EU and Africa is the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreements). Of course now we can see that we have all our candidates and we are only looking forward to a serious and genuine implementation. But you must realize that it is taking longer. Particularly in Namibia, we have been very strong on this. People have to understand that, because Namibia’s economy is a robust economy and we strongly believe that we will only be able to industrialize, expand and grow our economy if we have a bigger share of added value. That is why we have been very firm and strong by saying that in our relationship, with a trade relationship between Africa and Europe, added value must be a significant component. If we just continue this system, whereby the African raw materials are taken out and are processed in Europe, then sent back to be sold to the African people at high prices, it will not help Africa to grow. In reality Africa has become a main exporter of labour because the more resources you send out to be processed, you are creating employment in those countries where they are going to be processed and that is why Africa is moving really very slow. So we are truly hoping that our partnership, our trade and economic partnership between Africa and Europe are based on mutual understanding whereby all will be heavily benefiting from it. As you know in 2013 Africa celebrated the 50th anniversary of the formation of the organization of the African Unity, which is today called the African Union. Africa now developed an agenda up to 2063. The Agenda 2063 is asking a question ‘Where do we want to take Africa 50 years after we celebrated the 50th anniversary which means a hundred years after the formation of the organization of the African Unity. There is a strong emphasis on infrastructure in that, and you can only industrialize if you expand the economy and the expansion of the economy is based on added value. So African resources should be really processed in Africa so that we will be able to create the necessary jobs for African citizens and take them out of poverty.
The International Court of Justice is being always attacked by some experts, some African countries claiming that they put too much emphasis on issues related to African politicians than other people. How do you see that nowadays? Is it a well operating system or should it be reformed?
It is a very unbalanced international political system that we have. When you look at how the international system is being managed both economically and politically, you just ask yourself a question: where does one draw the line between power and justice? Is there only justice in the international political system or is there something which has been dictated by the power? Because when you look at the behaviour of some of the states, and the impact it’ll have on some other countries, not only economically but even in the terms of the loss of lives, then you could really see the damage. But the reaction of the International Community is completely different, and then you are also in a situation when a weak state is in question. That is why Africa has taken the opportunity at one of its summits to propose an amendment to the instruments of the International Court of Justice, that it should not be made possible for an incumbent head of state of Africa to appear in front of the court because that really undermines the integrity of the African people. You find that a head of state who represents the citizens of his or her country, who was democratically elected, and then you have the International Community who put charges against this person. Now where is justice? Because the people who are directly involved, who you claim you are defending, they have made a verdict and they have accepted that this person should be their leader. But then you have the International Community trying to make things difficult. These are some of the issues which take me back to the question of justice and power. The African Union and Africa are very uncomfortable about how the International Court of Justice is managing its activities in relation to African people, African leaders in comparison to others outside the African continent.
Still back to the question of justice and power; how do you see the UN system, which is let’s be honest an old system? What do you think, should the UN Assembly get more power, or should the structure of the Security Council be changed in the future?
I must tell you that the structure of the United Nations has become redundant. If you compare the time when the UN was being established and where we are now; since then the whole geopolitical situation has changed completely. Firstly, you have more independent countries in Africa, you have more member states in the United Nations and the economy of different countries has also changed. That is why the African Union or Africa is calling for the reform of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council. Now you have five regions in the world, one of them is Africa. Africa is the biggest continent in terms of the number of the countries. It is represented by over 50 countries, and still this is the continent that has no seat, no permanent seat in the Security Council. Is this democracy that we are talking about? That is why Africa keeps demanding for the reform of the United Nations with special emphasis on the Security Council. The Security Council should be reformed; firstly it should be expanded to have more members as opposed to the current 15, secondly, there should be more members who have veto right. Africa should be one of those regions which are represented by veto, just like Europe. Europe is represented in the Security Council by two countries I believe: Britain and France, which are permanent members of the Security Council. So it needs to be reformed definitely, something has to be done. The General Assembly – because it is the one, where member states really have an equal say – must exercise more power, because currently the power of the United Nations lies within the Security Council. The General Assembly simply make general political statements which are not binding to member states. But the Security Council has the power which is more binding on member states, so the Security Council is very exclusive. The reason why we are stuck now with the reform is that the Charter of the United Nations tells you that for doing anything with the Charter all the five members of this council have to agree. So now one can say the whole world is kept as hostage and this is because we are not moving. It is very-very unfortunate that the set up of the UN is like that, but it should be changed.
Do you see any possibility that it will change in the next decade?
It is very difficult to put it into a timeframe: these discussions have already taken some time. By now some changes definitely have to happen because in all the countries you have new generations that are taking over. I believe that their thinking will be different from the current thinking which has been influenced by the cold war and other misunderstandings and disagreements which have been out there. So I believe that as time goes on you have the generation that is coming and taking over and believe in true democracy and it will be advocated at an international level.
Back to Africa: nowadays the international news fully covers what is happening in West-Africa. Physically Namibia is very far away from it, but how does Namibia see, what should the world do with the Ebola situation? Should the countries be helped by the African Union, or by the European Union, or the UN? What is the problem in West-Africa and why cannot they handle this situation?
Ebola is one of the international issues that needs to be addressed equally by each and every country of the world. We all have common responsibility to fight Ebola. Of course we understand that our capabilities differ. So each of us should make our own contributions based on our capabilities. Africa, through the African Union has made and continues to make its contribution. We won’t be able to donate to each of the affected areas, but what have we done is that we made our contribution through the EU. Namibia is one of the countries which immediately at the outbreak of the Ebola made a contribution of one million US dollars to Ebola affected countries through the African Union. I also have to tell you that the African Union has mobilized volunteers within the region, who are medical personnel volunteering through the African Union and were sent to those countries. The process is still going on, so that is the contribution that Africa is making. Of course the International Community through the World Health Organization has to do the same. With regards to Ebola, this is the time when a country should not ask what the others are doing but should simply do what they can do themselves. This is no longer the time to ask the others but it is the time to act. At the same time, those who have the capacity for the research in order to get the treatment on the table, to get the vaccine on the table, they should really speed up the process. We understand that there have already been studies, but because of the current crisis I think that those who are responsible are required to work 24 hours, and if they think it would be ready next year, they should push it closer, because it is so urgent, it is so much needed. We really need to solve this situation. Countries, individuals should not ask what the others are doing. Do what you can do! We can evaluate later, when we are out of the storm and then we can tell what I have done and what others have done.
Back a little bit to Namibia. Elections were held, and I can tell that in Namibia SWAPO is a symbol. Since the independence SWAPO has won all the elections. What has been the secret of SWAPO? In the 1990-s SWAPO was the symbol of independence, and the symbol that united the Namibian people. Nowadays what is the secret of their success?
For any political parties that are elected to power, there is no secret of the continuation. You are only required to do what you have told to the people you are going to do when you were elected. 24 out of 25 are going for independence. People of Namibia have had and going to have trust in SWAPO. And this is not coming just because they love SWAPO but this is coming because they can see what is happening in Namibia since the independence. Those who know the Namibian history, they will know that by the time of Namibia’s independence, we have inherited a situation whereby the services in the country were provided in a separate scheme. You can talk about education, about health even about public transport. Therefore in the first five years of our independence we paid special attention to integrate all our service systems so that you could feel the Namibian border, feel yourself first and foremost Namibian and receive equal services: be it education, health or social grants. When it comes to social grants, it went even deeper. Some tribes were getting higher grants some others lower. When it comes to medical services, there was a separate hospital for the white and another one for the black. The same with schools, and the same with public transport; we had to change this mentality. Once we have done that, we concentrated on infrastructure. And that became the priority in the second year of our independence. We have built schools, cleaned them and even brought water closer to the people, potable water. Then we had to face the situation of the communication network. So in the third year of our independence we paid special attention to the infrastructural developments, such as telecommunication, radio waves, to the extent that now almost 100% of Namibia is covered by radio- we talk about 98.2 %. And the penetration of television is almost 70%, over 60 %. 98 % of the people have access to cell phone networks. And we have now the fourth one: we are concentrating on the road network. If you go to Namibia now, almost every region is connected with hard road. Before the Namibian independence, for a Namibian to go to Oranjemund was faster if you went through South Africa, because there was no road there, but today you don’t need to go to South Africa any more. When we got our independence was the time when the whole world was facing HIV Aids. And Namibia is one of the countries which has really invested in prevention, so by now the infection rate in Namibia has gone down. This is what we are doing, and that is addressing the real needs of the people and this is the reason why people continue to vote for SWAPO.
We were talking about the legacy of the years before independence. Can we say – quoting the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela – that Namibia is now a rainbow nation?
Namibia is a nation which belongs to all Namibians. We see ourselves first and foremost as Namibians. Black and white live together, they are all Namibians, so that is how we see ourselves. It is a nation which all of us are proud of. I would probably not use the word ‘rainbow’, but really all Namibians feel at home in their country, Namibia. That’s why both our former president and our current president keep telling Namibians not to discriminate themselves, they are Namibian. And all Namibians are expected to do what they can do in order to contribute to the development of their country. And now as we are going to our sixth term we call upon all Namibians to put in place the entire infrastructure necessary. This is the time for us in earnest to concentrate and make sure that the industrialization plan that we have in terms of wishes for 2030 should be started now and accomplished.
Is it the key of Namibia’s success that the whole nation feels Namibian?
Yes, that’s it, the unity. Peace, stability, working together and unity are the secret of the success in Namibia.