Namibia: the disenchantment

On March 21, Namibia celebrated the 22nd anniversary of its independence obtained in 1990, which also saw the presence of 600 Swiss medical blue berets. The free press did not fail to make some critical assessment of the situation. Their country seems to be gripped by a wave of commercial and mining (uranium) madness, harmful to the country. Has Namibia really used the chances it had in the cradle of independence? Pleasant climate, abundant natural resources (fish, meat, diamonds, uranium, copper, etc.), an excellent road network, a functioning government and civil law, quality tourism, little debt, only 2 million inhabitants on an area of 825,000 km2. Compared to other African countries south of the Sahara, its living standards are four times higher than average. The country even provides an old age insurance of 500 N$ (58 Euros) per month to the old black (there are not many) and white population.


At the moment of independence there were also serious problems: abject poverty in the countryside that the new government failed to address - on the contrary the gap has widened; a predominant ethnic group, the Ovambo, who now hold almost all the key posts in spite of the slogan "one Namibia, one nation"; AIDS affecting an estimated 15% of the population, which has decimated families and left 10,000 orphans taken in by other families; life expectancy has fallen from 63 to 57 years. A bad sing: the Germans (the colonial masters until World War I) who were still 19,000 at independence are no more than 2,000.The unemployment rate has not declined, it is estimated at between 40 and 50%, and at 75% among those between 18 and 25 years. The training of the young is totally inadequate, it follows the same pattern as in South Africa.


Namibia was the darling of the international community, known for its good governance, stability, democracy. However, questions arise: between 1990 and 2008, it received 2 billion of bilateral and multilateral development assistance, which makes 900 Euros per capita. Add to this the extra help program to achieve the Millennium Development Goals 2010-2014 amounting to 230 million Euros. These figures leave the observer doubting, as poverty persists for one million inhabitants and even hunger for some of them. The government and the private sector (but who are the CEOs, if not the satellites of power) built white elephants at Windhoek: the presidential palace of former President Sam Nujoma who still runs the country in the shadow of his successor President Pohamba who recently bought a Falcon (34 millions Euros); added to that the newest museum in Windhoek, banks, big shopping malls like in the U.S., especially in the coastal town of Swakopmund. The government actively distributes mining exploration license (uranium) in the beautiful Namib Desert in the Erongo Region, which is a national park and where some 66 mining companies, mostly from Australia, Canada and China dig their holes leaving radioactive dust. The oldest company operating is Rössing Uranium (Australia and Great Britain with Rio Tinto), which has sold its richest mine, USAB, to the Chinese. Areva (France) is also present, but might withdraw having made a bad deal. Iran has a 15% stake in Rössing going back to the times of the reign of the Shah. The important Gobabeb Desert research institute - which has celebrated its 50th anniversary and with which many word-renowned scientists work - will shut down, unable to work under these destabilizing conditions.


But the news of the possible construction of a nuclear plant for "peaceful purposes" as we are told, in a country with two million inhabitants and with lots of sunshine, shows the enormity of the neoliberal political and strategic folly of the government. The best friends are the Chinese and the Russians who had helped SWAPO, the former liberation movement and the ruling political party, with weapons and men, while the West had refused to help them to avoid antagonizing South Africa. Mining specialists are very concerned: "Unless all this is well managed by Finland and necessary safeguards are in place, the race for uranium will negatively affect the environment, people, tourism, life itself, but there will be thousands of jobs ... "

The latest bomb to destroy the environment: the sudden appearance of BP who is to drill off Walvis Bay, the only deep water port of the country, and in the north, near the border with Angola. Everything is done without consulting the people and without transparency. A tourist guide despairs: "All these holes, also for gas, and for diamond further south, cause waves and noices that are scaring away many kinds of fish, seals, dolphins and even whales. The marine ecosystem is disrupted and one breeder will close its polluted oyster farm, while Namibian plancton once used to make them so tasty "


One remains speechless before the organized pillage of the beauty and resources of this wounderful country by the multinational octopus that spread their tentacles everywhere and by temple merchants of consumption and other luxury gadgets. Who benefits from this political strategy? A former Namibian freedom fighter has spoken out against the stranglehold of the Chinese on Namibia and talks about dragons. Indeed, they themselves dictate the terms of investment contracts. Their net is now spreading throughout the African continent as European once did. We do not understand either why all natural resources do not account for even 9% of GDP? Namibia appears to follow the same path as other African countries, like South Africa for that matter. This is a betrayal by the elites and means the re-colonization of the country through neoliberal policies.


Christine von Garnier

Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network

Swiss Antenna

20 April 2012





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