Namibia: President Pohamba Speaks; Namibia's President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, Has Been in Office for a Year and a Half. He Has a Clear Vision as to Where He Wants to Take His Country. Omar Ben Yedder Went to Interview Him in Windhoek. Here Are Excerpts

Article excerpt

President Pohamba: I like the name New African because I was born, and grew up, in the "old Africa". I'm also happy that I saw the birth of the "new Africa", hence New African is such a good name. I like it.

Omar Ben Yedder: Thank you for the compliments, Sir. You've been in power for over a year now, what has life been like at the top?

Pohamba: I must say that it has been a very interesting first year, a year of successes and challenges. I took office from my colleague, the founding president of the republic, Sam Nujoma, a man I had known for the past 16 years, with whom I had worked, a man with a lot of energy, whose boots were always going to be difficult to fill.

But I am lucky in the sense that I have the ruling party, Swapo, as a shelter or protection. I am still the vice-president of Swapo, and whatever I do must be in keeping with the Swapo manifesto, particularly that of 2004, and the other manifestos on which we have based our government since independence. Sam Nujoma remains the president of the Swapo party. Now whatever I do as the president of the republic and head of government, I look at the directives of the Swapo party which I fully participated to formulate.

Our country faces many challenges. Yes, it is a rich country, but our people remain poor and unemployed. The reason is that the people who colonised our country, against whom we fought and chased away, deliberately refused, while in power, to train our people. They were only interested in exploiting our natural resources. So we have a challenge of education. We need to train our people in order for them to run their own affairs, to bring economic growth to the country. I work under the principle of collectiveness, so it is a challenge facing us as a team running the government.

Omar: What about the opposition? Are they playing their role as a constitutional opposition, and giving you a good run for your money?

Pohamba: That name "opposition" means a lot. They work as opposition because they are there to oppose whatever you do, otherwise they lose their raison d'etre. It happens everywhere. In our situation, considering the cooperation that I am receiving from the opposition members of parliament, I feel that we should add the word "constructive" to their name--constructive opposition. I call them here, to State House, and we sit down, not as people opposing one another across the political divide, but as Namibians. We discuss the socio-economic challenges facing our country and the possible solutions. I also report to them what we, as a government, are doing and I seek their views.

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But, again, their job is to oppose, and so in parliament they do their job as the opposition. They follow their party line. That does not bother me, insofar as they cooperate with me as head of state. That's why I say maybe we should refer to people like these as progressive or constructive opposition.

Omar: You spoke of the economic imbalances in Namibia, which means the underlying structure of the economy has not changed in favour of indigenous Namibians.

Pohamba: Well, I told you a few minutes ago that the colonialists we chased away deliberately denied the people of this country education and skills. To run a business you need to have skills. Not only business, to do anything you need to have skills. So despite the efforts by our government to involve our people in the economic sector, we still have problems. We need to train our people, but it takes time. That is not to say that we haven't made any progress in the last 16 years, we have made some improvements, but the problem is big.

Before independence in 1990, you could hardly find black managing directors of either parastatals or private businesses in this country. Today you see them all over. Go to the First National Bank or Standard Bank, for example, the managing directors are from the formerly disadvantaged people. …