NEW Era journalist Lorraine Kazondovi interviewed Omaheke Regional Governor, Laura McLeod-Katjirua on her achievements, challenges and her general outlook on life and the future. McLeod-Katjirua has been nominated to contest the position of Deputy Secretary General of the ruling party, against education minister Dr Abraham Iyambo at the party's upcoming watershed congress slated for November 29 to December 2.
In a nutshell tell us who Laura McLeod-Katjirua is?
"Thank you very much. I am a Namibian woman, I was born in Windhoek but I grew up in Gobabis. I left the country in 1975 and received qualifications in Agricultural Public Administration. I am also a teacher by profession. In 1989, I came back to Namibia under Resolution 435."
Tell us about your career or rather political highlights before and after independence?
"I left the country as a teenager for exile before independence because of what was happening then. I left through Botswana to Zambia then to Tanzania, Angola and then to Germany. When I came back to Namibia, I worked in the agricultural industry as an extension technician before I joined politics. I worked with the Swapo regional office and became a regional councillor in 2001. I was elected (by the councillors) as Governor of the Omaheke Region in 2002 and was officially appointed by President Hifikepunye Pohamba as Governor in 2010."
Other than being a politician, what business ventures are you involved in? How successful are they and how do you fit these activities into your busy political schedule?
"I did not venture into business. I am a housewife with a son and daughter. My son was born in exile and my daughter is what they call a born free. I balance my home life with my work life and it takes good planning skills to enable you to do both."
Since your appointment as the Governor of the Omaheke Region, what accomplishments can you point to that have made a difference in the region or in the nation as a whole for that matter?
"Since I've been at the helm of the region a lot has taken place. There are health facilities in all the constituencies and they are doing well. We have schools across the region as well as rural water supply. We are able to provide clean and potable water for all our people. I can also proudly say that although crime exists, it is not skyrocketing in my region. It is controllable. Our residents enjoy peace and stability."
Are you facing any specific obstacles in the Omaheke Region? And if in the affirmative how is the regional council dealing with them?
"Obstacles are always there. You cannot always have everything smooth-sailing. Unemployment is one of the biggest obstacles in the region. The government is the biggest employer since there are no industries or factories in the region. Commercial and communal farming also employs a significant number of people. We survive on government capital projects such as road construction for employment, but you must remember that that is not permanent employment. We have also not been able to supply housing for everyone. We still have squatters or informal settlers. However, the Build Together programme and the Shack Dwellers Association are taking that into consideration. There are also financial constraints as the residents' demands surpass the supply from government. Government has to cater to thousands of human desires.
"We are addressing the unemployment obstacle by looking at how to attract investments to the region. It is a hell of a challenge however, considering the large influx of people coming into the region at an alarming rate. Some come in through the resettlement programme, because every Namibian is free to live anywhere in the country. Urbanization is unfavourable because the region only has one town, Gobabis, with a high influx of people. Every citizen wants to live where there is light at night, but they settle anywhere when they are unable to find jobs."
You are one of the candidates nominated to run for the position of Swapo Party Deputy Secretary General. Why do you think you are the ideal candidate for this position? What policy and other changes are you likely to introduce if you succeed in this endeavour?
"I do not think I'm better than anyone else, but I may be seen to be the right person. I am ready to take any assignment no matter how high or low therefore my candidacy is justified. It is not an easy position since there are a lot of issues of concern to deal with concerning Namibians. We need to look at the issue of passion killings. We have tried demonstrating but we have not gone to the core and causes of the issue. We need to start by investigating in order to arrive at the core reasons for the killings. We should compare notes and look at the similarities and causes of this issue to get to the core of it. I will not be able to resolve it alone because it is a national concern. We should also look at the high percentage of unemployment and we need to combine forces. The Swapo Party manifesto and government policies need to be implemented for the improvement of the lives of the Namibian people."
Do you think the Swapo Party and the government is doing enough to address gender equality in positions of leadership? If so, name specific successes.
"Government is doing what it is supposed to be doing because you find women governors, parliamentarians and ministers. We cannot expect 100 percent, but I believe we will heed the call in the near future. Namibia is a young nation that has recognized the importance of gender equality and I believe we will overcome this problem."
Is the Omaheke Region also plagued with passion killings as widely reported in the media? As a woman in a leadership position, what are your views on the causes of passion killings and what suggestions do you have to combat it?
"The Omaheke Region is not unique from any other region in the country. Here and there you hear reports of passion killings but I have no statistics at this point. One of the causes could be the abuse of drugs and alcohol, however this issue needs to be thoroughly studied."
There are reports of severe drought in the Omaheke Region, specifically in the Aminuis Constituency. Are you aware of that and how is your office addressing this pressing concern?
"Yes I am ware of the situation and I have met with the constituency councillors. I cannot quantify its severity, however I have suggested that a report be compiled and forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture [Water and Forestry], which is the line ministry. We first need to determine what is on the ground. "
In your view what are Namibia's most pressing challenges? And how do you suggest these challenges be addressed?
"Road carnage is one of our major challenges. Whether the accidents happen in Omaheke or any other region in the country, the feeling remains the same. Efforts have been made but we need to continue to mobilize our communities. We should never say it is enough, because road users may not have heard the messages correctly. Despite the efforts, we have not curbed road carnage, therefore we need to continue to mobilize road users."
Is there any additional information you would like to share with our readers?
"Other than the drought in Omaheke, veld fires have also ravaged the region. We must be careful and stay away from making unwanted veld fires. They are destroying grazing and robbing animals of grazing. Veld fires are man made, but it is hard to establish in every case how a fire was started. It could be by smokers or hunters. It is destroying our vegetation. When the sun is too hot, bottles can also ignite fires therefore we must stop littering."