1 March 2013

Namibia: Political Perspective


I believe this is especially so when it comes to the appointment of ministers. We all know that the majority of our Cabinet - since independence - has been made up of people who are adjudged to have made a 'contribution to the struggle'. With very few exceptions, at virtually no stage has merit, skills, qualification or expertise to manage the ministry in question come into the picture. The subsequent increase in corruption at all levels in government and the failures in service delivery should therefore not come as any surprise.

THERE are those who may argue that the minister is, after all, just a figurehead, and that the 'real' work of the ministries is done by experts further down the line. Perhaps it is time we reverse this kind of thinking to instead adopt a 'buck stops here' approach.

Take for example the former minister of local government, Jerry Ekandjo, who was recently unsuccessful in his bid for the presidential candidacy in Swapo. Such a person, who was, all in all, pretty convinced that he would be the next president of Namibia, has now had to settle for the somewhat less elevated position of minister of youth, national service, sport and culture in the reshuffle which followed the December Swapo congress. Did President Hifikepunye Pohamba give him youth and sport because of Ekandjo's love for the youth or sport for that matter? Clearly not. The move was designed to put him in his place, given that he'd lost the presidential bid, and the portfolio is clearly not high in the pecking order of protocol.

Is Ekandjo happy about the post? Clearly not. As someone who clearly had his sights set on the highest office in the land, he is now required to (ironically) deal with, among others, youth affairs, which include the often unruly Swapo youth league who supported his candidacy for president; as well as sport, which somehow does not seem to be Ekandjo's metier.

The ultimate effect of putting a minister in a position which he clearly feels is below his stature, is to ensure that neither the youth component of his portfolio, nor the sport side, is going to get the love and the attention it deserves.

A great pity because both youth and sport are critical areas right now. The youth because they are so adversely affected by poor education and unemployment, and there's little direction, motivation or even role models to inspire them. And sport because it offers alternatives to youth, especially in times like the present. A minister who felt strongly about both youth and sport, and their respective place in the nation's development, could make such a hugely positive difference to the country.

I'm not necessarily picking on Ekandjo here, because he is not the only one uninspired by his lot in political life, but because I've been recently involved in a sporting event where he could have used the opportunity to inspire the youth, had he bothered to attend. The occasion was the All-Africa Squash Championships, a prestigious event hosted by Namibia, and in which several African countries participated, and locally based ambassadors and high commissioners were also in attendance. As host country, Namibia's sports minister should have been there to welcome those who came from far, and also to witness firsthand some of the tremendous talent on offer at a time when we are hard pressed to find role models. (Yes, he delegated his director of sport to attend, but I don't buy the frequent excuses of 'other commitments' when sport is the minister's primary commitment.)

I've seen it so often in the past too, where organisations such as The Namibian have put their hard-generated profits into soccer development with the Newspaper Cup. Yet most ministers could not be bothered to attend, either the launch, or the event itself out in the regions. (Pohamba Shifeta was one exception). For the rest, these ministers are seldom 'with the people'. At sporting events or art exhibitions by local artists, music or cultural activities, they are seldom in attendance to give encouragement and support. It may sound cynical, but Namibians are fully aware that they're are either on their own farms or travelling abroad to collect S&Ts.

So how can we, for example, develop our youth and promote sportspeople, or argue for greater budgetary allocation to the various codes, when those at the helm clearly don't care? Equally how can we make sound decisions around sport - for example allocating only a few thousand to development of a particular sport at school level, yet agreeing to pay millions for an individual to contest a professional boxing match? These are aspects which need to be properly interrogated.

Ministers must be appointed in areas they have expertise in and, better still, passion. Then, and only then, may we begin to see some changes in critical areas of our national life.

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