"During his first year as President," according to a new report from Namibia's Institute for Public Policy Research, "Geingob has been saying all the right things - from declaring an all-out war on poverty and declaring his assets as a means of promoting transparency and accountability, to providing tangible action [on other issues]." The actual record is mixed, however, and the president himself has stressed that "it is time to turn words into reality."
With a Gini index of income inequality of 59.7, Namibia ranks among the most unequal in the world (http://tinyurl.com/mn8how), only slightly below South Africa's rating of 62.5 (for comparison, China is 46.9, Mozambique 45.6, the United States 45, and the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark all approximately 25).
Now in its second quarter-century after gaining independence from South Africa, Namibia still faces the legacy of the apartheid system embedded in its social and economic structure. Yet the mood is still one of cautious optimism, as President Hage Geingob begins his second year in office, and Namibia is rated by Afrobarometer as the most tolerant among 33 countries surveyed (http://www.africafocus.org/docs16/tol1603.php).
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a review of Geingob's first year, by Nangula Shejavali of Namibia's Institute for Public Policy Research. The IPPR report contains commentary and ratings from 10 Namibian commentators, as well as an overview by the author.
For background articles with an analytical and critical perspective on the dominance of Namibia's ruling party, written before the election of President Geingob, see Henning Melber, "Post-liberation Democratic Authoritarianism: The Case of Namibia" (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02589346.2015.1005790) and "From Nujoma to Geingob: 25 years of presidential democracy," http://tinyurl.com/h3vel3k - Editor's Note
One Year Of Geingob: An Analysis of the Namibian President's Hits and Misses during His First Year in Office
Special Briefing Report No. 11 , March 2016
By Nangula Shejavali
Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)
"After 25 years they (Namibian citizens) want food, clothing and shelter. They want jobs, better housing and good nutrition. They want a leader who will bring prosperity to the nation and they want that leader to act quickly." - President Hage Geingob, 21 March 2015
On 21 March 2015, President Hage Geingob was inaugurated as the third President of the Republic of Namibia. Having received an overwhelming 87 per cent of the vote in the Presidential election on 28 November 2015, the popular Geingob assumed the role of Head of State with an enormous level of public confidence and great deal of public expectation.
Taking place on Namibia's 25th Independence Anniversary, Geingob's inauguration was a euphoric occasion, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Perhaps it was the promise of a fresher approach to governance. Or it may have been the fact that the new President hailed from a minority ethnic group, signalling a new era of tolerance and a profound sense of na tional unity. Geingob's inauguration speech set an impressive and inspiring tone that stressed inclusivity, promised that, "No Namibian should feel left behind!", and cemented this euphoria.
The new President committed to addressing a number of priorities for his administration, clearly stating that addressing "the socioeconomic gaps that exist in our society" would be the main focus of his administration. In this vein, he declared an "all-out war on poverty and concomitant inequality" and promised to work towards "catapulting the economy into a new period of faster growth, improved job creation and improved service delivery". Beyond the socioeconomic priority stated (and presented in more detail below), the President also promised to strengthen the governance architecture to ensure that government is able to effectively respond to these priorities; and called on the Namibian people to "stand together in building this new Namibian House."
It is against this background that this briefing paper provides a critical assessment of President Geingob's first year in office, drawing insights from a slew of documents, speeches, press releases and media reports issued since the President's inauguration. The paper also incorporates insights and scorecards from a handful of political, social and economic commentators. In his State of the Nation Address on April 21, which coincided with the opening of the 6th Parliament in 2015, Geingob made a recommitment to the many promises made in his inaugural address, this time adding more specifics to his plans.
The President's Promises
During Geingob's first few weeks in office, he delivered some key speeches that set the tone for what his priorities would be during his presidency. Chief amongst these speeches - in terms of highlighting his administration's priorities early on - were his inauguration speech |21.03.2015| and his State of the Nation Address (SoNA) |15.04.2015|. These two speeches form the basis for this analysis.
In his inauguration speech, in addition to emphasising continuity (President Nujoma had represented peace, President Pohamba represented stability, and Geingob would represent prosperity), Geingob clearly outlined his priorities.
"The main priority for the next administration will be addressing the socio-economic gaps that exist in our society. Therefore, our first priority will be to declare all-out war on poverty and concomitant inequality. Our focal point will be to address inequality, poverty and hunger and that will involve looking at a range of policies and inter- ventionist strategies to tackle this issue."
In this regard, he noted a revised Government structure for his first term, that would better align existing Ministries to Government's objectives, enhance efficiencies, and make government more responsive in meeting these goals, i.e.: "poverty eradication and reduction of inequalities and disparities; sustainable economic growth and economic diversification; job creation; and improved service delivery."
In his State of the Nation Address on April 21, which coincided with the opening of the 6th Parliament in 2015, Geingob made a recommitment to the many promises made in his inaugural address, this time adding more specifics to his plans.
Eradicating poverty again featured prominently as a national priority, and the President used the opportunity to announce various initiatives in this regard, including an increase in the old age pension, and the introduction of a food bank. He also highlighted the need to tackle poverty using a multifaceted approach. "We will, therefore, tackle poverty from all fronts, through safety nets, access to quality education, and by creating jobs and growing the economy," he said, highlighting the renaming of the Labour Ministry to the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Job Creation.
With regards to overcoming inequalities, he noted that the finalisation of the economic empowerment policy framework was long overdue and that consultation would resume on this policy framework. In this vein, in his comments on the economy, he also noted efforts to "raise the bar regarding transformation of ownership structures" including the restriction of ownership over natural resources, the finalisation of policies such as the Procurement Bill and the Retail Charter, the implementation of the Industrial Policy and the Growth at Home Strategy; and the support for local business.
Access to land and affordable housing has been a major theme on the national agenda, with the Affirmative Repositioning movement further placing the issue - particularly of urban housing - front and centre of much of the policy discourse. In this regard, the President reaffirmed his "personal commitment to addressing land reform and provision of affordable housing to all Namibians", and highlighted various (possible) measures to accelerate the delivery of serviced land and housing.
In the SoNA, Geingob also announced the introduction of free secondary school education, encouraged the private sector to do more with regards to skills development and training, and noted the importance of quality and affordable health services.
He touched on the issue of combating corruption, encouraging the nation to report instances of corruption in its many forms to the Anti Corruption Commission. He also highlighted the need for public officials to avoid conflicts of interest, and encouraged them to disclose their assets. In this vein, in a much welcome move, he announced that he would disclose his assets through an independent assessment by PWC.
In both his Inaugural Speech and the State of the Nation address, Geingob highlighted and drove home a metaphor to illustrate his presidency's emphasis on inclusivity - the analogy of The Namibian House. In the SoNA, he stated, "We are intent on building and maintaining a high quality house in which all its residents have a sense of shared identity. We are determined to build a house that will be a place of peace and refuge for all its children and a house in which no Namibian will be left out."
On the whole, President Geingob's performance in his first year of office has been a mixed bag made up of some great rhetoric, wonderful intentions, interesting policy pronouncements, and some sound action and consultation on certain policies. There have also been actions that have seemingly contradicted the positive rhetoric and some inaction on certain issues, raising question marks about how much progress can be achieved.
During his first year as President, Geingob has been saying all the right things - from declaring an all-out war on poverty and declaring his assets as a means of promoting transparency and accountability, to providing tangible action with respect to national reconciliation, initiating consultation and early action on the urban land/housing crisis and reviving the policy review on economic transformation. That said, however, the President's first year in office has been focused on laying the grounds for the action and change he wishes to implement.
In a way, the President has admitted as much, stating during the opening of the third session of the current parliament that 2015 was a year of talk, and 2016 would have to be a year of action. In the regard, he stated: "The year 2015 can be described as a call to arms. It was the year in which as President, I endeavoured to rally the nation behind a shared Vision through themes such as, War on Poverty, War against corruption, No Namibian Must feel left out and Harambee. I am certain that by embracing these themes and applying them to our policy making decisions, one day we will be able to eradicate poverty. In 2016, it is time to turn words into reality, it is time to implement and therefore I refer to this year as the Year of Implementation." That said, although the groundwork was being laid in his first year in office - seen with the stating and restating of the Poverty Eradication, Harambee, and Namibian House mantras, there is still plenty to assess of the President's performance based on the promises made when he came to office.
Geingob entered office on a titanic wave of support and with huge public expectation, and before taking the helm (i.e. during his time as President-elect), made some announcements that helped to set a strong tone for his presidency. In terms of service delivery, these included instructing those on the Swapo party list who would be serving in Parliament to submit their CVs to ensure that they were placed in offices where their expertise would best serve the nation. This was certainly a welcome move, which he noted in his 100 days self-assessment by stating: "As you are aware, Cabinet Ministers were selected and allocated to various ministries based on their qualifications and level of expertise, after thorough analysis of their Curriculum Vitae, which I had requested. These appointments have rejuvenated the people as well as the ministries themselves." The President underlined the seriousness of this approach by naming and shaming those who had not submitted their resumes by the deadline.
As President-Elect, Geingob also announced the creation of the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare to fast-track efforts to address poverty, wealth inequality and food insecurity. In his words: "The establishment of the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare is meant to ensure the co- ordination, implementation and evaluation of government programmes aimed at poverty eradication. This Ministry comes as a realisation that poverty eradication programmes are cross-cutting, and are developed and implemented by various government ministries but requires focus and co-ordination."
The poverty eradication mantra has been present in most of the President's speeches, and in his March 2016 meeting with former Presidents Sam Nujoma and Hifikepunye Pohamba, he made sure to explain that the Harambee Prosperity Plan "will complement our National Development Plans and Vision 2030. 6 It therefore, recognises and builds on your successes and achievements. It is designed to have high impact and take us closer to the attainment of Vision 2030." The President has announced plans to reveal the Harambee Prosperity Plan during his 2016 State of the Nation Address in mid-April 2016.
Encouragingly, there has also been positive action to follow on the promises made in his unifying inaugural speech. For example, he took action on increasing the old age pension grant from the measly N$600 previously granted to the elderly to N$1,000 in 2015 and N$1,100 for the current budget year (with another increase expected in 2017), in an effort to help reduce poverty; and has announced the creation of food banks to reduce food insecurity in the country, which has now been budgeted for in the 2016-2017 budget. Analysts have cautioned that the food banks should not become a bureaucratic burden and efforts should be made to ensure the intended recipients of food aid are the ones who receive the support. In this regard, the exact modalities of the plan are still unknown, although the Cuban government will provide support and advice based on their own experiences. He has also announced the introduction of a Basic Income Grant, although the details are still far from clear.
Related to poverty reduction efforts and the extension of opportunities for all, the President has also done well in seeing through reforms set out by his predecessor for free secondary education. His major challenge with regards to education, however, is ensuring that learners receive high quality education to enhance their life chances, and to fully exploit their potential. A clear strategy to enhance educational outcomes remains unclear.
With regards to governance, President Geingob has also made various efforts to ensure that his administration is delivering on the promises made to the people. He requested all Ministers to submit their Declarations of Intent to "outline their promises to the public". He held an induction seminar for Cabinet members early on in his Presidency "to take Cabinet through key important concepts, thinking and approaches that will mark the tenure of my Presidency. These include: good governance and ethics, poverty eradication, reduction of income disparities, accelerated economic growth, job creation and rapid industrialization." And he ensured that Performance Agreements (in line with the Declarations) were set in place to monitor the performance of his Ministers.
President Geingob has worked hard to ensure he remains a true ambassador of his Namibian House analogy, in which "no Namibian should feel left out", and, as promised, the focus of his efforts have remained on mending socio-economic gaps in Na- mibian society (particularly on poverty reduction). His public engagement through town hall meetings was evidence of this. According to his reports on these meetings, "During the period under consideration, we covered close to 14 thousand kilometers on road and by plane, sat into a collective 93 hours of town hall meet- ings, listening attentively to participants and meticulously documenting questions, observations and suggestions. We received in excess of 2400 questions and ideas from Namibians from all walks of life. We are committed to respond to all questions in a formalized manner." At this stage, we can only assume that the formalized manner in which these questions will be responded to is in the embodiment of the Harambee Plan.
The President's consultative approach could also be seen in his meeting with members of the Affirmative Repositioning movement on the issue of urban housing, engaging the public on social media platforms (particularly on his Facebook page), and ensuring that public input is sought on critical Bills such as the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework, which deals with the economic transformation he spoke of in his 2015 SoNA. He has noted that, "We will continue engaging and consulting with stakeholders like farmers, the media, trade unions, youth, women and the private sector. These consultations will go hand in hand with a drive towards implementation and transformation of workable suggestions into actions." The 24 July 2015 consultations with the AR movement resulted in a plan to clear tens of thousands of plots countrywide for forthcoming housing projects aimed at low earners.
The President received praise - along with First Lady, Monica Geingos - for setting a personal example in declaring his assets. In his speech on that day, he stated that, "It is clear that in administering a nation, one has to be transparent and accountable. It is for this reason that I have decided to declare my assets in public, for your scrutiny." During that press conference, it was declared that, "Geingob's assets are worth over N$50 million while the First Lady's assets range from N$45 to N$60 million in equity."
Despite the above-noted 'hits', the President has also missed some key opportunities to really shine, and to respond to the pressing needs of our time.
While pushing the poverty eradication agenda, he has been seen to spend excessively on a big government (with some Ministries having more than one Deputy Minister), as well as highly paid advisors, some of whom reportedly earn more than Ministers. While the Constitution does provide for the President to have advisors, the pay packages awarded to these advisors and to the extra Deputy Ministers have raised concern amongst analysts, and has added an extra burden on the state's coffers at the same time as Namibia's debt rises to worrying levels. While the amounts themselves may not be huge in terms of the budget as a whole, an expanded executive is symbolic and potentially sends the wrong message about priorities.
The size of the Executive, and the seeming excesses afforded to the President's advisors - dubbed the A team - have perhaps been the cause of the heaviest criticism the President has faced thus far. And while he means well in surrounding himself with the people he believes can best effect the change he wishes to create, many have continued to question the 'value add' of some of the advisors and what change they will actually effect. Indeed, given the expense of this team, and the clear need for transformation voiced by the President himself in his inaugural speech, one would hope for more concrete action. The President has announced that he will unveil the details of the Harambee Prosperity Plan during his second State of the Nation address, and there is hope that the socio-economic transformation that will come about as a result of the plan will bring about the prosperity the President has promised, and in so doing assure the nation of the advisors' value.
In response to the criticisms levelled with regard to the expense of the A-team (specifically responding to the criticism raised at The Namibian's #100DaysOfGeingob event), the President defended his selections, stating that: "There was commentary that the Namibian House is too expensive. I would like to say that any good house is expensive. Furthermore, one only worries about the expenses if the resources are being wasted without any delivery. It is therefore fair to give the Team Hage a chance and if it fails to deliver then you can pass a verdict. I have high expectations on the performance of these individuals, and will therefore be the first person to take them to task in case of non-performance."
The President has shown his defensive nature on several fronts, often claiming the media bends the truth, tells outright lies, or fails to understand his vision.
On fighting corruption, although the President set a positive personal example in declaring his assets, he has not insisted that members of Cabinet and other MPs be publicly accountable, and a new National Assembly asset register has yet to be published a year after MPs were sworn in. In this regard, although he has - in word - encouraged the disclosure of assets, he has missed important opportunities to show broader transparency and accountability by enforcing this practice at a broader level. Further, while his rhetoric on the fight against corruption has been strong, real action has been lacking, and there is some public skepticism about certain tenders that the President has been reported to have defended - e.g. the controversial airport tender and the Xaris deal, amongst others.
Unemployment (particularly youth unemployment) remains effectively unattended to, despite mentions of the problem in various speeches. Although the President has engaged the private sector on various platforms, this has not produced results in terms of job creation. Unlike the plans announced for welfare projects to ensure poverty reduction, when it comes to job creation and enterprise development, equally if not more important in reducing poverty and inequality, the Geingob administration has done little.