17 July 2017

Namibia: President Says Planned UN Office Not a Priority

Windhoek — It appears United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun failed in his last-ditch attempt to convince President Hage Geingob to support his proposal to set up a UN political office in the SADC region.

Zerihoun, who retires in September, visited Geingob at State House last week to continue discussions on the strengthening of cooperation between the UN and SADC, possibly through the establishment of a UN regional office for southern Africa, focusing on peace and security issues.

"I have a personal stake in this. I have been pushing for such an office and I am retiring at the end of September. I came to make a last-ditch effort and perhaps for you to sort of lead friends of the UN political presence in the region," he told the Namibian president.

However, Geingob disagreed with the UN representative, arguing that the region is stable and that he did not see the urgency of such an office in SADC. The president said even though he supports the UN political presence in the region, Namibia is focused on issues affecting its people, such as poverty and the need for good governance.

"It is us who decide to have good governance and peace. The UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] is already here; you must cut down on bureaucracy. There are too many UN centres. You are creating more silos. It's not really a pressing thing for the Africans," he said.

Zerihoun in turn said the proposed office would support SADC in terms of capacity building, as well as help preempt situations that could lead to tensions within the region.

He said the proposed office would also support SADC in dealing with cross-border issues, such as drug trafficking, terrorism and piracy.

Geingob responded: "Terrorism, whether you are here or not, is still there. Your presence doesn't stop it. We are campaigning for the Climate Fund. We see that as very pressing. At least we must have the headquarters here. We are fighting for our own interest, but we want to maintain peace ourselves and take care of our country."

The UN currently has a small presence in the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana.

"We really want to upgrade the partnership, as we did in other regions in West Africa and Central Africa. Of course. The SADC region is relatively more stable, but it has challenges of its own, such as the current political disagreements which lead to instability and sometimes, unfortunately, it leads to tension - whether it's in Madagascar or Lesotho," Zerihoun said.

Geingob noted that former president Hifikepunye Pohamba played a key role to maintain peace and stability in Madagascar, while South Africa is also successfully assisting in Lesotho.

He explained that when the Central African countries demanded such an office, all nine member states sent a joint letter to the UN Secretary General and the Council with the request.

"This is an office which could be opened only at the express request of regions. It's not supply-driven, it's not decided in New York, it must be decided in the region," Zerihoun noted, adding that about 10 or 11 SADC member states were "very enthusiastically" in support of the political office.

Geingob in response told Zerihoun that Namibia is peaceful and is busy fighting a war against poverty.

"The reluctance is that we have more pressing issues that we are paying attention to and nobody is listening to us. We are talking about reform of the UN Security Council and nobody is enthusiastic it seems to us.

"We are hitting our heads against the wall," he said, adding that having another UN office here would not affect the struggle for UN Security Council reform and that the country has other urgent priorities.

Geingob also expressed shock and dismay that the international community has labeled Namibia as having a high rate of human trafficking cases. "It perplexes us in Namibia that we have been labeled as a country... with traffickers. Where did they get it from? Transit country, maybe, but we are made to look like we are really one of the main countries." He said there was no point in setting up a UN office to come and see what doesn't exist.

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