Namibia’s ambassador to Germany, Andreas Guibeb, caused quite a stir last week after he allegedly told opposition parties in that country to withdraw their draft resolutions for the genocide issue from parliament. In a conversation with Toivo Ndjebela, he discusses this and other issues.
New Era (NE):How does it feel to be back in the diplomatic circles of the country?Andreas Guibeb (AG): It is always a pleasure and honour to be of service to one's country and one's compatriots. Therefore, when the President and foreign minister called on me as they did in this case on several former Namibian diplomats, like Dr Kaire Mbuende, Veiccoh Nghiwethe and Monica Nashandi, it was very difficult to say no. I must say it feels good to be back in the diplomatic service of Namibia.
NE: What is your background in this type of career?AG: International relations, international law and especially bilateral and multilateral negotiations in business, as well as the public sector, have been part and parcel of my academic studies and professional practice. The fact that I studied in Geneva exposed me to numerous such negotiations as Geneva is the day-to-day backdrop to numerous international negotiations on all subject matters. My association with the Centre for Applied Studies in International Negotiations in Geneva, first as an intern and later on as programme director, taught me invaluable lessons regarding the most important skill set for diplomats, business, government and public leadership.
This prepared me especially to navigate as the first permanent secretary after Namibia's independence, the difficult challenges of state succession from apartheid South Africa to post-independent Namibia, as well as the successfully concluded negotiations regarding the re-integration of Walvis Bay and the off-shore islands. We were able to accomplish this in just four years after Namibia's independence.
NE: Former foreign affairs minister Theo-Ben Gurirab, in an interview with New Era last year, spoke highly of your diplomatic acumen. How did you leave this trade, prior to your re-appointment last year?AG: I have always been at the disposal of my government and accepted at the time when I was the Namibian High Commissioner to Zambia, the recall from the founding President to serve as the CEO of the Namibian national airline [Air Namibia]. I was however obliged to ask the President to relieve me from that commitment as CEO of Air Namibia as a result of irreconcilable differences with my board regarding the management of the airline.
NE: What have you been up to during your long sabbatical from public office?AG: I have since then been engaged in several private business ventures next to my main line of business as corporate business consultant and advisory services to businesses, public institutions and civil society in Namibia, South Africa and in Europe for my own account.
NE: What are targets set for your current job? AG: The public charge of our President at the day of the commissioning ceremony was loud and clear. "We have declared war on poverty. I want all our ambassadors to leverage the support of the countries to which they are accredited to help the government and the people of Namibia to achieve that objective sooner rather than later. I accepted that challenge and look forward to be judged by the degree to which my Embassy of Namibia team contributes to that objective, through the increased number of tourists travelling from Germany to Namibia, the increased foreign direct investment we garner from Germany and Namibia, the increased partnerships we establish between Germany and Namibia on government to government, German federal states and Namibian administrative regions, German cities and Namibian towns, German and Namibian businesses, higher learning institutions as well as civic organisations to strengthen the capacity of Namibia.
NE: Media reports suggested last week that you asked German opposition MPs to withdraw their draft resolutions for the genocide reparation. What was the motive for your request and what informed your decision?AG: I wrote to chief whips of all parties in the Bundestag after having spoken to them and after having obtained their individual agreement that any motion on the Namibian genocide question, submitted by an opposition party, stands no chance of success in the Bundestag, as the majority ruling party/ies would automatically vote against it. Tradition has it that ruling parties systematically vote against opposition party motions, even if they agree with the proposal.
They all agreed that it would be desirable, although rarely done, for this motion to be submitted as a joint party motion supported by all parties in the Bundestag even though it can succeed with only the support of the majority ruling parties.
This can only happen when the opposition parties withdraw their current individual motions seeking recognition of the genocide committed in Namibia, and to replace it with a single consensus motion underwritten by all political parties to guarantee a serene and respectful debate that honours the victims of the Namibian genocide in the same consensual and dignified manner as the one observed during memorials of the Jewish genocide.
That was the purpose of the letter to the chief whips of all parties. That was the only way in which it could succeed in the Harambee spirit, that is, let's all pull on the rope in the same direction.
All of the parties in the Bundestag acknowledged the presence of the Namibian ambassador in the Bundestag on 17 December, when they debated the only motion of the Left Party remaining on the floor, after the Green Party withdrew its motion on the request of the Namibian ambassador.
The ruling coalition CDU/CSU and SPD as well as the Green Party unequivocally acknowledged during that debate that the time has come for all parties in Germany to recognise that what happened in Namibia qualifies to be called genocide. They particularly regretted that the Left Party refused to follow the advice from the Namibian ambassador to withdraw their motion in favour of a single joint-party motion reflecting the consensus in the Bundestag and all people of Germany.
Those Namibian media that reported on this issue as "the Namibian ambassador committing a Gupta", and "Namibian ambassador in trouble for asking German parties to withdraw their requests" totally misled their readers as the sensationalist reports had nothing to do with what the Namibian ambassador said, and totally distorted what transpired in the Bundestag on that day.
It raises more the question of ethics in journalism as they too have an obligation to factually report what transpired and reserve their comment on what happened to the editorial or opinion columns.
NE: What was the reaction to your request by the German MPs?AG: The response of the German MPs from all political parties was the opposite of what was reported. Their welcome for me since my arrival has been positive. Maybe the fact that I speak German facilitates the communications between us. They testified without exception their respect and admiration for Namibia and its people and their sincere desire to help contribute to deeper relations with our country. I feel the same sentiment expressed by the German government, business and German civil society leaders as well ordinary German citizens.
NE: Ovaharero chief, Advocate Vekuii Rukoro, suggested that government must step aside from the genocide issue and let the Namas and Ovaherero handle the matter themselves. What do you make of his sentiments?AG: I have the greatest respect for our traditional leaders including Advocate Rukoro and the Nama traditional leaders. I would naturally want the whole world to extend the same respect to them as my maternal and paternal grandmothers hail from the Nama and Ovaherero communities.
As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I must state that the position of the German government - based on public international law - is that such matters are negotiated between the democratically elected governments of the respective countries. This does not mean that anyone concerned in one way or the other may not be heard by either government. It only means that the negotiations regarding the settlement of the issue will be handled between the designated special envoys of the two countries.
One may like or not like that position, but fact is that this is their position that is consistent with international law.
NE: Rukoro also implied that government is not committed to the issue of genocide? Please comment on his assertion.AG: The opposite is true. The Namibian government has always assigned the most highest political representative of government to be responsible for coordinating and overseeing the discussions between the two governments on this particular issue.
During the reign of President Nujoma, it was Right Honourable Hage Geingob as the then Prime Minister of Namibia. Under the presidency of President Pohamba, it was Right Honourable Nahas Angula. Under the presidency of President Hage Geingob, it is His Excellency Dr Nickey Iyambo, the current vice-president of Namibia. The government has since independence accorded the same highest priority attention to this issue.
What has changed is not the government’s readiness to engage the German government on this issue... it is the readiness and consensus amongst all the parties in the German parliament to remove what Dr Peter Katjavivi, the Speaker of our parliament, refers to as "the stone in the shoes of Germany-Namibia relations" that prevents us all to walk comfortably.
NE: As a seasoned diplomat, how do you think this matter should be addressed?AG: I do not say it because I am a seasoned diplomat. I say so because it is the common sense approach. If the German government and all parties in the Bundestag say that this issue will only be negotiated between the two governments and they are at last willing to collectively qualify what happened in Namibia as genocide, then we can all help the vice-president [Iyambo] and Dr [Zedekia] Ngavirue, the special envoy designated by the Namibian government, to solve the issue by demonstrating our unity and support for finding a lasting, mutually beneficial solution.
As they say, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Any Namibian who has a contribution to make in this regard should seize the invitation made and the open doors of the vice-president to proffer such advice directly to him and to Dr Ngavirue. Anything else unfortunately causes delays and distracts from the work at hand, namely, to officialise the recognition and apology on a high-level which all the German political parties agree must be done sooner rather than later and let the special envoys discuss and propose how the related issues of a remembrance culture and reparation are to be dealt with in a future oriented manner that further strengthens the relations between the two countries
NE: As a man on the ground [in Germany] what is the likelihood that the German government will give in to reparation demands?AG: My observation is that all the parties in the Bundestag are conscious of the fact that recognition of the genocide in Namibia imposes an obligation to make up for the wrong committed against the Namibian people. They are open to assume responsibility through a settlement. The German government-designated special envoy is not only experienced and highly respected by all the parties in the Bundestag, but is someone that has demonstrated his sensitivity regarding the importance of a fair settlement of the issue that will strengthen relations between Namibia and Germany.
New Era Reporter
2016-03-24 10:15:44 | 3 years ago