One late evening, I was half asleep – but suddenly, I could hear someone whispering at my window, saying: ‘We regret that we have implemented socialism’. Then I said, ‘What? Socialism? Who is talking? Lenin, Castro, Chavez, Cabral or Machel?’ But when I woke up the next morning, it turned out that it was none of those big five talking from their graves but President Hage Geingob.
It was actually a headline article in a local newspaper. Geingob was quoted saying ‘Swapo adopting socialism as its political and economic ideology was a mistake on the part of the ruling party’.
The questions are, ‘Is Swapo a socialist party? Is Geingob a socialist?’ Because the country’s socio-political and economic orientations would be determined by the ideas of the ruling party and its dominant ruling elite. I don’t want to pre-empt you on the first question of whether Namibia is a socialist state or not because on that, we will have to look for practical evidence on the ground, pointing to an economic system, built on the foundations of socialism.
Most of you know what those foundations are or ought to be. But if Geingob is anything, he is at best a Hegelian idealist but surely not a dialectical materialist. Things like the ‘Namibian House’ are just metaphors – no one will be left out in the cold or be excluded from the dining table.
But, as we now know, those living in the silver cities north of Windhoek and other kindred places all over our beautiful Namibia are now out in the cold during the bitter winter of discontent and hungry because some are unemployed and others lost their jobs due to Covid. I must point out here, in passim, that amid the Covid, some people became instant millionaires.
The classic case: the PM Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila selling their two farms for a cool N$15 million to government ostensibly for resettlement purposes.
We must remind the minister of land reform that most people at this juncture are looking for food to feed their families and not to be resettled. I just hope that the President will tell his PM to share her new-found wealth with the poor.
“The rich must share, or …” that is Geingob’s daily song. This is what, in new-liberal economics, called ‘the trickle-down effect’ – you first make the rich richer and then their wealth will trickle down to the poor.
Geingob’s signature plan, the HPP, is just a shopping list of what is to be done and not a comprehensive economic plan grounded in any ideological underpinnings. How different is it from your usual Five Year’s Development Plans or Vision 2030 – the opium of the masses?
Let us take Geingob’s high-level members on the economy – mostly accountants and positivist economists. I must profess that I do not know their ideological outlooks but who among them is a socialist, if any, that would have influenced the panel to come up with a document that is socialist in its content and orientation? As one observer observed: “Most of the advisors who served on the panel come from big multi-nationals that place profits before anything else”.
I know Dr Carlos Lopes during my work as a research fellow at the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies at SAPES Trust in Harare; Lopes was the UNDP Country Representative at that time. You know that people coming from the UN family, IMF and the World Bank, etc. would in most cases be cocooned in their neo-liberal ideological blinkers. Still remember structural adjustments programmes (SAPS) conditionality?
Geingob’s current economic advis0r is an accountant – James Mnyupe. Another accountant Nangula Uaandja is the CEO of the newly created Namibia Investment Promotion and Investment Board – yet another addition to the mushrooming SOEs, the headache of Leon Jooste. But that is Geingob new-found love for accountants because there is plenty of money to be counted and some of the best economic minds to advise him on the real economy have been ignored or sidelined.
How about the company we keep? Our President and even former President Sam Nujoma have some very naive views of what an investor is. Before independence, Nujoma was a fiery critic of Trans-National Corporations (TNCs/MNCs) and their exploitative activities in Namibia, especially in the diamonds, uranium and fishery sectors. This might have influenced Nujoma’s earlier ideological orientation to flirt with socialism and promise of nationalisation of the major means of production – come independence. This was not to be in retrospective. Instead, Nujoma and his team decided not only to keep the inherited neo-liberal system intact but also perfected it.
Thus, talk of adopting socialism rings hollow. The ‘public-resource-private-profit’ dilemma is starkly posed in Namibia and borders on an economy of theft.
Some might still remember Lev Levied Diamonds (LLD). When Lev Leviev entered the Namibian market, he was paraded by Nujoma as the person who would challenge De Beers Diamond stranglehold on the Namibian diamond industry and would also make sure that Namibians benefitted from this resource.
Have we? As if this was not disquieting enough, here enters Jose Luis Bastos, a Spanish fishing magnate, said to be a close friend of Nujoma, exploiting our resource for the benefit of their own citizens.
Now, 30 years later, we have President Geingob telling us that Mexican, Chinese and Russian’s billionaires are investors. These are people who come here to dig out our precious diamonds ship them to Tel Aviv, New Deli, Antwerp and now Dubai and they are called investors.
The popular refrain: we fought for this land, you got the land and now you are selling it to foreigners.
Again, they are touted as investors because they will be paying the poor farm laborers ‘better salaries’ and on top of that they will not take the farms to Mexico or Russia at night because our well-paid spy agency is hard at work 24 hours, seven days a week.
So, is Namibia a socialist state? That translates into, Is Swapo a socialist party? Swapo 1976 expressed commitment to “building a classless society based on the principles of scientific socialism” has totally been jettisoned. The ruling party is now – first, a multi-billion business company – and second, a neo-liberal political party and not a socialist, Marxist-Leninist movement as Geingob claims.
Both Swapo and Swanu’s elite did not commit a class suicide – didn’t give up their class interests after independence.
Swapo is now active in a range of businesses: Farming, media, property, transport, printing, healthcare, security, mining and, of course, fishing. It is also into several joint ventures, including with MultiChoice, which is said to have paid N$150 million in dividends to Swapo ahead of the party’s sixth elective congress in 2017.
Don’t forget that party has been receiving the greatest chunk from government subsidy, which is paid to political parties represented in parliament. To top all these, you have the N$730 million eight-storey headquarter building towering over the dilapidated Katutura Intermediate Hospital.
So, is Namibia a socialist state? If you take the type of ownership regime of the major means of production as the defining indicator of whether the country is a socialist or not – then Namibia is not a socialist state but maybe a ‘weak welfare’ state. All the major means of production/resources (the family silver) have been sold/auctioned and now in private hands including the all-important fishing sector, which should have been what oil are to Norway and diamonds are to Botswana.