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The other side of Geingob

2020-08-07  Paheja Siririka

The other side of Geingob
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How many children do you have?
Speaking as a pan-Africanist, those that I can say are my children are numerous. I have been blessed to be a father figure to many Namibians and even foreigners, particularly during the liberation struggle. Literally many Namibians found themselves in exile without fathers and mothers or any income whatsoever.
Irrespective of race, tribe or color, and in the Swapo tradition, I have taken some into my house, and extended hospitality and generosity to many throughout my life. On the other hand, I am also a proud father of five: My first born is called Sékou Touré Mangaliso Fernandez and stays in the United States; he is followed by Nangula Axabis Geingos, the second born, who is with me here in Namibia. Then comes Oshoveli Munashimwe, the third born, followed by Dangos Ndakondjelwa Geingos. My former wife was expecting twins but only one survived. Therefore, the one who remained was called Dangos (conquered). Finally, the last born is christened Hage Gottfried Geingob Jnr. Initially the Jnr was not part of his name, I had to quickly add it on, after he mentioned that he thought I got the name from him. To this I am now adding my new children Kayla Kalondo and Nino Kalondo, from my wife. 

How were you in your primary and secondary years? And where did you attend these grades?
I was born at a farm called Sabis in the district of Grootfontein but I did not stay there long before moving to another farm called //Kharases which was 30km from Otavi. I attended my primary school at Otavi. However, the school that I attended only went up to Standard Two and for this reason, I ended up repeating Standard Two twice before continuing my schooling through Trans-Africa Correspondence College of South Africa. 
In 1957, while in Tsumeb I managed to discover a music band featuring several individuals, among them, Comrade Ben Amathila. Other members have passed on but this group of musicians left an impression on me. I thought to myself, “These are teachers” so in 1958, I decided to go to Augustineum with the aim of also becoming a teacher. 

Among your siblings, which one were you? Naughty, serious, the father figure of all, the nurturer?
Well, as a firstborn I was disciplined and very well behaved in the home. So much so that when people came to my grandmother, who had brought me up, to accuse me of having misbehaved, she would immediately admonish them and say they were telling lies.
What annoys you about people in general? What are your pet peeves?
Firstly, I am a people’s person. One cannot be a leader or a politician and be easily annoyed by people. I am tolerant, although it can sometimes seem to people on the outside, as if I am the opposite. I have a special affinity with young people, who I see as the key to the future and therefore, I always seek to nurture the youth because as someone who was also nurtured within the ranks of Swapo, I have learned to appreciate the importance of mentorship. 
If there are any pet peeves I have, it will have to be hypocrisy and dishonesty. I have a strong dislike for those who do not practice what they preach and those that are dishonest.

I have noticed how passionate you are about politics and specifically democracy, justice taking its course and all. How did you decide on pursuing the political career? What or who was your biggest influence.
I was trained as a young teacher and was teaching at Tsumeb, when in July 1962, the 1st United Nations Mission arrived in Namibia, led by Dr Salvadore Martinez De Alba from Venezuela and Dr Victorio Carpio from the Philippines, which also visited Tsumeb.  Among the teachers, who were members of Swapo, three of us decided to go to the guesthouse where the UN delegation was staying, and informed them that they should not only meet with the puppets whose names they were given by the Administrator of the South African Government, Mr Blignaut. Initially, Swapo members drew up a list of people that we wanted the UN Mission to speak with, because the list provided to them was only of those sympathetic to South Africa’s colonial presence in Namibia. In the process, we had a confrontation with Mr Blignaut who informed us that whatever list we had should be channeled through him. Of course, we refused and this led to confrontation. After the UN Observers left, we became hounded. The house where I was living was raided and my Aunt at that time thought that all documents written in English were political and she ended throwing all my English correspondence course lectures away.
However, through the UN Observers, we learned that there were scholarships available for Namibians to study, since the South Africans had always used the argument that Namibians were not educated and therefore could not run the country. When we received the forms for scholarships, we decided not to apply from Windhoek as it would be difficult to get passports at the time. Furthermore, by applying for a passport one would have alerted the Apartheid Regime which would have placed us under surveillance. 
We therefore decided to leave the country to Botswana, and apply from there.  I left with Lineekela Kalenga, Godfrey Gaoseb, and Albion Naseb.  
Before I    went into exile, revolutionary fervor permeated the milieu at the time, particularly when I arrived at Augustineum College in 1958- Okahandja, as a young freshman with a thirst for knowledge and politics. The story of Kwame Nkrumah, who as a black man became the President of an independent Republic of Ghana in March 1957, captivated our imaginations. Therefore, not only for me, but for most of us, he definitely had great influence in our political awakening and resolve to tune in on the trajectory of liberation politics away from the initial objective of education. I think maybe all of us at Augustineum were impressed by Kwame Nkrumah’s political feats.

What was the end goal before slowly shifting to politics? Or finding yourself in the political arena. 
I never set out in life to pursue a political career. I always envisioned myself pursuing a career in academia. But as the Father of the Cuban Revolution Commandante Fidel Castro said, “Men do not shape destiny. Destiny produces the man for the hour.” Therefore, the destiny of struggle and the pursuit of independence, which defined the milieu at the time, I was becoming a young adult, pulled me into the political arena. In other words, destiny produced the man for the hour.
When I left for exile via Botswana, I did so with the intention of pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Degree. At the time, when I listened to radio, which featured only South African programmes, I used to hear people talking about, “B.A. mo London, B.A. mo London”. 
Thinking that a BA degree was the highest academic qualification one could get, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and return to Namibia to become a teacher.
As fate would have it, Botswana was the place I would receive my baptism of fire in the struggle. Upon arrival in Francistown we met Maxton Joseph as well as Peter Nanyemba, his deputy. There was a house that we called the “White House” where SWAPO was renting one room. I would end up staying at this house for the next one and a half years, sleeping outside sometimes in the cold with only one blanket. 
Botswana was often the first point of entry for many Namibians who wanted to escape South Africa’s brutal occupation. There was a decision taken by Swapo that no mature Namibian could join the struggle without receiving military training. We ran a secret recruitment operation at a place called TARTI Bar, observing and listening to any new arrivals to see what language they would be speaking. Once it was determined they were from Namibia, we would approach them. This is where we got our first members of the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia [PLAN] in Botswana, among them, a young man called Dimo Hamaambo. 
He became the commander of PLAN, but his recruitment in the struggle, began in Botswana under the tutelage of Yours Truly, as I was assigned by Comrade Nanyemba to register them for military training. 
I subsequently stayed on in Botswana, as Assistant Representative of the Swapo Party, until 1964, when I left Botswana for Léopoldville in the Congo. In Congo, while enduring harsh conditions at a refugee camp, I obtained a scholarship to study in America and left for the USA in March 1964.
In 1964, I arrived in the United States of America and after three months of staying there, Comrade Sam Nujoma arrived there, where he appointed me as Chief Representative of the SWAPO Party at the United Nations as a petitioner, deputised by Comrades Theo-Ben Gurirab and Hidipo Hamutenya, may their souls rest in peace. The rest, as they say, is history.

In all honesty, how does it feel to be the President? Are you now used to it since it is the second term? Is it just a title?
Well, during my first tenure as Prime Minister, I nearly worked myself into the grave. This was a time where we had to set up the whole system of government and it was no mean feat. After seven years when things were running perfectly and I had an excellent close working relationship with Comrade Nujoma, frustration arose due to stumbling blocks of backbiting and lies introduced by colleagues. At the time, people started saying that there should not be two presidents. This created an unbearable working environment and my blood pressure rose to 190/90. I wanted to resign, but I chose not to because I believed that Comrade Nujoma would not understand why one of his trusted cadres would want to resign during the struggle, as he still thought that we were in the struggle at the time.
Eventually, in 2002, I was demoted and asked the Founding Father why, “had I failed?” because demotion connotes failure, to which he responded that he did not demote me, but merely gave me another assignment. Following that, I resigned and got many job offers including internationally.  For example, during a high-level meeting at the World Summit on Sustainable Development attended by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, may his soul rest in peace, and attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and many of my friends, my name was mentioned by my friends as someone suitable to take up a job at the World Bank but I felt, at the time, I did not want to leave Namibia and go “into exile” again. I decided that I would become a backbencher and remain a member of the Swapo Politburo and Central Committee, and also go into “farming”, although that was not my cup of tea. However, I lost out in the Politburo by one vote to Comrade Jesaya Nyamu. Upon this outcome, I did not cry or display any bitterness. I just said “Viva SWAPO” and accepted the outcome.
It was after this incident that I contacted the former President of Botswana, His Excellency Festus Mogae. The next day I left Windhoek at 7:00 and caught a connecting flight via Johannesburg South Africa, arriving at 12:00 in Gaborone, where I was met by the Botswana Foreign Minister, Hon. Mompati Merafhe. We had lunch and at 15:00 I met with President Mogae. He asked what had happened and I explained to him and said that I had resigned and was relieved. He then informed me that there was a post available for me to fill at the World Bank but since I refused, the post was advertised and as a senior, I was invited to an interview which would take the form of a discussion. 
After having received the position, the first person I wrote to was Cde Sam Nujoma, informing him that ever since I left government I received many offers which I never accepted, but this one I accepted. However, wherever I go I will continue to remain a foot soldier for Swapo, Namibia and Africa. He responded informing me that I had his support.
This is how I went on to participate in the interview and ended up in Washington DC as Executive Secretary of the Global Coalition for Africa. Interestingly, I competed with the former prime minister from Senegal for the job, and all presidents from Southern Africa had to recuse themselves from the interview, so as not to exert undue influence in my favour. After the interview, some francophone presidents asked me whether I could speak French, and I countered, what is wrong with you, I speak, Damara, Herero, Oshiwambo, German and Afrikaans, why are you asking me about French? I had a letter of “good standing” from world presidents and my role was to work with African continental and regional organizations and Africa’s development partners toward conflict resolution in Africa, promotion of good governance in African states, and integration of African economies in the global economy. I had a five-year contract with a salary which was way higher and therefore not even comparable with what I received now as President. However, after two years, I left the job and came back to the Land of the Brave. 
I have provided this background as a way to answer this question and to explain that being a President is not something I take lightly. I have traversed a challenging path to get to this stage in my life, and therefore to hear some people saying today that politicians “only care about their stomachs” is a painful insult. Some of us sacrificed our youth for this country, and others died for its freedom. We went through many hardships to liberate our people as freedom fighters and to put in place well-functioning, processes, systems and institutions, as administrators and politicians.  As President, I have inherited these processes, systems and institutions that I worked tirelessly to establish as Prime Minister. Therefore, there is no need to reinvent the wheel per se. When I hear unverified accusations and vulgar insults aimed at me, I know who the real Hage is and those who make such comments are not talking about the Hage I know but the one they have created themselves.
There is never any getting used to being President because one has to deal with multiple matters of a domestic, regional, continental and international nature simultaneously.
One can never refer to being President as just a title. This is the highest honour bestowed on an individual by the ultimate sovereigns, who are the citizens of this country. It is the highest responsibility one can have. One can even declare war, so it is not something to be taken lightly.

What is your favorite meal? When and where do you prefer to eat it?
Believe it or not, pap is my favorite meal. Wherever, I travel even in America to the United Nations and other big countries, I prefer to eat pap.  Oshikandela and pap with sugar in the morning is my favorite meal, so much so that I have it sometimes three times in a day. I can change many dishes, but not pap. I also like to eat meat and chicken. Mostly, I eat at home. When things were normal, after church, my wife and I would go out to eat at the Zoo Park restaurant, Stellenbosch, Weinberg, Maerua Mall and Grove Mall. All that has changed and I am now forced to eat at home.

Please describe a day in the life of ‘Uncle Hage’ before you became the President compared to now? Is your schedule hectic?
Life to me is taken as it comes. The younger Geingob from childhood enjoys company, good music, and I used to drink my “wine”. Once I was invited by neighbours for a get- together with a group of rugby guys that is where I had red wine. I used to enjoy my cognac.  One month after independence, I had a soiree with a Kenyan contingent who helped us implement Resolution 435, and the next morning my head was paining terribly from the hangover. I said to myself, how can a PM of the country have such a terrible hangover, that should not be the case. It is there that I made a commitment never to drink as long as I was the PM of Namibia. That is why after the Kenyan delegation celebration, I put an end to it. My doctor told me that wine is good for cholesterol with a meal. I continually used to turn that down.  After, I left office as PM he came back and said, “As you are no more the Prime Minister, now you can take a glass of wine.” I do take it but with much discretion and no overdoing. That’s about my culinary delights and drinks.
As I have mentioned, being a President is no mean feat. The schedule is hectic because one has to deal with domestic, African and international issues. I am part of what I term the Third Wave of African leaders. We are leaders who operate through processes, systems and institutions.

Your sense of style and fashion is simple yet elegant. What goes through mind when picking an outfit? Wait, do you get to even pick and outfit at all or is it already picked for you?
When I went to Augustineum as a small boy, we had to wear blazers, so I decided that I like the feel and look thereof. By the time, I went back to Tsumeb as a teacher, this is how I was dressing. Most of my former students can testify how immaculate this Augustineum teacher was dressing even at the time before I had gone into exile. I had my suits tailored which I took with me, and Peter Nanyemba because we had the same size also used to wear my suits. 
For us, as teachers, dressing smartly was no big deal, it came as a normal occurrence. Specifically, during that time, when teachers used to be real teachers, they were required by the community to be dignified in their conduct and appearance. Unlike nowadays, back then, when you stand in the church to make announcements as a teacher, you were supposed to wear a tie, a suit and trouser, and well-polished shoes. To this day, I pick out my own suits according to my style and taste.

If you could have dinner with five young Namibians, without explaining yourself, who would they be?
I have had dinner with many young Namibians in the past and will do so in future. As I have alluded earlier, I have an affinity for the youth of this country and our African continent at large. I have always admired the youth and even from my days as Director of the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) I would have dinner with young people such as the current Chief Justice Peter Shivute and the Deputy Chief Justice Petrus Damaseb and my current Advisor of Constitutional and Public Sector Interface, Inge Zaamwani-Kamwi.   
As Prime Minister, I had several youths in my office, coming from all tribes, such as George Simataa, Audrin Mathe, Tonata Shiimi, Alfredo Hengari, Sacky Shanghala and Kazenambo Kazenambo to name a few. I had dinner with them many times.
Therefore, if I would think of any young people now to have dinner with, I think of the young activists, youth leaders past and present, whom I have always admired. However, there are many more youths that I would welcome to dinner, therefore choosing five is a bit limiting. Any would be welcome.

If you were not a President or politician, what would be that other passionate thing you would have pursued with your whole heart?
It was going to be teaching, I loved the profession. From there onwards, I was going to be a preacher one day. In those days, teachers would go on to become also pastors, and thereby serve the community.

If you are not at the office, what are you usually busy with?
Most of the time I spend in office on government matters, either attending to Cabinet, to national issues and challenges, in meetings, and events and ceremonies where I engage various audiences from all walks of life. When, I am not seized with these national duties, I go home, and rest to get rid of fatigue. I am also an avid viewer of national and international news and would usually tune into various channels such as NBC news, CNN, CGTN, Al Jazeera, BBC, Sky news, RT and others, to keep track with the latest happenings. Of course, my greatest hobby is to watch the English Premier League, especially my two teams, number one Liverpool and second Arsenal, winning games and cups. And I get excited as well as disappointed like every other Namibian fan of Liverpool and Arsenal. Maybe, one day if time permits, we must have a Liverpool and Arsenal fans get-together, to watch one of the final cup games in Namibia. I attended four soccer world cups and three rugby world cups thus far. My sporting interest go beyond soccer. I was an avid tennis player in the past but nowadays, I enjoy watching tennis on television. Boxing used to be my favorite sports particularly watching Muhammed Ali fight at the Madison Square and elsewhere. But over time, and due to the state of boxing where you have no longer a dominant or exciting boxers such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazer, George Foreman, my interest is no longer as strong as it used to be. 
Finally, I always wanted to have a situation room, which I tried to implement during my 1st tenure as a Prime Minister, because I believe that such an innovation will help us to govern and manage the country better by attending to issues and happenings in real time as they evolved at a 24-hour basis. At the presidency we have started to put the basic framework for such a digitally connected system where I can engage governors from Namibia’s 14 regions as we recently did. However, much work needs to be done to fine-tune the system and make it much effective. It is work in progress.

2020-08-07  Paheja Siririka

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