Drought food theft defeats crisis mitigation efforts

Martin Endjala

The recent drought-related food theft reported across the country is said to be defeating the government’s efforts to mitigate the drought and hunger situation in the country.

Rhingo Mutambo, the chief communications officer of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), said on Wednesday that the OPM is aware of drought food theft committed by individuals allegedly working at the warehouses.

Mutambo said that Namibia has been facing drought for several years now, adding that in the last two financial years, the country was hit hard, and this year, there were hopes, but as a result, Namibia is not out of the woods yet.

“It is disheartening to see the efforts of the government in ensuring that it mitigates the drought in the country to preserve the livelihood of the people when one hears that people who are supposed to take care of the drought food and to care for the warehouse are the ones stealing. We even hear of people allegedly using drought food to feed their dogs. We want to urge the public to report all these wrongdoings so that the wrath of the law can befall those found in the act,” argued Mutambo.

He also encouraged the public to show patriotism by exposing the sale of drought-related food items on the streets and refraining from purchasing them.

He cautioned that the budget, including the extended budget, is still insufficient, implying that those who commit such acts are still apart from their families, as the food was intended for them.

Mutambo said this is why the government is calling on international partners to meet the government halfway to mitigate hunger in the country.

For the 2024–25 financial year, the government has a budget of N$825 million for the drought relief programme. N$600 million is for food assistance, while 25 million is for seed and horticultural provision, as per the sixth cabinet decision meeting.

Meanwhile, Oshikoto police are investigating a theft of drought relief food. Johannes Shaanika Mupetami, a 31-year-old Namibian male, was arrested on 21 May following the confiscation of drought relief food at Leeu Pos farm.

The drought relief food is alleged to have been stolen from the Tsumeb Constituency office. He appeared last week and was denied bail.

On Monday, the police arrested Zenecia Nghitamuka, an employee at the Tsumeb Constituency Office, as a suspect in the same case.

She made her first appearance in Tsumeb Magistrate Court on Tuesday.

Upon reaching her number, a person claiming to be her sister responded, stating that her sister’s arrest was not related to drought food theft but rather to a different incident.

“Such allegations are not true,” said the person before threatening to take this journalist to her lawyers.

On Tuesday evening, the police arrested another suspect. Investigations into the matter continue.

Last week, it was reported that an estimated N$100,000 worth of drought relief food was stolen in the Oshikoto region.

According to Oshikoto Chief Regional Officer Christella Mwenyo, it did not receive any formal reports of missing food items from its warehouse or constituency offices, nor did it receive a crime report from the Namibian Police.

She said the council has instituted an internal investigation, which is currently in full swing, to identify the circumstances under which the alleged food theft occurred and to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to bring the culprits to book.

Mwenyo stated that, although the council is unable to pronounce itself on the matter due to ongoing investigations, she urged the public to remain calm, allow due process to conclude, and trust in the crime investigation bodies to do their job in bringing the culprits to book.

John Moonde, chairperson of the Khomas Regional Council, said drought theft defeats the purpose of government efforts to mitigate the negative effects drought has on communities’ livelihoods.

“This is very discouraging to the political leadership to hear that food is being stolen by the same people entrusted with the responsibility of dishing out food to the affected members of our communities,” he said.

Moonde is of the opinion that the government should deal with and punish those who are stealing.

This is after President Nangolo Mbumba declared a state of emergency in Namibia, on account of the persisting national drought across all regions.

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