Grandstanding Geingob sinks Air Namibia

President Hage Geingob stood up in the Parliament and dropped an attention-grabbing bomb. He stated that Air Namibia would be liquidated. Statesmanship and studied leadership was not his goal with that precipitous statement. Self-aggrandisement was.

Our esteemed president holds an earned PhD and has 60 years of world experience and exposure to the way things work. He makes statements not from ignorance but with calculation. It is the self-serving side of his personality that is a fatal flaw in his otherwise reasonable leadership persona.

When asked in that same parliamentary session about Fishrot, Geingob was demure and coquettish. He said his lawyers told him he couldn’t speak about Swapo beneficiation from Fishrot. And yet, with Air Namibia, a sensitive, complicated, billion-dollar-multi-year negotiation (in progress), he quickly let it all hang out. He flamboyantly used the inflammatory word “liquidation.” He caused a destructive chain of events when it was unnecessary.

His statement was ill-considered on a business basis. It showed poor judgement that might cost the country substantial sums that it could have otherwise saved. It undercuts the airline, the employees, board members, customers, and his own ministers that are negotiating with creditors.

We expect better. Things are tough enough all over the country. The travel and tourism industry is reeling from the effects of the State of Emergency and the international ban on travel. Tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs connected to that sector have been eliminated with more under threat. And yet, the president plunges the knife that was already hovering, into the heart of the national flag carrier. He did this to make himself pleasing to the voices that have been calling for the doom of Air Namibia for decades.

Shock-value one-liners from Geingob are not new. We recall that pass statements made. He stated on international television shows that lifestyle audits in Namibia to battle corruption were already underway (they weren’t.) He said that full asset declarations were ‘already’ being done in Namibia (they weren’t). He told a stadium of people at her funeral that there was a Winnie Mandela Avenue in Namibia (there isn’t). And there are other examples.

We recall that when Old Age Pensions were first increased in the last Geingob administration. The finance minister at the time, Calle Schlettwein was set to make that announcement in the normal budget speech. But, no. Geingob needed that medal on his chest, so he pre-empted the minister and announced it in advance to take the credit.

Air Namibia will not exist as it currently does in the New Normal. Most people already understood that even before the pandemic wrecking ball hit Namibia. The negotiations were about when, how, how much, and the way forward.

There are leasing contracts in place until 2025. There are lawsuits to be paid out or settled. There is a workforce with contracts to be managed. There is a massive debt to the Namibia Airports Company to be negotiated. And, there are bookings for post-State of Emergency travel and cargo that could be made and income generated.

There are Namibians stranded in many countries who needed Air Namibia to get home. There are nationals of other countries stranded here who needed Air Namibia to get out. There are Air Namibia downstream suppliers of food, cleaning services, maintenance, who have employees and subcontractors dependent on their contracts with Air Namibia. These things are sensitive and have multi-billion dollar implications to a country with an empty Treasury.

What does Geingob do? He chooses to throw the cat amongst the pigeons so he could deliver a policy one-liner. With his tactless use of the word “liquidate” and follow-up comments blasting the efficacy of the airline, he has made a mess. He has called into question international credibility of all government loan guarantees (which Air Namibia has received) across the board for other entities. Quite unnecessarily, he has made everyone’s job harder.

The president has slammed the national airline’s board against the wall. That board had to call an emergency meeting over the weekend specifically because of Geingob’s unexpected statements.

When the ship is sinking, you don’t add more heavy cargo to the deck to make it sink faster. And yet, in a grandstanding act, Geingob did just that to Air Namibia. We do not believe it is being transparent to precipitously throw other people and their hard work, under the bus.

Let us hope that the officials working on the Air Namibia conundrum can find a Plan B or Plan C since Geingob likely trashed Plan A.

Namibia probably has other assets in foreign countries that could succumb to legal attachment battles begun by Air Namibia creditors. Now that they have been alerted to the president’s desire to ‘liquidate’ the airline, who knows how they will react to grab what they can.

The grave was already being prepared for the ailing national carrier, with a few potential life-changing options being explored first. Geingob however, kicked the SOE in the hole and piled on the dirt forcing everyone else to pay for the costs of his abrupt action.

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