The redline menace, yet again

Once again, resistance to the existence of the infamous redline or so-called veterinary cordon fence that divides the North from the South of Namibia has flared. In May of this year, Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement activist Job Amupanda filed a lawsuit in the High Court to eliminate the controversial barrier. We support Job’s intentions just as we have supported previous calls to remove the need for a redline. However, to remove the redline precipitously without planning and foolproof solutions for the need for a veterinary cordon barrier is irresponsible.

The redline has been used as a hammer of repression against the people living north of it. It is a continuation of economic apartheid and its existence offers an unearned supply and demand perk for farmers south of the line. It is an anathema and sore point for those who see it as a symbol of apartheid and colonialism. While the courts will decide whether the redline in and of itself is unconstitutional, Job’s assertion in his suit that it is degrading and is a negative symbol is spot on.

An informative column by Bread for the World and the Hans Seidel Foundation lays out poignant statistics and a history of the redline that is still relevant.

Beef exports are the mainstay of this nation’s revenues and foreign currency earnings. Any hint of disease or unsafe beef in the export supply will kill the golden goose. Any substantial reduction in beef exports could cause a loss of revenues that could bury the already reeling economy.

The redline, no matter how disgusting it is as a symbol of repression, has statistically been shown to provide a safe export beef product that buyers worldwide accept. This unpleasant fact should not be handled with emotion or righteousness but with viable mitigation.

Year after year, when this issue rears its head, the government announces programs and plans to help farmers north of the redline. Great speeches have been made about projects to prepare and market northern raised cattle. Moving the redline to the Angolan border was a half-baked idea thrown into the arena. It was a non-starter the second it was mentioned. Aside from untenable conservation issues regarding wildlife north of the cordon area with various diseases that could infect domestic cattle, such an elongated barrier is unrealistic and cost-prohibitive.

An estimation done back in 2008 by the Millennium Challenge Account-Namibia put an Angolan border fence price in the area of $3 billion with tens of millions needed annually for security and maintenance. That fence will be breached daily by residents and aggressive wildlife used to moving across the borders regularly. In 2021, that cost estimate could be triple at a time when the government barely has pennies to buy enough COVID vaccines. Moving the redline is not an option.

What is the science of cattle diseases that forces the insurmountable need for a redline after almost 130 years? It is unacceptable that in 2021, there is no workable mechanism to vaccinate, isolate, test, and then onward ship healthy northern raised cattle to international buyers.

There have been ideas floated about using cattle raised in the North for government agencies and local use only. These projects have not been funded, explained to all stakeholders, and then widely implemented. Too many decision-makers about the use of northern cattle have lucrative financial stakes in southern raised cattle. There is no incentive for those making money off the status quo to increase beef supply in the market, thereby lowering prices and profits.

Government must deliver written reasons why the efforts to establish viable northern abattoirs, feedlots, or beef marketing and sales hubs have not done well. Better solutions lie in the analysis of these realities.

After the pandemic abates and vaccines are available for all citizens, the government must help recover the economy by making the redline obsolete. Find the science necessary to aggressively protect the export beef supply with none of the usual Namibian bureaucratic gaps or mistakes. Concurrently, mitigate the lack of revenue for northern cattle farmers.

Invest in all aspects of meat production in the North. Implement existing plans for mandatory local meat sales and enforce the use of northern-raised beef as the first point of call for all government facilities.

Most importantly, the government must do something different this time. No more speeches; we already know the redline is a problem. Set a viable timeline with named individuals and departments responsible for each step in the government redline plan. Doing this could be a solid effort to revive a part of the economy after COVID subsides.

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