Swapo Party Central Committee member and Secretary of the Politburo Carl Schlettwein has cited tribalism as worrisome despite the party’s efforts to liberate Namibia to ensure that racism and tribalism become a thing of the past apartheid regime.
The Agriculture Water Land and Reform Minister said this during an interview with the Windhoek Observer as he reflects on his career as a Swapo party member after he announced last year during the Central Committee’s last meeting in December that he will be retiring, alongside his with fellow comrades, Minister of Gender Equality Doreen Sioka, National Assembly Speaker Peter Katjavivi and Home Affairs Minister Albert Kawana.
Schlettwein admitted with concern, that during his career he has unfortunately observed the dilution of some of the principles and values not being practised, adding that the country is regressing back to tribalism. He echoed this when asked to reflect on his journey and what the party needs to do to regain public trust.
“I must admit that during my career I, unfortunately, observed the dilution of some of our principles and values. I observe that we are regressing back into tribalism where it is more important to think, feel and act in favour of one or the other tribe than being first a Namibian”.he said.
He noted that the current divisions could easily escalate into true tribal hatred and consequent violence and civil war, arguing that it threatens the young democracy and all the gains made to grow into a nation.
The Minister is also worried that material greed coupled with rent-seeking attitudes is jeopardizing the ambition to leave a better country for future generations. He is also keen to keep on contributing and remain active in many areas, health permitting, but not necessarily as a farmer.
To regain the full trust of the public, Schlettwein is of the view that the party must return to its fundamental values of justice, liberty and equality, adding that it must remain true to the slogan of One Namibia, One Nation and embrace non-tribal coexistence with respect for traditional and community rights.
“We have to unambiguously shown that Swapo is trustworthy. We must denounce corruption, yes, but have to go further and stop being corrupt. Members found guilty of, or are suspected of corruption, misuse of office, or otherwise acting in their own interest and compromising the common good must feel the consequences immediately.
Additionally, he maintained that the youth has a legitimate expectation to play a meaningful role in shaping the fortunes of the party, while adamantly asserting that they must be given the platforms and influence to do that.
He, however, stressed that the attitude observed; “it is our turn now” is not supported. Lamenting that as a politician, a public servant of the party, the obligation is to serve the people for the common good and it must be done with the best team the party can offer and not with an exclusive group who believe it is their turn. “The party is inclusive of all”.
Schlettwein also refuted rumours that he will be resigning on the 33 rd Independence anniversary, saying that it is not true and he rather wants to finish his legislative term, “no, it is not true. I hope to be able to work and finish my given tasks until the end of this legislative term”.
Moreover, he is grateful to be afforded a fantastic opportunity to have a fulfilling career in public service both as a civil servant and a politician. To be part of developing a free Namibia Schlettwein said, is something very special, which enabled him to contribute by acknowledging and fighting for the principles of inclusivity, solidarity and equality.
He added that they have achieved a great deal by having developed a country that has amongst many other outstanding achievements peace, that is safe, has the best infrastructure on the continent, has the freest press, is recognized for uncompromisingly complying with fundamental human rights and the separation of power, cares for its environment.
Asked why he joined politics, the Minister stated that he realized relatively early in his life that a system of racial segregation and racial oppression is grossly unjust and incompatible with a free and enjoyable life for all. “I, therefore, joined my comrades in 1984 in a lifelong journey with SWAPO in the struggle for freedom, liberty and justice before independence”. He said.
The fact that SWAPO embraced him, and made him one of them without asking which race, which tribe, or which creed he belongs to, gave him the hope and courage to join the struggle for his country of birth to be free, with equal rights for all her people, he added.
“I am very thankful that I could serve as the Secretary for the SWAPO Party Political Bureau and its Central Committee for many years since 1994, this embracement and full inclusion by SWAPO made it possible for me to always feel, think and act as a Namibian”, Schlettwein noted.
In addition to this, he stated that they celebrated because they had removed apartheid, but also because they had moved beyond tribalism, towards liberal democracy.
The cool, calm and selected Minister maintained that only in a unitary state free of racism and tribalism can the country tackle the very difficult and daunting task of developing a prosperous nation. “Me joining SWAPO in 1984 started a lifelong journey that brought many highlights, it brought me close to several difficult moments, but overall it was very fulfilling and exciting”.he added.
Fast forward, to President Hage Geingob starting his first legislative term in 2015, he was appointed as the Minister of Finance. After his appointment, he was deeply humbled and excited and since he had been the Deputy Minister for two and a half years before that and the Permanent Secretary for Financeas of March 2003 he was confident that he was well-equipped for this important task.
Apart from that, Schlettwein served in several Ministries as Permanent Secretary, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development, the Ministry of Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Finance, until President Hifikepunye Pohamba appointed him as member ofParliament to the National Assembly and Deputy Minister of Finance in 2010.
In 2012 the President promoted him to the position of Minister of Trade and Industry. “My time as minister of Trade and Industry ended with the highlight of finalizing the “Growth at Home” strategy for industrialization”.
Additionally, in 2015 they started with a looming cash crunch which was caused by a global downturn in commodity prices and a consequent sudden reduction of revenue. This in turn resulted in severe pressure on funding the operational and capital budgets.
Fiscal space had narrowed considerably and debt levels were rising faster. The only option left Schlettweiin stated, was to stabilise these unsustainable trends by reducing public expenditure and improving revenue collection through tax administration efficiencies.
Consequently, they targeted expenditure lines which were not necessarily the highest priority or required, “we called them “nice to have”, but not essential. This resulted in a reduction of the wage bill, a reduction in operational expenditure and a slowing of down some capital projects, including office blocks.
The results were good, circumstances permitting, in terms of expenditure as a proportion of GDP, reduced from 41.7 percent in 2014-15 to 37.6 percent by 2019 and 2020 budget deficits came down from 8.2 percent in 2015 and 2016 to 5.0 percent by 2019/20, debt takes increased at a slower pace, the current account deficit narrowed the balance of payment deficits reduced and the stock of international reserves improved to more than five months of import cover.
Economic growth however came down, from 4.3 percent in 2015 to 0.0 percent in 2016, a contraction of -1,1 percent in 2017 and started to recover in 2018 with 1.1 percent growth. 2019 brought a severe drought and reduced growth again to -0.9 %. In spite of low growth, we managed to stabilize an otherwise very precarious fiscal situation.
Schlettwein cited this as one of the factors, which significantly contributed to reduced GDP growth was that large capital projects, often seriously overpriced, experienced huge budget overshoots, which in turn increased pressure on cash flows.
Furthermore, the Minister stressed that Namibia’s economy needs to diversify, lamenting that an economy that is producing what it is not consuming, and consuming what it is not producing remains a price taker on all fronts.
“We are selling our raw materials for a song and buying finished goods for inflated prices – not sustainable! Therefore, we need investments, both domestic and foreign direct investment into the secondary sectors. We desperately need to improve the quality of investments, meaning jobs, value addition (growth at home) and equalised sharing of the values and wealth so created”.
Subsequently, he noted that what humanity was most afraid of in the past and it is still now, are war, famine and disease, which have all been experienced recently, the war in Europe, but also on the African Continent, the global Covid-19 pandemic, and the continued famine of millions of poor people in the world.
His stance still remains, that self-sufficiency in basic food commodities is therefore an absolute must. “I believe we can deliver that goal for several basic food commodities in the very near future. Currently, we produce significant surpluses in beef and fish which already covers the protein needs in our diets,” Schlettwein said in response to a question post to him, as to what Namibia needs to do to economically become self-reliant and resilient.
Staple grains, maize, mahangu (millet), wheat and sorghum production for example, is at various levels where maize production comes close to self-sufficiency (last year’s harvest of 115000 tones represents about 70 percent of Namibia’s need).
He went as far as to say that several locally produced vegetables are standing at above 50 percent, and with improved production on all green schemes and the development of the Neckartal irrigation scheme, they shall deliver on this goal.
In terms of water provision in the country, the government is said to have done well in providing clean water to many communities. As Schlettwein narrated that Namibia is one of the very few countries on the continent that assures safe quality water out of the tap, with over 90 percent of the total populationsaid to have safe water within a radius of 2.5 kilometres.
However, to satisfy the total need, especially in sparsely populated areas and far-flung rural communities, Schlettwein maintains that more needs to be done.
He emphasized that there is a need to develop, improve and maintain Namibia’s bulk water infrastructure by providing these communities by developing surface and groundwater resources(drilling more boreholes and building small dams), and improving water quality by desalinating brackish groundwater. These projects have already commenced.
While also reiterating that failures of local authorities to provide water must be addressed as a national priority, they have to significantly improve distribution networks in order to reach all consumers.
Most importantly, water must remain affordable to all. “We cannot allow inequality in the availability of an existential and life-giving commodity such as water”.
Schlettwein stressed that providing safe water to all and securing sufficient food for the whole population is their core mandate. To deliver on these pivotal goals they have been in the field onnumerous occasions to consult communities and farmers so that together they can achieve and satisfy the great current needs.
Additionally, he said that promising and advocating implementation is one side of the story, and delivering the project is the other, while also stating that good project management and cost-effective time delivery of projects can only happen when resources are available and the procurement of the project is transparent and corruption free.
Where coordination between stakeholders must appropriately be facilitated and possible conflicting approaches need to be cleared through a bottom-up approach with the affected sector or community.
“I am convinced that more can be done, but we have consulted widely and are in a good position to implement it”, said a very optimistic Minister.