Uutoni must fill the CoW vacuum

As in nature, politics abhors a vacuum. This is a well-known saying derived from one of Aristotle’s teachings.

When considering the mess at the City of Windhoek (CoW), ironically expressed in the garbage recently thrown in the streets of our reasonably clean capitol city center, the persistent political vacuum at the City Municipal Building is roiling. Erastus Uutoni, Minister of Urban and Rural Development since March 2020, is the man in the political hot seat responsible for helping to craft and then manage a solution for the unfocused restlessness of the Windhoek City Council. However, it seems that instead of acting, he has chosen to stand in the center of the vacuum staring wide-eyed and petrified like a kudu caught in the headlights of an oncoming bakkie.

Among other difficulties, there is justified unrest amongst temporary city employees. In addition, there has been another rejection of an employment offer for the CEO post (first, Riaan Berger and now Conrad Lutombi). To make matters worse, plural democracy on steroids swarms the vacuum as otherwise powerless boutique political parties vie to be Kaiser über alles. Minister Uutoni imposed a deadline of 3 March 2023 on the ceremonial city mayor before he and his ministry intervene. Meetings were scheduled for the discordant Management Committee of the CoW. Still, without a quorum and no response from meeting requests sent to battling Council members, the impasse and lack of dialogue continue unabated as the garbage stinks in the street.

Many who decry the impasse at the city leadership level may want to call the Minister’s bluffed deadline and ‘out’ him. It is reasonable to postulate that Uutoni will do little on 3 March that he hasn’t done over the past two years since his appointment to his post. A sincere desire for a solution and agreement about the problem is no longer enough; a point of order must be imposed on the leadership of the CoW.

Faniel Maanda is the acting CEO of the city until 7 March 2023. He is yet another talented, brave, and willing paperclip pressed into play to warm the chair of their once-and-future boss. The question remains about what systemic change can be implemented that will at least begin to bear fruit in the short term. What is the solution for city workers in an uproar over being perennial contract employees rather than permanent staff with appropriate job security and benefits packages? Is anyone with the authority to sign an agreement currently sitting down with the disgruntled employees? As this entire political vacuum muddle proves, being thoughtful, firm, and fair in difficult leadership situations is not easy; we are reasonably sure Minister Uutoni knows this. Navigating the vacuum’s choppy waters is part of his job description as Minister of Urban and Rural Development. He must stop talking and waiting and get busy.

We would be remiss to lay the origins of the problems at the CoW solely at the current Minister’s feet. There are many reasons spanning the years that have contributed to the current political vacuum in the City of Windhoek; many can arguably mark its beginning in 2016 when Niilo (Kambwa Kashilongo) Taapopi completed his contract at the City CEO’s office. The controversial tenure of oft-suspended, litigious CEO Robert Kahimise, Taapopi’s successor, and his interest-free study loans, melees with the Council, Management Committee impasses, and then vitriolic clashes with the then City of Windhoek Police Chief Kanime blighted out any possibility for him to exert effective gap-filled leadership during his four-year tenure. Officially marking the vacuum at the CoW and its negative impacts in 2020 when Kahimise went on to RED pastures does not make the current 2023 City leadership car smash any better.

It is imaginable that there are subtle, crafty, behind-the-scenes administrators in the Municipal Building entrenched over the years who cheer at the prospect of an embattled Council, inert Management Committee, and vacant CEO’s office. Insinuations of corruption amongst those who hold jobs that require granting certifications and permissions for a wide range of municipal services find ample fuel when no one is watching the store. The people of Windhoek deserve better than what is on offer today in that Municipal Building.

An analysis of the Minister’s lack of substantive and aggressive problem-solving regarding the City Of Windhoek cannot fail to mention that the political parties voted onto the City Council in 2020 seem to have abdicated their right to hold high office. Their agendas seem to trump the needs of the people of Windhoek. Compromise, calm conversational savvy, staying alert and aware, negotiation, and goodwill are necessary for smaller voices to influence louder ones in decision-making. Those sitting on the Windhoek City Council are making the political power vacuum worse instead of working hard to fill it for the benefit of those who elected them.

Minister Uutoni must innovate and impose an enforceable, fully funded, obligatory program to remind those decision-makers who fail to put the city’s needs first that mature problem-solving must vanquish schoolyard posturing so that the greater good can prevail. People should not have to resort to throwing garbage in our beautiful capital city’s streets just to be heard.

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