-Namibia Remains an ideal country for trade and investment says Ambassador Monica Nashandi
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Appointed as the first female Ambassador of Namibia to the USA, Monica Nashandi has settled in seamlessly into her new role.PAV caught up with her for a Q and A on her new assignment, relations between Windhoek and Washington, investment opportunities in Namibia and her perspective on the upcoming Presidential elections in her country.
We start the interview with developments in Namibia. How is your country doing economically, socially and politically?
Ambassador Nashandi: Well, first of all, thank you for taking interest in knowing our beautiful story. The story of Namibia, I know it’s not the first time that you are interacting with a Namibian, you have interviewed many others before me and most recently the Minister of Finance.
Basically, the Namibian economy is traditionally mineral based. We have different kinds of minerals. The major ones being diamond and uranium. So, we have been dominated by mining. Mining is the backbone of the economy. But since independence, we have diversified in other areas because we cannot just depend on one area for economic development. We diversified in fisheries because as you know, we have a long coastline and we have almost all the species there. We have also diversified into agriculture in terms of beef productions. Our beef is one of the best in the whole world.
We are also promoting tourism that is actually growing at a very fast rate. So, the economy has been doing fairly well. At the moment, we are kind of on a downturn because of external factors. You know the trends across the globe are not really in favor of economic development and Namibia being a small economy is somehow affected. But definitely looking at the figures. I am sure thing are picking up, by next year I think we will improve.
And on social and political developments?
Ambassador Nashandi: The Namibian government from the very beginning invested a big chunk of our budget on education, health, provision of housing, and also expanding the social safety net. This means; the elderly pensioners get their monthly provisions. That has been increased almost every year. At the moment the pensioners, get something like one thousand three hundred Namibian dollars, and that is a permanent thing. If they are pensioners, if they are disabled, if they are orphans and if they are vulnerable children, they have that income just to make sure that they also enjoy the fruits of independence. So, everybody at least knows that Namibia is free, and we are benefiting.
On Education, it has been the government’s policy that every Namibian child should have an opportunity to go to school, whether they can afford it or not. So primary and secondary education in Namibia is free. so that at least it encourages Namibians to go to school and they have been doing very well. And of course, we have institutions of tertiary education. Once the children have graduated from high school, they go into them. The only problem is that when they get into a higher institution of learning because the economy is so small, after graduating sometimes you have a very big number of them not getting employment because the government cannot employ everyone, and the economy is so small. But what I’m saying is that socially the government has invested a lot of money into making sure that at least the Namibian people enjoy the fruits of our independence.
And politically, Namibia given our background, we fought very hard for independence. In Namibia, Namibians were recruited in different armies by the South Africans. You could find a household with maybe three brothers or three sisters, or one brother, and they belonged to different groups. What the first president, the founding president in Namibia did was to preach and institute a policy of national reconciliation, from there we have consolidated our political stability in peace. That’s why in Namibia there hasn’t been any fighting. Peace, and stability in Namibia are the priority for the Namibian women to consolidate because we cannot afford to fight anymore. So, we have been doing very well politically and I think once you have a stable political environment, and you have peace then investors will come. Because nobody wants to invest their money in an environment that is not politically stable.
You were at White House recently to present your letters of credence to President Trump. How did the event go, and what is a state of ties between Washington and Windhoek?
Ambassador Nashandi: Well, the event went very well. It was a short one. But of course, I thank my President for appointing me as Ambassador to Washington, you know as they say, the capital of the world. It was challenging at first, but I appreciate the opportunity that I’ve been given. It’s a privilege for me to have been accredited. In the event, I presented my credentials.
With regards to the state of ties, Namibia has benefitted from a number of programs put in place by the U.S government. We have benefitted from the Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts, and other programs that have helped with socio-economic development in Namibia. Namibia has benefitted from support and resources to fight HIV/AIDS.
We have also benefited from AGOA. Some years back we had the opportunity of exporting some textile products that were produced in Namibia to the American market. We have benefited from programs like the peace corps. Young Americans go deep in the villages to work with Namibians, especially in the education field. So, the relationship is very good but now what we want to do is to take it further.
Namibia has now been classified as a middle-income country which is really biting us very hard. That is based on the skewed makeup of income days before independence. So, it is not a realistic figure. We have fought that, but what we are planning to do is to engage the American government to reconsider that classification so at least we have an opportunity to benefit from other programs. Of course, AGOA is going to be extended. You have OPIC now in place. So, at least we will continue to benefit from these programs until such a time. I am not saying that we want aid, but we want programs that will actually be mutually beneficial. That’s why we talk about trade and investment if we can get those opportunities.
Ambassador Nashandi: Well, I do not know whether there’s any particular meaning to read in this. But I appreciate that I’ve been appointed to Washington. The Namibians government policy is that of empowerment, and gender parity. That every Namibian should have an equal opportunity to participate in the activities that move the country forward. Whether it is with the government or not. We have that policy. At the level of the ruling party, they introduce the Zebra. The Zebra meaning that to each and every man there’s a woman. but Namibian women also say that they don’t want to be to be used. they tend to be wheel barrowed into those positions. It should be on merits, opportunities would be provided for them to participate. Also, we follow a solid protocol that talks to the empowerment of women and equal participation. So, when I sit in that office actually, maybe is only sometimes that I think about myself as a woman sitting in that office, but; I think about myself as Namibian who is representing my country and my president, who is capable of promoting my country. But of course, I’m a woman and I appreciate the fact that there have been so many men in this office.
A trade mission to Windhoek has been announced from 20th t0 24th May. Can you shed some light on this?
Ambassador Nashandi:Well, the trade mission is coming up in May as you said. There have been trade missions before to Namibia from here. What we are actually emphasizing now is that we have to at some point make a difference with these missions. We are concentrating on quality as opposed to the quantity. What are we looking for in this? We are looking for prospective traders and investors. To participate in the activities of our economy
We are looking at people who can actually set up factories for processing. Because Namibia’s vision is for the country to be an industrialized economy by the year 2030. That’s the vision of the government. You cannot achieve industrialization without manufacturing. We have minerals, we have diamonds. There are processing factories in Namibia owned by Namibians. We have fishing. We need the processing of our fish products. In agriculture, we have leather. We need processing rather than sending it to somewhere else. We have marble that is processing somewhere in Italy. When you come to Namibia you don’t find Namibians with a house with marbles. We are talking about manufacturing, for them to set up industries for manufacturing, and processing for what we have in Namibia.
Also, we need SME development. You cannot also talk about industrialization without developing your SME’s, the medium and small enterprise. The big guys are already making money. So, they are not really bothered. We are also encouraging partnerships with the Namibian business people. Joint venture partnerships. We also encourage them once they have set up their manufacturing, they should be able to devote a part of their profits to developing skills for Namibians. We don’t want people to come in then set up factories and then when they go it’s closed. That’s not what we want for Namibia. So, we are encouraging them to look at what they want to do in Namibia, and we will put them in contact with the Namibians who are able to do business.
Now; any tips for US companies that are willing to be part of the trade mission, what opportunities are there? How Is the investment climate in Namibia?
Ambassador Nashandi: The investment climate is very encouraging. We have an investment center in the Ministry that used to be the Ministry of Trade but now it is called Trade Industrialization and SME Development. We have an investment center, which is called the One Stop Shop, where they have investment incentives. One of the incentives is actually that once you do business in Namibia, and you have made money, you are able to repatriate your money, your profit. There are no restrictions, as it is in some countries, where you cannot do that. Namibians are trainable. Once you have them you can train them on the job, and they will do a good job and they are dedicated. Then you have the investment code, which talks on how the business is supposed to be. The investment environment is really good, because peace also plays a role. The Namibians are ready to do business. The government is playing a role by facilitating, in terms of putting policies in place. Nobody wants to operate where they are no policies guiding the activities, and policies are there for investors to come to Namibia and invest.
A word on some of the investment sectors that could be of interest to investors?
Ambassador Nashandi: They can set up textiles, they can set up food processing. We also have other minerals. They can invest in the exploration of other minerals. We are convinced that we have oil in Namibia. They can explore oil. The Ministry of Mines and Energy issues EPA exploration licenses like in the uranium and diamond industry. There are so many areas in which they can invest. They can invest in tourism, set up ports. It’s a lot of areas that they can invest in.
On politics, presidential elections could take place later in the year. How prepared is a country for elections, and how important would this particular election be?
Ambassador Nashandi:Namibia has always been ready for elections. Namibians always look forward to elections, so that they can exercise their democratic rights as provided for in the constitution. The good thing is that elections in Namibia take place under very peaceful conditions. I’m sure you have been following our transitions from the very founding president to the second president into the third president. Very peaceful.
Obviously, you are a member of Swapo and a supporter of the president, Hage Geingob. What achievements has Namibia recorded with him during his first term? Do You think this would be enough to convince Namibians to give him a second term?
Ambassador Nashandi:Well, I’ve gone back to where we started. After independence, the program was to build the nation in consolidating with independence and democracy. And then the second president was also to continue to consolidate institutions of democracy and ensure that there is socio-economic development. He carried that program as well. Actually, he’s carrying on with their program that was put in place from independence. President Hage Geingob has the responsibility to ensure prosperity for the Namibian people. That’s why when he came into office, he started to put in place a plan called The Harambee Prosperity Plan that has five pillars.
The five pillars are; effective government, economic advancement, social progression, infrastructure development, and international relationships. So, he has that agenda. This agenda is derived from the Namibian National Development Plan. We are now in our fifth National Development Plan. The others have been implemented during those years of independence. He has to make sure that he carries on by implementing the Fifth National Development Plan. He should be given a chance to do that because you cannot measure someone’s success by giving him five years. Because during the first three years, he was just putting that file together to do good. I think that he is a more than capable president.
He should be given the chance to go into the second term and Namibians should just give him that chance. He has been in Swapo leadership for a long time. He knows Namibia very well and people respect him. So, I’m sure Namibians will give him a chance so, that at least to ensure prosperity for the nation. He’s also actually declared this year as a year of accountability, fighting corruption. He has promised that everybody who has done something that smells of corruption, action will be taken. The law will take its course. So, let him be given a chance to fight corruption. Let him be given a chance to implement his programs. Let him be given a chance to ensure prosperity for the Namibian people. These are not going to be achieved in a short period of time, I’m sure whoever takes over after his second term will continue where he’ll end. Because socio-economic development is not something that can be done in one day. It is said that Rome wasn’t built in one day.