Namibia: Presidency of Hifikepunye Pohamba (2005-2009)

Updated September 2009.

On the 21 March 2005, the 15th anniversary of Namibia's independence, its second democratically elected President Hifikepunye Pohamba was inaugurated (Saunders 2008, 831; Melber 2005, 136, 137). Nominated by his predecessor, President Sam Nujoma, he was chosen as the South West African People's Organisation of Namibia's (SWAPO) presidential candidate for the 2004 election in May of that year (Namibian Institute for Democracy undateda). Contrary to expectations he was not a surrogate for continued rule by Nujoma and adopted an inclusive and less autocratic style of governance that extended even to opposition parties and at his inauguration he declared the fight against corruption the centrepiece of his administration (Namibian Institute for Democracy undateda).

Despite the progress made since independence in delivering state service to the poor and maintaining economic growth, poverty remained rife and the racial inequality in education, health, income, employment opportunities, wealth landownership and income inherited from the Apartheid policies of Namibia's South African colonial masters persisted. Moreover, Namibia's economy remained dangerously dependent on the exploitation of primary commodities and its manufacturing sector was poorly developed and dependent on meat and fish products for export. It was also heavily dependent on South Africa for the import of consumer goods (over 80% of imports), and though it had successfully diversified its dependence on South Africa for export markets, South Africa still absorbed over 40% of them. Economic growth had been insufficient to create sufficient jobs and unemployment had slowly risen since independence. Much of its development achievements in terms of health had been undercut by the rapid advance of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The government had found itself constrained by the fiscal discipline necessary to maintain the foreign investment flows needed to continue on the path of economic growth that was necessary to create employment, reduce poverty and provide the revenues for social services to the poor. The government had not been able to reduce the large civil service wage bill that swallowed up much needed development resources unproductively.

The economy grew at a real annual average of 4.5% between 2000 and 2004 and maintained substantially the same growth level between 2005 and 2008 according to figures and estimates supplied by the IMF (2008a). Largely, but not wholly, because of the high mortalities of the HIV/AIDS plague population growth continued to fall rapidly. Averaging an estimated 1.6% annually between 2000 and 2004 it declined steadily to an average of 0.9% on average between 2005 and 2008, reaching a low of 0.8% in 2008 (IMF 2008a). Not surprisingly, given constant income growth and falling population growth, per capita income rose from an estimated annual average of 2.9% between 2000 and 2004 to 3.6% between 2005 and 2008 (IMF 2008a). Despite all this, unemployment remained very high at 36.7% in 2004 and it was the same in 2006, the latest figures that were available at the time of writing (IMF 2008b, 56; Mseyamwa 2006). The director of the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested that rising unemployment may have been accompanied by rising underemployment, which he estimated at 23% in 2006 (Mseyamwa 2006). The economy remained highly integrated with that of South Africa: Between 2005-2007 exports to South Africa annually averaged 45.2% of total exports and imports from South Africa 82.4% of all imports (IMF 2009, 3).

To free up resources for development, the government used an unexpected windfall of additional revenue from the Southern African Customs Union to reduce its debt and thereby also its interest payments (IMF 2009, 2, 16). Inheriting a debt burden equal to 34% in the 2004/05 financial year the government targeted a ratio of 25% or less as a sustainable debt level and by 2007/08 had reduced public debt to around 24% of GDP (IMF 2009, 16, 17). However, government spending rose by an annual average of 3% each year between 2005 and 2008 and consumption spending, especially on civil service wages, grew even faster so that capital expenditure languished and backlogs in social infrastructure and service provision could not be effectively addressed (IMF 2009, 8). Shortly before President Pohamba came to power a series of scandals about irregularities in the management of state resources broke (Global Integrity 2007, 1). To make good on his inaugural promises the President established the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in October 2005 and it began its work in early 2006 (Global Integrity 2007, 1, 4). The ACC quickly found that loop holes in law and poor policy decisions combined to make it difficult to prosecute offenders; the head of the ACC summed up the situation by saying "We have legalized corruption" and resolved to compile report on legal reform for Parliament (Global Integrity 2007, 2). While a series of cases involving small scale thefts by politically unconnected criminals were speedily investigated and successfully prosecuted, major cases involving large sums of state funds connected with people who had high connections remained unresolved three years after investigations were first launched (Global Integrity 2007, 2, 4). The consequence was that the ACC came to be seen as ineffectual and lacking sufficient power and independence to deal with high corruption (Global Integrity 2007, 2).

In February 2004 the government announced that it would abandon the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle and would use compulsory land expropriations to resettle some 240 000 landless people, but this was not realised (Saunders 2008, 830). In 2003 the budget for the purchase of land was increased from N$20 million to N$60 million and a land tax was introduced in 2005 that yielded a further N$60 million, yet between 2005 (when the the first expropriations were made) and 2007 only five farms in total had been expropriated, none of which led to the acquisition of land by large numbers of landless poor because of "the Government's limited capacity to utilise the farms offered for sale for resettlement purposes " (Harring &Odendaal 2007, 2, 14). Indeed in the twelve years prior to 2007 only 209 commercial farms had been acquired for resettlement purposes and only 9138 people had been resettled (Harring &Odendaal 2007, 17, 18).

It was not clear that the redistribution process did not displace more farm workers than the the number of landless people it empowered nor that the redistribution of all White land would make any substantial contribution to reduction of poverty amongst the one million Namibians living in rural areas (Harring &Odendaal 2007, 17, 27). Under the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme introduced in 1992 individual farmers had acquired 646 farms, about 12% of White commercial farms, but the beneficiaries of the government subsidies were of middle class not poor Namibians (Harring &Odendaal 2007, 20, 22). Criticism of its resettlement policy notwithstanding the government accelerated its efforts and 17 farms were obtained in the 2007/8 financial year for N$8 million (Weidlich 2009). Following a victory in a key court case in mid 2008 in which its land expropriations were ruled constitutional, in November 2009 the government announced plans to spend N$370 over 12 years to settle 6730 families on 10.3 million hectares of commercial farmland (US Department of State 2009; Weidlich 2009).

In 2003 the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate stabilised and remained constant at around 15% until 2007 fuelling hopes that a decline would follow, but in 2007 it rose to 15.3%, forcing a despairing Ministry of Health and Social Services back to the drawing board (2008, 16; WHO 2008, 4). The roll out of the government's ambition HIV/AIDS programmes to prevent mother to child transmission of the virus begun in 2004 was continued energetically, so that the estimate coverage of HIV infected mothers giving birth increased from 12% in 2004 to 43% in 2005 and then to 65% in 2006, but then the roll out stalled, and while absolute numbers remained constant in 2007, the coverage ratio declined to 62% (WHO 2008, 13). Prenatal screening for HIV infection was expanded so that between 2004 and 2006 the proportion of pregnant women whose HIV status was known increased from 58% to 85% (Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 25). The antiretroviral uptake for infants remained over 95% between 2004 and 2006 (Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 25). The proportion of AIDS sufferers who received antiretroviral drugs climbed from 22% in 2004 to 66% in 2006 and then to 88% by 2007; 66% of the patients in 2007 were women (WHO 2008, 13; Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 28). As a result the number of people who died as a result of the disease declined from 1200 people in 2004 to under 5000 in 2005 before rising to about 5100 in 2007 (WHO 2008, 5). The Ministry of Health and Social Services (2008, 8) estimated that 4.6% of children aged 17 or less had lost their only their mother and 10% had lost only their father, largely due to the HIV/AIDS plague (Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 8).

The government's efforts at fighting HIV/AIDS were undermined by an unexpected consequence of the disease and by severe resource constraints. Without AIDS tuberculosis presented an omnipresent threat to the health of Namibians, with AIDS it became an epidemic and in 2006 the government declared it a national disaster (Karlesky 2008, 126). Spending on dealing with HIV/AIDS, half of which was by government and the private sector (primarily the former) and the other half by foreign agencies, rose by 271% in the period 2003 to 2006, by which time spending had reached US$130 million (Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 9). A disturbing study of resource needs found that an additional US$225 million was needed every year between 2007 and 2012 to adequately address the crisis (Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 42). In 2006/7 a tiny fraction of domestic spending and a little more than a quarter of foreign spending went to prevention of new infections, but the resource needs study found that 25% of total resources was required (Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 9, 42). The public healthcare system was overwhelmed by the challenges presented. An acute shortage of doctors and nurses developed, especially in the rural areas where around two-thirds of the population was concentrated and where the nearest healthcare centre could be as much as 100km away (Karlesky 2008, 126; Ministry of Health and Social Services 2008, 13). In 2006 the government resorted to employing 100 Kenyan nurses to relieve the shortage, while the National Health Training Centre and the University of Namibia expanded the numbers of nurses and doctors produced by them (Karlesky 2008, 126).

Between the 2004 election and 2009 five new political parties were founded, the most interesting of which was the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), launched on 17 November 2007 under the leadership of Hidipo Hamutenya (RPD undated. See also Active parties"). Hamutenya was dismissed as Minister of Foreign Affairs by President Nujoma in May 2004 when he announced he would run against Hifikepunye Pohamba at the imminent party congress to become SWAPO's candidate for the presidency in the national elections later in the year (Namibian Institute for Democracy undatedb). The thrust of the RDP's platform was that if it was brought to power in the elections scheduled for November 2009 it would do what SWAPO had promised but failed to do, namely tackle "wide-spread poverty, a stagnant economy, inequity, rising unemployment, steadily declining quality of health and education, political stagnation, incompetence and lack of developmental progress" (RPD undated). Immediately after its founding the SWAPO Youth League averred that the RPD was being financed by foreign interests and that it had proof to that effect (Butty 2007).

References

BUTTY, J 2007" Namibia's Former Foreign Minister Forms New Party", Voice of America, 20 November, [www] http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2007-11/2007-11-20-voa9.cfm?moddate=2007-11-20 [opens new window] (accessed 11 Mar 2010).

HARRING, SL &ODENDAAL, W 2007 No Resettlement available: an assessment of the expropriation principle and its impact on land reform in Namibia, Legal Assistance Centre, [www] http://www.lac.org.na/projects/lead/Pdf/exprorep.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 11 Mar 2010).

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