Q1. In addition to being the Prime Minister of Namibia, you are also the Minister of Sports and Culture, as well as the Minister of Education. Given that fact, what role do you think sports and culture can have in shaping not only the identity of a country, but also its diplomatic relations?
As you may know, Namibia is a uniquely pluralistic country, and we value interaction among people from different cultures. We have unity in diversity because we have different cultures, languages, backgrounds. So we need sports and other cultural items in order for people to interact. And in the process of that interaction, people come to know and appreciate each other. Namibia emerged out of a long struggle, and one of the things we have done is adopt a policy of national reconciliation. That policy is supported by the idea that people can recognize each other, which can only happen through communication, participation, and interaction. So sports and culture can support this within Namibia, and also internationally. Because of the failure of people to communicate, there is prejudice, and other barriers. These barriers can be lowered through interaction and communication, and that’s why this is important to us.
Q2. Southern Africa has been quite successful in terms of international brands, especially South Africa and its World Cup campaign. Namibia recognizes this, and has had certain events, such as the presence of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, making the country known internationally. What is the future of Namibia’s national brand, and how will you compete with the success of neighbouring countries?
Well first of all, I believe that, if South Africa, Botswana or Angola is successful, then we will share this success. So it’s really not a question of competing amongst ourselves, but a question of complementing each other, so that we do not contribute to the image of Southern Africa being an unfriendly, unstable, and violence-prone area. As a region, we really want to project ourselves as a source of peace and stability, as a welcoming region, because we have a lot to share. The new concept to develop now is a trans-frontier pact, whereby this pact can cross boundaries. Therefore, we are trying to overcome the barriers formed by political entities, so that we are seen as one entity. So if you take a visit to Victoria Falls in Zambia or Zimbabwe, we also would like you to come to the Orange River, and continue on to Kruger National Park, or to Mozambique. We are actually creating a Southern African unit, and expanding our network systems, including air travel, and planning to introduce a regional visa, which would apply to the Southern African region.
Q3. As well as in terms of politics and tourism, do you think Southern Africa could also be an economic unit? What do you see as the future of institutions like the South African Customs Union? Do you believe Namibia has an active role in these, and that they are beneficial to the region?
Yes, and they are beneficial for the region. We want to work towards the integration of the region in terms of trade, investment, and such. The only problem we have is the asymmetry in terms of development. South Africa attracts more investment because of its highly-developed economy, and therefore small countries like Swaziland or Namibia do not benefit as much. Those are the things we need to change as a region, so that we benefit in a win-win way.
Q4. As the Namibian economy continues to grow, what steps is Namibia taking to address social inequality, and do you believe that it is possible to shrink the gap between the rich and the poor?
Yes, it’s a big challenge. Because of our history, we have to struggle to at least narrow the income disparity and inequality in our society, and that’s a tough thing. Namibia is one of the most unequal societies – our Gini coefficient is about 0.6, which indicates a country that is totally unequal. We have to lift those who were left behind, and provide them with productive assets, as well as education, which, in the long run, is an economic equalizer. That’s why we are investing so much in the area of education, and also in health.
Q5. Namibia receives over a million tourists each year, and that number is only increasing. What measures are in place to ensure that this number continues to increase, and what is the key to Namibia’s success in this area?
I think the reason for our success is our infrastructure. Our road system is useable, and allows for access to the nation’s attractions. You can go to a desert if you’re interested in ecotourism, a game park if you’re interested in wildlife, or to any cultural attraction. The attractions and products are there, and to sustain it, we need to be a peaceful country, and to contain crime, so that tourists are not subjected to crime. Of course, we also need the support of our neighbours, which is why we need this complementary relationship I have mentioned.
Q6. Do you believe that there is a growing Namibian national identity, or do you think people still identify themselves with their tribe or ethnicity?
We have unity in diversity in Namibia, but that does not mean that it will replace specific cultural identities, unless the rights of others are violated. Namibia respects the right to one’s culture, language, and religion. You have to balance national identity with local identities.
Q7. If you were to offer one piece of advice for the next generation of young leaders, especially in the context of the rise of Africa and its future, what would it be?
My opinion is that the world is a global village. In this global village, we must share, but we must share wisdom. So respect and appreciation for diversity are very important for this relationship, and to achieve equality. If we are inward-looking, the probability of that is less, because the people will feel left out. We must recognize and address this.
Interview conducted by Mark Donfried & Molly McParland