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Peace and stability provide platform for growth

Interview - August 21, 2015

We sit with Penda Ya Ndakolo, Namibia’s Minister of Defense, and discuss the importance of 25 years of independence and the role of the defense force in providing peace and stability. He offers his perspective on further regional integration and the resolution of conflicts through peaceful means, and we also examine how the ministry is addressing some of the major threats facing the nation, including illegal trafficking, poaching and piracy.


What is the message that the government is sending to the country and the world on the occasion of the anniversary of the country's independence? What does this event mean for the nation?

The message that the government is sending to the country and the world on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of independence is a message of peace, friendship and stability.

I cannot speak for the whole government of the Republic of Namibia because the Ministry of Information and Technology has been designated to speak on behalf of the government.

However, I can simply comment to say that by celebrating 25 years of independence, Namibia is a safe place to live and do business.

We have managed to remain focused on the task of growing our economy so that it could equally benefit all our people.

As Minister of Defense, I can say with confidence that we are happy to have maintained the territorial integrity of our country and mobilized our people to remain united as one.

Our message to the world is a message of gratitude because Namibia’s independence is a product of international solidarity.

We are inviting all the people of the world to work hard for the preservation of world peace and security.

We value highly the principles of solidarity and friendship among the peoples of the world and wish to see a world without conflicts and disagreements that are causing so much suffering and death.

For Namibia, the 25th independence anniversary means a lot because we have witnessed the love and friendship as evidenced by the significant attendance at our independence anniversary by a big number of heads of state and other dignitaries from across the world that came to celebrate together with us the independence of our country.

This means that Namibia has many friends both in the region and in the world. The event also coincided with the third peaceful transition of power from our second president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, to the current president Hage Geingob.

We have had three heads of state since the independence, starting with the Founding President and father of the Namibian Nation, Sam Nujoma, to President Pohamba and now President Geingob.

The Namibian people have done all the changes of power through peaceful, fair and transparent democratic elections.

The Namibian people have chosen their own leaders and thus shaped the development agenda of the country.

We thus have enough reason to celebrate and remain united and vigilant so that we can continue to protect our country’s democracy and independence.

The SWAPO Party has been the main political force driving the progress of the nation since independence. With renewed popular support for SWAPO’s policies, as expressed in the last presidential election, what are the main priorities for the future?

Yes, the SWAPO Party has been the main political force driving the progress of the nation since independence and with renewed popular support for the SWAPO Party’s policies, as expressed in the last presidential election, the main priorities for the future are encapsulated in the SWAPO Party Manifesto, which the party presented to the Namibia people in order to seek the mandate to lead the country for next five years.

His Excellency President Geingob has, on several occasions, summarized the priorities for the future of the country with one word, inclusivity.

That is to say, Namibia intends to build a nation in which no Namibian feels left out and we are all marching in unison towards the building of a prosperous nation.

Recently, President Geingob declared an all-out war on poverty. What are the most pressing development issues in the country? What measures have been taken to address them?

To contribute to the recent declaration of all-out war on poverty by President Geingob, the role of the Ministry of Defense is to make sure that there is a peaceful, stable and conducive environment in the country, which will allow the government and the nation at large to concentrate its efforts and resources on addressing poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth that continues to affect our people negatively.

Among the urgent developmental issues should be the growth of the economy, because if the economy is not growing as it should be there would be no wealth to share and distribute equitably to all Namibians.

The government has strategies in place to address poverty, including ensuring that the Namibian people are educated, healthy and productive.

These strategies need to be accompanied by deep and systematic reforms which would bring a about fundamental changes in the ownership and management of the country’s means of production and natural resources.

Namibia has enough natural resources to satisfy the needs of its present population, if these resources are controlled and managed properly to address poverty and disparities that we still experience in the country.

Since 2004, the country has been working to implement the ambitious Vision 2030, an agenda for change in the country. What are the expected outcomes of this plan? How has the implementation of the plan been until now?

Vision 2030 is the beacon for Namibia’s socioeconomic development. As a nation, we are all pushing forward to achieve Vision 2030, when we will see Namibia as an industrialized country with an economy that produces wealth for its entire population.

As far as defense is concerned, we are part of that effort, because as Namibia develops it would need a modern defense force with adequate capability to defend the country and its resources.

The issue of personnel development affects equally the Ministry of Defense and the Namibian Defense Force because today’s soldiers need to be adequately educated in order to be able to handle and operate hi-tech and modern armaments and equipment.

Modern warfare is an asymmetrical warfare, which requires multi-talented and multi-skilled military personnel.

We support the government expenditure on education because we recruit members of the Defense Force from the Namibian society and our recruitment standards are high in terms of educational requirements.

Therefore, there is no doubt that Namibia can only achieve Vision 2030 if it educates its people, including Defense Force members.

Namibia is a great advocate of regional integration, and has expressed this interest by engaging in a number of diplomatic activities. What role does the region play in Namibia’s foreign agenda? What is the country doing to enhance its position in southern Africa and the rest of the continent?

Namibia’s foreign policy underscores the resolution of conflicts through peaceful means. Regional integration is not only good for economic growth; it is also good for the maintenance of peace and security in the region.

I think Namibia’s diplomatic efforts are educated by the understanding that if the region is not safe, Namibia cannot be safe either.

Hence Namibia’s interest in finding diplomatic and peaceful solutions to regional problems and tensions.

As far the Namibian Defense Force is concerned, it supports and abides by the government’s foreign policy, which seeks to resolve disputes peacefully, since the use of force should always be the last resort.

I think Namibia is not engaging in diplomatic activities with the aim of outdoing other countries in the region or in the continent, but we understand that our peaceful existence is dependent on the peaceful existence of others in the region and on the continent.

Namibia is a member of the UN, AU and SADC, and as such it has to adhere to the principles that govern these international bodies, including the rule of law and the duty to promote and protect international peace and security.

In addition to other regional integration approaches, we have joint permanent commissions on defense and security with all our neighboring countries, whose main aim and function is to build mutual trust and prevent potential disputes and conflicts with our neighbors.

These commissions meet regularly to build rapport and trust amongst our Chiefs of Defense, Security, and amongst ourselves, as Ministers of Defense in the region.

These are important peacemaking and peace maintenance mechanisms in the region.

Illegal trafficking, poaching and terrorism are some of the menaces that countries all around the continent have to face. What are the most pressing threats and risks that the country faces and how does the ministry address them?

Without a doubt, illegal drug and human trafficking, poaching and terrorism are some of the threats that Namibia, like most other countries, faces nowadays.

Another major threat is piracy as Namibia has an extensive coastline to protect. This coastline is also rich in natural resources, such as fish and diamonds, which are likely to be targets of illegal activities.

One of the ways to deal with these threats is to train and prepare properly to confront them when need be. We do this in cooperation with our neighboring countries.

That is why we hold regular regional joint military exercises and train together so that when the need arises we will be able to respond and carry out operations jointly.

Our role is to protect the inviolability of the Namibian territory, be it on the ground on the sea or in the air. We prepare our Defense Force to defend our country, our people and our natural resources.

For this, we rely not only on brute military force, but also on the assistance of our neighboring countries and the international community.

There are international bodies and mechanisms at both the UN, AU and SADC levels that assist countries to defend themselves as well as their interests.

We are consistently participating and playing our roles within such bodies and mechanisms so that our country is not left to fend for itself in cases of threats or aggressions.

The Namibian military is one of the youngest armies in Africa. Yet, since its founding, the army has made a strong contribution to the country’s peace and stability as a force for reconciliation after independence. What is in the government's agenda to underpin the armed forces’ contribution to peace in the future?

It is true that the Namibian armed forces are among the youngest armies in Africa and it is equally correct to say that the Namibian Defense Force (NDF) has made strong contributions to the country’s peace and stability as a force for reconciliation after independence.

I would say that the Namibian Defense Force is a model of what true reconciliation means.

The NDF has its origin from the former warring parties in Namibia, namely the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the erstwhile military wing of SWAPO, and the South West African Territorial Force (SWATF), which was set up by the apartheid regime to fight PLAN.

At independence, we had to merge these former enemies into one defense force as the Namibian Defense Force.

It was not an easy task to do this, but the commanders on both sides played a key role in combining those forces.

Today, Namibia is proud to have successfully merged former adversaries into one Defense Force, under one command and with one mission of defending and protecting Namibia and its national interest.

The NDF serves as an exceptional example to other sections of the Namibian society for reconciliation and unity.

As we speak, the members of NDF are comrades because they have successfully carried out several military campaigns together, both in the region and as peacekeepers and military observers in Africa and other parts of the world.

What makes it easy to reconcile the members of the NDF is the military profession, because professional soldiers respect each other, even if they were enemies.

To reconcile the force, we have to train and re-train them together as professional soldiers and they now know that they belong to one Force under one command and with one mission.

Most of those who started the NDF are about to retire from the force and we have since brought in ‘the new blood’, young Namibians who were born and grown up within the atmosphere and spirit of national reconciliation and unity.

National reconciliation, unity, peace and stability have become cherished principles of all members of the Namibian society.

Moreover, having a professional Defense Force whose mission is clearly defined as to defend the country and all its inhabitants, regardless of their political or other affiliation, helps the NDF to contribute to peace and stability in the country as well as to participate in international missions for peacekeeping and maintenance in solidarity with nations.

As stated before, integration in the broader region is one of the most important issues in Namibia’s foreign policy. What role does defense cooperation play in this regard? What can you tell us about the recent opening of the School of Air Power Studies, and how can it help to make the region safer?

With the recent opening of the Namibian Air Force School of Air Power Studies, the NDF is not seeking any air superiority or air supremacy of any kind.

The Namibian Air Force is a service of the NDF responsible for supporting the force’s ground and sea operations and to assist the nation in times of emergencies.

Together with other air forces in the region, the Namibian Air Force can assist our people in times of crises and for this; you need well-trained pilots and air force technicians, which is the main aim of the School of Air Power Studies.

We believe that in this way the School of Air Power in particular and NDF in general will make the region safer by acquiring the necessary capabilities.

Aside from pushing for a deeper political and trade integration, the region is also getting closer by connecting their energy and transport infrastructure. The coming construction of three bridges over the Okavango River with Angola is to add to the planned grid interconnection with other neighbors. What is the importance of these initiatives?

What is important for Namibia and the region is the facilitation of the movement of goods and the people within the region.

At end of the day, specific projects, such as bridges, have the potential to improve regional defense systems as well.

These are national and intergovernmental projects decided upon by the respective national governments, and they deserve our support.

It is important to emphasize that our business and focus, as the Ministry of Defense, currently is the defense of the country, and information about trade relations and the benefits thereof could possibly be obtained better from the Ministry of Trade and Industry as well as the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation.

Suffice to say that as the Ministry of Defense and the Namibian Defense Force, our responsibility is to support government policies and to make sure that a climate of peace and stability prevail in the country and region so that the people of the region can do business in peace and without fear of insecurity or instability.

In other words, we will support the government in creating an enabling environment for both national and regional business, trade and investment.

What benefits Namibia would ultimately also be of benefit to the region and beyond.

If there is an increase in trade in the region and in the continent, there is likely to be less mistrust between countries and it might be easier to promote and maintain peace and stability.

It is always better to win a war without fighting. Therefore, any policies that bring peoples and countries together and build trust and mutual confidence are likely to contribute to the prevention of disputes and conflicts that will not benefit anybody.