Thu | May 23, 2019

Editorial | Re-engaging Namibia

Published:Wednesday | July 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We don't know as yet the specifics of the economic and cultural cooperation agreements signed between Jamaica and Namibia during this week's visit by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to the southern African country, but hopefully it is not another of those symbolic gestures that soon fall into abeyance. That, unfortunately, has happened before between these two countries that ought to share a profoundly deep relationship.

As the first Jamaican leader to visit Namibia, Mr Holness' presence in Windhoek has been declared historic, and the prime minister has characterised the naming of a street in the Namibian capital in honour of the Jamaican national hero, Marcus Garvey, as "a symbol of our geo-cultural and spiritual unification". Further, Mr Holness and the Namibian president, Hage Geingob, have urged their respective private sectors to invest in each other's country.

This newspaper hopes that this search for mutual economic opportunities is seriously engaged, because in a topsy-turvy environment bequeathed to the world via the dismantling of old certainties by mercurial global powers, underdeveloped countries have to make sense of, and find their way through, the disintegrating order. New partnerships among themselves, clearly, must be on the agenda. In a sense, some of the responses of the future may rest in repurposed ideas of the past. It was once called South-South cooperation.

In that context, it is worth remembering that while Mr Holness' visit to Namibia may indeed be historic, the relationship between the two countries is far from new, rooted, in part, in ancestry, but more important in a principled foreign policy that celebrates humanity and values justice.

Before Namibia was universally called by that name, it was known as South West Africa, a United Nations-mandate territory that, de facto, was a colony of South Africa, run under the regime of apartheid. The South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), led by Sam Nujoma, waged a liberation war against South African rule.

Jamaica, in the 1970s, like it was in the case of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress in South Africa, FRELIMO in Mozambique, the MPLA in Angola, and ZANU-PF in Mozambique, was a loud and moral voice in support of SWAPO's quest for the overthrow of apartheid and the creation of a non-racial, independent and democratic country. Many Namibians were invited to train in Jamaica.


Marcus Garvey Influence


But even before Michael Manley's intervention, Sam Nujoma, like many of Africa's early independence leaders, had been influenced by the thoughts of Marcus Garvey. In 1995, during his first term as president of independent Namibia, Nujoma visited Jamaica and was given the honour of Order of Jamaica and signed a framework agreement for economic cooperation with Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who was invited to make a reciprocal visit.

Not much appears to have happened to advance those undertakings of more than two decades ago. From a distance, it appears that the agreements signed this week by Jamaican and Namibian officials largely cover the same ground. This time, though, there should be a real attempt to extract value from the arrangement, or at least determine what is possible. The Government should engage the private sector, including young entrepreneurs, about the opportunities.

Namibia is far from Jamaica and it is, in area, many times larger than this island. But both countries have roughly the same populations and Jamaica a marginally larger economy. There ought to be no factor of intimidation for either side, and there may well be things for each to leverage in the other.