In the Diplomat’s Corner this week, Namibia’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union, Dr Kaire Mbuende talks to The Patriot on the main challenges in the world of diplomacy,
EPA and the strengthening of trade links.
MH : You have been sent on missions beyond the African continent before. What are some of your highlights ?
Mbuende : The right of peoples and countries to self-determination is one area where Namibia was never found wanting. In this regard, we have consistently and persistently supported the right of the Palestinian people as well as the people of Western Sahara to self-determination. We have condemned the trade embargo imposed on Cuba by the US as not being consistent with international trade rules. As such we have been able to brand Namibia as a non-compromising country when it comes to the right of people to self-determination. This stance emanates from the history of own struggle and the values that we embraced as a people.
MH : What are the main challenges you expect to face in Belgium ?
Mbuende : Coming to an international organisation as representative of a relatively small country is to make sure that your voice is heard consistently on a number of issues and thereby creating visibility for your country. It is not simply enough that you are visible but also respectable. Respect is earned through the principles that one is articulating and the manner in which they are expressed.
MH : How is the world of diplomacy changing in front of your eyes ?
Mbuende : The international agenda has become complex in the post-cold war with seemingly non-traditional issues occupying the centre stage of international debates and discourses. One has to stake a claim on these issues and ensure that the country’s position on these issues is noticed and respected. Climate diplomacy is one area where we excelled not only in terms of projecting ourselves as the country that is affected climate variability and change and that need support but articulating the threat to humanity. We have raised concern about a civilisation that thrives on production and consumption patterns that threaten to destroy nature. Namibia was included in a “group of friends” along with three other African countries, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa as well as Asian, Latin American and European countries known as “friends of climate change”. These group met regularly and engaged the office of the Secretary General in preparation for the Bali conference of parties to the convention on climate change. The nucleus of what became the Bali Plan of Action was germinated through this group. Through these type of engagements, we were able to exercise soft power. That is, to influence processes beyond our economic, political and military power.
MH : From your expert view, diplomacy is an arena which requires skillful engagement ? Over and above politics, what are the other issues ?
Mbuende : Being vocal in debates is not enough for the country to be respected as representing best practices. One has to share what the country is doing in terms of policies and practice in areas such as combating desertification, conserving biodiversity, protection of the environment and wild life management. The marketing of success stories breeds success in terms of resource mobilisation and general interest to support the efforts of the people of Namibia to overcome their challenges.
MH : What are the main tasks of the Namibian Embassy in Belgium ?
Mbuende : One of our main tasks in Brussels involve the promotion of multilateral as well as bilateral relations. In terms of multilateral relations, Namibia is a member of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries. In this regard, we work to enhance the unity and solidarity of the group as it interfaces with the European Union and other stakeholders. In doing so, as ambassador of Namibia I have to ensure the mainstreaming of our country’s interest and concerns into the discourse of the ACP countries and the ACP-EU relations. This involves active participation in meetings and where possible provide leadership. I am currently the chair of the ACP sub-committee on sustainable development that deals with issues of education, health, environment and climate change. This an important sub-committee in the light of the adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by the United Nations in September 2015 and the fact that development cooperation will increasingly be streamlined along the SDGs. I have come to appreciate the relationship between health and economic development and health as an important component of human capital. In this regard, we are mobilising support for African countries to deal effectively with poverty-induced diseases. There are important intra-ACP programmes such as the Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme as well as several others in agriculture and energy.
One other task involves dealing with the European Union (EU) on a bilateral basis. This involves primarily issues of development cooperation. There is also an involvement with the EU through the SADC group to pursue the longstanding political dialogue between the two entities. As you may be aware, Namibia negotiated an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) through the SADC group. As such, we also deal with trade and investments issues with the EU.
MH : What is the current state of Namibia and Belgian bilateral relations in the political, economic and trade spheres ?
Mbuende : On a bilateral basis Namibia enjoys friendly relations with the Kingdom of Belgium, the Netherlands and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. These relations have evolved over many years and have been changing in character because of a number of developments. The fact that Namibia is classified as Middle Income Country has meant that the development cooperation or foreign aid has been declining. The focus is now on trade and investments including transfer of technology.
MH : What do trade relations look like between the two countries?
Mbuende : Namibia’s exports to Belgium have been significant. The country exported goods to the tune of US$ 174 million in 2013. At the same time Belgium, export goods to the value of US$ 22 million. Stone and glass made up 36% of Namibia exports to Belgium and the same category represented 43% of Belgian export to Namibia. Namibian agricultural products such as beef and grapes are clearly marked and displayed in supermarkets.
MH : How will the signing of the long awaited EPA agreement impact this opportunity ?
Mbuende: The coming into force of the EPA will provide a window of opportunity for Namibia and other ACP countries to take advantage of duty and quota free market access before the expiry of the agreement in 2020. The agreement is bound to stimulate investments and could help with our industrialisation strategy and poverty reduction. There are issues of supply side constrains that need to be overcome. The area of transfer of technology is important in this regard. We will work with relevant Ministries to link up European companies that would help with the transfer of technology.
MH : Europeans are famous for their love of culture and tourism? Is there evidence that this is likely to increase ?
Mbuende : There are a number of cultural exchange programmes in existence through twinning arrangements between towns in Namibia with towns in Belgium and the Netherlands respectively. The relationship between Namibia and the countries of my accreditation is also expressed through tourism. Belgian business people have invested in the tourism sector in Namibia and there is constant flow of tourists from the BENELUX countries to Namibia.
MH : Finally, any message to the Namibian community living in Belgium.
Mbuende : The Harambee Prosperity Plan is a boost to our efforts to promote the image of our country. It represents an innovative government intervention in the identified five pillars to accelerate development. Given Namibia’s high gini –coefficience, the immediate relief that the plan offers to the most vulnerable in our society is welcomed in the corridors of power in Europe.