Wednesday 12 May 2021
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Interview with Kiki Gbeho UN Resident Coordinator


Kiki Gbeho has worked for the United Nations for over two decades, serving in Cambodia, Angola, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia.  She also served at the United Nations Headquarters in New York managing the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHAs) operations in East Southern Africa.The Patriot wanted to learn more about the UN’s engagement with the Government of Namibia on nation building and other developmental issues. The interview focuses on the Sustainable Development Goals, the work of the UN in Namibia, water crisis, human trafficking, challenges and achievements as well as areas of improvement going forward.

The UN office has been in existence in Namibia since Independence, but mostly only officials know about its work. Can you describe in brief the current structure and mode of work of the office? Can you explain the role of UN agencies in a country like Namibia?
The UN system in Namibia is positioned to provide coordinated support to the country’s development agenda in the areas of poverty eradication, good health, quality education and environmental sustainability. The UN system has comparative advantage in offering its expertise in development thinking and practice and our experience at country level supports countries to meet their development aspirations. The UN in Namibia does this primarily through its partnership framework with the government, CSOs, communities and other stakeholders such as the academia, etc. The UN Partnership Framework (UNPAF), is aligned to national priorities and therefore supports implementation of national development plans and sector strategies. Through the UNPAF, we support policy development, individual and institutional capacity building and resilience in order to sustain development results.

What is the current focus of activities of the UN system in Namibia?
There are 12 UN agencies and offices resident in Namibia.We also advocate particularly on the global development agenda 2030/SDGs. We advocate to get across key messages, and share best practices and information from all over the globe with Namibia.We support national efforts in disaster risk reduction in order to enhance national resilience to disasters. The UN is also supporting government on drought preparedness.

All these UN activities and projects in Namibia seem very interesting. Are they actually yielding any results in terms of lifting people out of poverty?
Absolutely, allow me to provide you with just a few examples of concrete outputs from the action individual agencies have taken:Education – UNICEF provided the research which made the case for free universal primary education.  GRN has now gone further and introduced free and universal secondary education this year.  Education is recognized in NDP4 as a key enabler for development.  Health – in order to reach the most remote communities, UNICEF/WHO/CDC demonstrated the potential of health extension workers to bridge the gap between communities and health facilities.  MoHSS (Ministry of Health and Social Services) has now rolled this out to 11 out of 14 regions.  Like education, health is both an enabler to lift individuals out of poverty as well as a right.

Birth registration – with UNICEF support, the MOHSS and MHAI (Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration) have co-operated to expand the availability of birth registration services in health facilities, where the vast majority of children are born.  This has increased coverage – and a birth certificate is a precondition for access to services, including health and education. Energy and environment, UNDP has helped channel over US$70 million since the mid-90s to improve national capacity to protect and conserve natural resources, particularly ones that people depend on for daily survival. To date, support included strengthening and expanding the protected areas management systems, improving communal conservancies and helping Angola, Namibia and South Africa establish the world’s first large marine ecosystem commission. A few milestones include raising the protected areas to 60 000 square kilometres, estimating the value of marine resources at US$269 million per annum and, supporting some 50 000 people to raise resilience to climate change.Population and reproductive health – Given that Namibia has a very young population (66 percent under the age of 30), UNFPA has driven their support to the Government of Namibia to ensure that the right investments are made in the health, education and skills development in order to for the country to reap the dividend of this huge youth bulge.

Namibia has taken seriously her obligation to  reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) declared by the UN. How is the local UN Office involved to ensure that Namibia reaches these goals? How significant are the SDGs for Namibia?
Namibia has started to raise national awareness on the SDGs. A national launch of the domestication of the SDGs was held earlier this month on 8 June 2016. Efforts are also underway to learn from the MDGs; regional awareness campaigns are planned by Government to promote greater Namibian ownership of the SDGs alongside AU agenda 2063 and NDP 5. It is expected that through strengthening such ownership, the SDGs will be incorporated into national priorities and planning processes (e.g. the Harambee Prosperity Plan, NDP 5). The UN in Namibia is providing both technical and financial support to GRN.

What is your view on Namibia’s role in the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations adopted last year?
Namibia played a significant role in the Common African Position into the formulation of the SDGs. They continue to be active members on the international agenda in terms of rolling out the SDGs.

With the SDGs as the overall framework of the UN system, which goals, in your view, should Namibia prioritise?
It is hard to pick one goal over the other. They are interconnected by design. Perhaps it’s easier to talk of sequencing the SDGs rather than prioritising. For example, you cannot talk about eradicating poverty and reducing inequality (SDG 1 & 10) if you do not have a healthy population (SDG3) and children are not educated (SDG4), especially girls (SDG5). We are clear though that H.E., the President, has declared war on poverty, so poverty is a priority for Namibia

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Namibia when it comes to development?
Water (and energy) are needed to grow the economy sustainably. Namibia, is one of the driest countries in Southern Africa, and is currently affected by drought, approximately 570 000 people are affected. In Namibia, rainfall often evaporates before it reaches the ground. (Only 1 percent of rainfall is available to recharge groundwater. Water shortages also impact the agricultural sector (harvests and livestock), which sustains about 70 percent of the Namibian population.

Do you find it frustrating to work in a country that has a very unequal society, despite it having an abundance of resources?
Not at all, given my professional background, it is a pleasure to serve in Namibia. From people I meet when I travel around the country, to your senior-most leadership, the conversation is always about what more we can do to accelerate development and eradicate poverty. And despite the challenges; there is no conflict, Namibia has a good record on governance, the economy is stable with growth averaging 4.6 percent over the last decade, there are good policies in place, including free primary and secondary education. The country has a recognized track record on eradicating poverty. If anything, I am excited at what Namibia can achieve.

What can Government do to distribute State resources more equitably?
Namibia is an upper middle-income country, one of eight in Africa. Since its independence in 1990, economic growth has been steady making high living standards possible for many. However, a large segment of the population has not yet been drawn fully into full participation in the economy, which is possibly one of the main reasons for poverty and inequality. With a Gini-coefficient (the agreed measure of inequality) of 0.597, Namibia is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Inequality is highest in urban than in rural areas (0.487).  A number of other factors contribute to inequality: such as poverty, education, tax and, employment labour. Therefore, it would be important to focus on sectors where the majority of the excluded population can be found, that is, subsistence farmers, the old and disabled, the uneducated, etc.
Other actions could include to strengthen and rationalise taxation, support growth that generates jobs, invest in people especially young people, and services such as quality education and health care. Nothing that is new. Perhaps a greater focus on implementation and coordination to increase efficiencies.Develop a robust and comprehensive social protection system that is targeted and with clear pathways to graduation to limit dependence.

What would be your recommendations for the Namibian Government to effectively fight poverty?
We know that countries that lifted their populations out of poverty did so primarily through economic growth. We also know that after a certain point, each dollar of GDP will provide less social progress. The way forward is to ensure that economic growth is sustainable, create jobs, and that robust social safety nets exist so people do not fall through the cracks. During the recent visit of Prof Stiglitz and Carlos Lopes (ECA) they gave good suggestions on what Namibia could do more of. They gave examples of countries that had renegotiated contracts with multinationals to generate additional resources; they suggested Namibia look for efficiencies in the tax system; they also talked about the need to focus on implementation and coordination; they stressed the importance of good data to provide the evidence for targeted action. They also suggested that Namibia look at the current grant system and how to make it more efficient.

What is your outlook for the future of Namibia in the short term?
Positive! I tend to see the glass as half full; Lopes cautioned not to get bogged down in the negative narrative of Africa, as ‘extreme views’ tend to become self-fulfilling.

Namibia is known for its riches and is politically and economically stable. It is not a country high on the world’s agenda in relation to development and security needs, so why is the UN working here?
Despite the very good stories that Namibia has to tell (reducing poverty by 41 percent, almost all children enrolled in primary school, reduction in new infections of HIV/AIDs among children  from 12 000 in 2010 to less than 1 000 in 2016)  it still faces challenges that the UN can support it to solve. Approx. 27 percent of the population is considered poor and youth unemployment stands at 39 percent; there is still work to be done on quality education.  The UN is well positioned to support Namibia in tackling these challenges. The historic relationship between the UN and the Government remains strong; we want to remain ‘the partner of choice’.

There have been allegations of human trafficking in Namibia, especially from the US government. What is your stance on this, is human trafficking actually an issue in Namibia?
Human trafficking is a global phenomenon and affects all continents. Namibia has prosecuted its first case of human trafficking recently and is currently following up on reported cases. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is working with the ministry of gender on an initiative to sensitise the population on this issue.

What special interventions has the UN adopted to fight issues such as sanitation, provision of portable water and food to rural Namibians?
Short term intervention
UNDP, through the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, has mobilised funds from the Global Environment Facility to scale up community resilience to climate variability and climate change through the SCORE Project. The project is reducing the vulnerability of rural Namibians to droughts and floods by means of restoring traditional wells and enhancing floodwater pools for food security. This in the end will increase rural Namibian’s capacity to adopt climate resilient agricultural practices.

Long term intervention
The United Nations has partnered with the Government of Namibia and other development partners such as the KfW, to conduct a feasibility study to establish a desalination plant in Namibia. The desalination plant will be costly but it is a viable long-term option to address the water crisis being experienced in the central and coastal parts of Namibia.

What can be done about the looming water crisis in Namibia? Could water scarcity spark war, as world leaders have already predicted?
There is a need for both Government and the private sector to invest in water research and technology development. Yes, water could be a cause of conflict unless we take action.

The SADC region has suffered extreme droughts in recent years and the events put in the spotlight the urgency of disaster management and works to adapt to climate change. Is the UN in anyway involved in this process here in Namibia?
Yes, the UN in Namibia has partnered with the Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative (CADRI). The objective of this partnership is to provide technical assistance to UN country teams to ensure that the Government of Namibia is able to address their capacity needs to understand natural hazard risk, and implement risk reduction measures that contribute to a significant reduction of losses and damages arising from disasters.Currently FAO has interventions in the livelihood, livestock, water and information, coordination and analysis sectors directly responding to the drought. FAO, IOM, UNDP, WFP, UNICEF, and UNFPA all have existing ‘capacity building and resilience type’ activities indirectly supporting the drought. In response to Government, a CADRI mission is arriving at the end of July to assess capacity for preparedness and response. This mission will also help to focus current activities.

Any final thoughts or words you would like to share?
Our focus is clear, H.E. the President has launched a war on poverty, elaborated the HPP and declared 2016 is the year of implementation; The Global Development Goals have been launched. We have a transformational agenda. I would like to therefore end by quoting my boss the Secretary General of the UN who said “we must be the generation that relegates poverty to history, and save the planet for our children”.

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