President Hage Geingob last week delivered his State of the Nation Address in line with the provisions of Article 32 sub-article 2 of the Namibian Constitution which compels the Executive branch of Government to attend Parliament during the consideration of the official budget and account to the Legislative branch on the State of the Nation and on the future policies of the Government as well as report on the policies of the previous year. In this year’s SONA the President started with an explanatory note on how his maiden State of the Nation Address two years ago was focused on the central theme of his dream for Namibia where he envisioned a strong, resilient and inclusive Namibian House “where no Namibian feels left out” based on the belief that “inclusivity spells peace and harmony, while exclusivity spells discord and conflict”. The President further explained that his second State of the Nation Address, delivered last year, served to launch the Harambee Prosperity PLAN (HPP). Hence, this 2017 SONA primarily was focused on the latest status of implementation of the HPP targets.
Following in both the Founding and Former Presidents’ footsteps, two giants of Namibian politics, would have been an almost insurmountable task for anyone. I presume that in an attempt to shake off their shadow, President Geingob chose the HPP as one of the rallying points for his presidency and a doctrine for the country’s political, economic and social renewal. This call might have elicited mixed reaction from the Namibians with some who might have wondered whether this was not the country’s downward turn, while others dismissed it as “confusion”. It was therefore imperative for President Geingob to define the HPP concept so that any possible misconception would have been dispelled. A failure to do so would have resulted in, inter alia, alienating certain people and this could have made his task of continuing with the transformation of the country, that others had initiated, an almost impossible mission. There were important differences between the two previous SONAs and this one which appears to have introduced a novelty following the global trend as we have seen in South Africa, the USA and elsewhere, with the introduction of a human face to his speech such as calling out the names of the people who accompanied him as special guests who were seated in the gallery such as the young Armando Pieters, a 12-year-old boy from Katutura, who together with young friends started the ‘Poverty Eradication Warriors’ group, leading a community clean-up campaign as their contribution towards the HPP. The case chosen by the President, rhetorically speaking, qualifies as an argument by model because the actions of the individuals cited serve as models of the kind of behaviour that should be emulated.
Similarly, the President informed the House that Mrs Sesilia Hausiku gave birth to healthy twins without complications thanks to the improvement aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality as envisaged in the HPP. Conversely and rightly so, some might argue that the example he had given was simply meant for glory hunting as if most programmes and progress in the Health sector were started two years ago by the HPP. Finally, the President said that the testimonies received from some of the beneficiaries of social grants and food banks such as Kuku Lavinnia Johannes (68 years old) and Kaikaria Tjuine (56 years old) testify that this support has saved their families from starvation, as without it, they would not have had sufficient food to last to the end of the month. In addition, the President singled out Government support to local entrepreneurs, such as Mr Robbie Amadhila of Roama Gates, through the equipment aid scheme, to establish successful manufacturing businesses.
Indeed, a common way of inspiring an audience with confidence in the practicality of the particular proposed course of action is to cite examples of people who have accomplished a similar or identical thing. When the President cited the names of the people, he had recourse to an argument by example. This was intended to give credence to his argument that his plan was still on course and feasible. His technique had the potential to persuade his audience to concur with him that this was, indeed, the case.
The highlight of the this year’s SONA was when the speech ended with a peroration calling for citizens to take political action and overcome partisan divisions when the President removed his hat as the Head of State and addressed the nation as a fellow Namibian, a son of a farm worker, the father of an unemployed graduate, a responsible family man whose love for this country is what drove him into exile and it is what keeps him awake at night agonizing about challenges and drives him during the day to find solutions to these challenges. The President also said he represents the sum total of our collective hopes and fears and sees the threats and savour the opportunities. He then re-assured Namibians that the Government sees a brighter and prosperous future for Namibia “therefore, we will not, we shall not, and we must not relent in the pursuit of our goals.”
To all intents and purposes, President Geingob is the first leader on the African continent to showcase a Head of State using a teleprompter instead of reading pages of a speech and this year was no exception. In short, the President’s SONA has progressed from grand rhetoric to policy-oriented and finally to emphasizing his theme of an inclusive house transcending partisanship to make a better country. I however doubt if the President used rhetorical techniques such as the Paired Opposites technique, called Antithesis as it suspends audiences between doubt and certainty even if he used a technique to state evidence and frame the argument when he mentioned the facts laying out a charge-sheet concerning his achievements in combating corruptions. What he was doing was using this evidence to frame his case — to set the parameters by which his own views could be judged. He also seized counter-argument to allow himself to reframe the challenge, rather than allow his opponents to do so through the technique of procatalepsis. The President also made use of the common topic of possibility seeking to persuade his audience that the existence of the conditions that he enunciated made the realisation of the HPP and prosperity possible. Although this argumentative technique has a persuasive effect, its success hinges on the interlocutor believing that the proposed course of action is feasible. Perhaps in an endeavour to allay the fears of the sceptics and/or to assure investors, in particular, the President promised continuity as regards the implementation of policies aimed at improving the lives of the people including through the NDP5 and Vision 2030. In this regard, he acknowledged that the high unemployment rate, especially among the youth, which is estimated at 39.2 percent, is a source of concern. He also explained that it is not that our economy does not have the ability to create jobs, but rather it is the rate of job creation that is insufficient and this is attributable to investment flows that are largely concentrated in the resource sector and capital-intensive industries.
The President then highlighted how Namibia has a strong Governance Architecture which is internationally recognised as the country continues to be rated by Transparency International, as one of the least corrupt countries on the continent and still scores high in the Mo-Ibrahim Governance ratings, as well as in the Governance sub-indices of the World Economic Forum and the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business reports. The President also promised to tackle cases of perceived and alleged corruption, head on and reported that Government has contained its debt, with a good domestic versus foreign debt mix as the country continues to enjoy investment grade ratings by Fitch and Moody despite some variables that impact grading decisions of rating agencies which are outside of Government’s control. After highlighting some inroads made by his Plan, the President argued that there were still some challenges remaining that had the potential of jeopardising the gains that had been made. To buttress his argument, the President reported that the year 2016 was characterized by unexpected global headwinds, which negatively affected our fiscal position and the general performance of our economy due to a slump in commodity prices, low SACU receipts, and adverse currency movements. Consequently, the deepest cuts to the budget since Independence had to be effected to ensure fiscal sustainability and put the economy on a sustainable long-term growth trajectory.
In conclusion, the President reported that the foundation of the Namibian House is secure with prospects for economic recovery and increased growth which will place Namibia on a trajectory to meet its goals despite a number of challenges the country was faced with such as the devastating drought, adverse global economic headwinds, diminishing levels of public trust and the impact of unemployment. I would have preferred President Geingob’s speech to offer an olive branch to those who feel left out due to factionalism and the perception of purges. Two years ago, incoming President Hage Geingob gave a series of soaring orations which promised new beginnings and a better, fairer deal for all Namibians as he offered up a somewhat amorphous sense of hope for our country and an anxious people. Last week, the President delivered a similarly grandiose hope-filled State of the Nation Address by hitting some right rhetorical notes. In his remarks, he talked about the dangers of a widening income gap and elegantly argued about the need to eliminate pay disparities between the previously advantaged and disadvantaged Namibians.
Most importantly, he marshaled his strongest language to re-emphasise that peace and stability are the condio sine qua non for development and progress. “For this reason, we must continue to place the highest premium on maintaining a strong social fabric where all our people live in harmony.” Yet, the fact that the President felt compelled to mention the tide of a rising wave of discontent and diminishing levels of public trust, speaks volumes about the ambiguity of his plan. The President could, and should, have used his podium to push for everyone to be part of the Namibian House and not allow the impulses of his 2012 candidacy and the grassroots energy that underpinned it to be derailed by ruthless purging machinery that keeps the Presidency bogged down in squabbles and petty politics. I am afraid that this year’s SONA was conspicuously silent in this regard even if it was a well written speech from the beginning to the end which reflected institutional memory and not just part of the inner circle of bureaucrats inexperienced and insensitive in detecting the malaise in certain aspects.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.