Much is made of the relationship between Namibia and North Korea. In recent months questions have been raised and the debate has reached the epic stage.
North Korea’s presence in Namibia-and Africa in general- has irked Namibia’s traditional development partners.
This overview explores to study the roots of this consolidating bond between Namibia and North Korea-one so deep that the Namibian government even risked being hit by the United Nations to maintain its friendship with the under fire Asian state that has – less than a handfull allies – on the global arena.
Namibia likes to explain its relationship with North Korea by referring to its historic ties during the fight for Independence to justify its ties with North Korea in terms of infrastructure development.
North Korea supported the ruling Swapo Party during the struggle by offering training facilities and arms to boost its military wing, PLAN. Herein lies Namibia’s loyalty to North Korea, it would appear.
Relations have remained close after Namibia’s independence in 1990. The country’s first President, Sam Nujoma, was especially close to the DPRK.
In 1992, he received the Order of the National Flag, a high DPRK decoration.
Nujoma’s successor, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, likewise remained close to the DPRK. In 2008 Kim Yong-nam, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, visited Namibia and met with the President. Several agreements between the two countries were signed, to strengthen among other things bilateral co-operation on trade, commerce, transport, energy and defence.
Pohamba’s successor, President Hage Geingob, also kept DPRK within arm’s reach.
Three months after he was sworn in as President in 2015, Geingob welcomed North Korea’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Su-Yong at State House.
During that meeting Geingob referred to the two countries’ relationship as historic and indicated that the United Nations Security Council’s crusade on North Korea will not affect the bilateral ties between the two nations.
This promise did not last however as a few months later Geingob dispatched Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah to Pyongyang to inform the North Korean government that the economic ties that existed would be halted due provisions of the UN Security Council.
International media have in the past reported how North Korea has managed to draw on global resources to grow its nuclear development program.
Being the fourth largest producer of uranium in the world, Namibia’s relations with North Korea have drawn global attention.
Following Ri Su-Yong 2015 visit, there were unconfirmed reports that North Korea was looking for avenues to start procuring uranium from Namibia.
Disguising the money
Mansudae Overseas Projects, a DPRK construction company, has been behind several expensive projects in Namibia – among them Heroes’ Acre, a war memorial opened in 2002 in Windhoek. The physical features of the statue of the unknown soldier closely resembles Nujoma.
But the current media frenzy which criminalises Namibia’s relationship with North Korea, cannot be viewed in isolation as if it started with Kim Jong Un. It dates back decades.
Namibia, which prides itself as a friend to all and an enemy to none, is flirting with trouble from its traditional partners such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom who could decide to cut the economic assistance which runs into hundreds of millions annually.
Government is currently being investigated by the UN for its business dealings with North Korea- in violation of UN sanctions-of which it is a member.
These dealings are primarily based on the state contracts accorded to Mansudae and North Korea’s Mining Development Trading Corporation(Komid).
After cutting the ties, it has been alleged that Mansudae simply made arrangements to sub-contract Qingdao Construction to take over the incomplete projects. This includes the North Korean employees and material.
The UN’s ever-mounting efforts to cut the economic and political umbilical cord of Namibia and North Korea is a double edged for Namibia.
On the one hand, by not adhering to UN decisions Namibia risks being hit with widespread sanctions which could cripple the country’s already deteriorating economy and subsequently lose its ability to trade with any of the UN member states.
South Africa, which is Namibia’s biggest trading partner will particularly have a keen interest on how the UN-Namibia-North Korea saga plays itself out.
Over 66% of Namibia’s imports come from South Africa, while many of its exports go to the South African market or transit through that country.
The relationship between North Korea and Namibia has grown remarkably in recent years, with North Korea having landed state contracts worth billions to construct several national monuments.
The sanctions are aimed at disrupting the flow of cash funding North Korean weapons programmes, which are in violation of UN resolutions.
Japan has previously frozen the assets of entities and individuals involved in natural resources and research work related to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programmes.
The US and its allies, particularly Japan and South Korea, have been on high alert in recent months as North Korea carried out successive missile tests.
Tensions have eased since North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un pulled back from a plan to send a salvo of missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.
But Pyongyang on August 23 disclosed significant technological advances and ambitious plans to further improve its missile capabilities.
US President Donald Trump, like his predecessors, has called on China to play a more active role in convincing North Korea to stop threatening its neighbours and the US.
But China has so far been lukewarm on the idea, preferring to address the issue through long-stalled talks.
Namibia and the UN are currently locked in a diplomatic spat after the global body asserted claims that Namibia failed to submit a report for more than a year to the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea.
The Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation this week challenged the widely circulating CNN news clip by claiming that an invitation has been extended to the UN inspectors. A detailed response is awaited.
“The Government of Namibia wishes to categorically state that it has submitted reports to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee as required, the last having been submitted on 8 April 2017,” said the Ministry acting permanent secretary Lineekela Mboti in a media statement.
He reiterated that the Namibian government has terminated the contracts with KOMID and MOP in Namibia, for as long as the UN Security Council sanctions against the DPRK are in place, and all DPRK nationals have departed from the country, as part of the implementation of the UN Security Council sanctions resolutions on the DPRK.
Additional reporting by AFP