Outgoing United States ambassador to Namibia Thomas Daughton has been all over the media during his three-year stint in Namibia, this year was of particular interest because of the commercial ties that existed between Namibia and North Korea.
The relationship has since ceased to exist and Namibia has been accused of ditching its old time friend fearing reprisal from the UN member states. Daughton said the United Nations Security Council has no problem with the ties between Namibia and North Korea, the only issue was the commercial ties that existed which made global headlines.
Daughton’s stint as US ambassador to Namibia, has arguably been more colourful than those of his predecessors. Many Namibians would probably struggle to summon to mind previous US ambassadors. Daughton has made his mark at least partly because he traveled extensively across the country and he was always at the forefront of activities related to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
TP: Your Excellency, your contract to run the mission in Namibia has expired and you will be coming to ground zero soon. What can you say about the mission; was it successful or not and how does it feel to represent your country in Namibia?
TD: I personally think it has been a successful mission. It was both a pleasure and honour to represent my country in Namibia, this is an amazing place. I had the opportunity to watch this young country grow in strides. The thing that made it special is the opportunity to travel which confirmed my believe that Namibia is a good country.
TP: Your Excellency, just searching your name on ‘google,’ it appears you were ever in the limelight in the Namibian media especially on health related matters. What other achievement(s) can you point to, Your Excellency?
TD: I took a deliberate decision that if I was going to be seen I should use the opportunity to get our message across regarding our work in Namibia. The HIV/AIDS prevention program is by far most the important when it comes to development assistance. It has become apparent that as Namibia move closer to UNAIDS 90-90-90 target there needs to be focus on the issue of getting tested.
TP: What was the most difficult and the most rewarding situation during your posting to Namibia?
TD: I must say it was an internal one related to adequate office space for the Embassy staff. Not all staff are stationed here at the Embassy, we have staff members across five buildings around town. When I came our salaries were not competitive and as a result more than a quarter of positions were not filled, but we managed to work on the salaries and subsequently fill the vacant positions. We are at an advanced stage to buy land on which the new Embassy will be built, but I would have loved to have finalised the deal before my departure.
TP: What are your expectations of Namibia for the coming years?
TD: I am optimistic about the future of this country, when you look at its history, what Namibians had to go through to get Independence and the evolution of the government system you will see that most things have moved in the right direction. Some not as fast as people would like but there has been movement. I am optimistic about the future, the fact that the system is democratic and the media has freedom makes Namibia unique and it gives me hope for the future because I do not see it changing in the near future.
TP: You have often mentioned that you travelled all across Namibia during your time here. Where do you think US companies can find the best opportunities for business development in the Namibia (business areas / geographical areas)?
TD: This is not an easy market for US people because of geographic reasons. The time and expense to get here is a hindering factor, but there are sectors that US firms can tap into such as power generation, technology and business services.
There is more bureaucracy than there needs to be which might discourage investors. But there are also positives such as the well-developed judicial and regulatory systems, from that standpoint it is a much more straightforward market to enter for US companies to do business.
AGOA been around but Namibia has benefitted minimally. That is one of the opportunities that Namibian businesses can benefit through and we[Embassy] are ready to help them benefit, especially the beef issue. No one has taken advantage of that but I know US market is complicated, however the Namibian beef would benefit from tariff reductions, I hope people will be more energetic to top into that space.
TP: How do you think trade between Namibia and the US will be impacted by the current US administration?
TD: One thing that has become clear from the new administration is they are quite interested in expanding trade with Africa instead of limiting it.
TP: What do you make of claims that there is a scramble for African between the China and the west?
TD: The Chinese have different goals, interests and a different way of doing business. Those people who try to portray it as a race or direct competition are missing the fact that we are looking at two different approaches. The Chinese do not come here in waves like in other states and they are also facing the same competitive issues that other countries who come to do business here face.
TP: How easy is it to do business in Namibia?
TD: Surprisingly, it has become more and more difficult to do business in Namibia. There has been attempts from our side to help the Ministry of Trade to develop a National Single Window, this would serve as an online portal that someone can access for information, but after some years it is yet to be completed. This is indicative of the bureaucratic barriers that exists. Government should address those to ensure that doing business becomes easier. Another area I had a keen eye on is the issuance of visas for visitors because it is getting harder for visitors to obtain visas. That is not a good way to encourage foreign investments and trade. Having observed the economic development of this country, it is the same sort of effect we see in the US when the economy slows down. It becomes difficult trying to balance those who take people’s jobs with the people who want to setup businesses. The problem with getting overly enthusiastic to make it difficult for foreigner to get into the country is the fact that it blocks those who could make a meaningful contribution to the country.
TP: What is your take on Namibia’s fight against income inequality?
TD: It is certainly better than it was at Independence, but Namibia has not found the answers yet and I doubt any country, not even the US. Looking at the situation here and other countries with a similar background, I realise that there is no easy answer but I can say that Namibia has been more successful than others. We must understand that this is socioeconomic problem that government is trying to fix and I am pretty sure if someone comes with a grand plan on eliminating inequality they [government] will take it. But in my view, inequality can be tackled through education. Part of moving people from the “farm to factory” is education, the system needs to prepare people to do something either than herding cows. Providing quality education has been a challenge to government mainly because of the high number of young people in the country. But if you don’t educate children and teach them about the different options they have in life then you cannot fight inequality.
TP: What is left of your work? What would you have liked to do if you were given more time?
TD: Not entirely. I would have liked to be here when Namibia reaches the UNAIDS 90-90-90 HIV elimination target. The nationwide survey indicates that Namibia will be pretty close or even surpass the target, but that does not mean the battle is over, but to achieve it will be pretty amazing and it will serve as a motivation to other countries.
TP: From the war against HIV/AIDS to the war against poaching. How has it fared?
TD: We have taken an approach that places emphasis on enforcement. It does seem to be working because by improving the capacity of the law enforcers to prevent poaching from happening. The various interventions are certainly cutting back on poaching. When it comes to rhino’s in this country failure is not an option because the black rhino is key in order to keep it in existence. It is crucial that we stop the poaching, I am happy the ministry and the difference conservancies are doing their parts.
TP: Most important lesson learned from your time as an Ambassador in Namibia?
TD: It is important to know that things take time and that if you make it clear that you are willing to collaborate and that you want to work with people then you will get things done. I have also taken note that it is key to know that if you are open to people and listen to different opinions then you can easily reach common ground.
TP:Let us talk about North Korea. What is your stance on the Namibia-North Korea ties, especially the commercial ties that were recently cut?
TD: North Korea has been a subject of discussion between Namibia and the US for years, we are on the UN Security Council and we all know the council passed strict sanctions against North Korea. As a member of the UNSC we go around encouraging every country to implement those sanctions because the goals is to cut off money used to fund their weapons programme. The North Koreans got money from having their companies doing construction in Africa and getting paid a lot of money. When I arrived in 2014 I had conversations with government on the matter to ensure they comply with the sanctions. My strong impression is that Namibia has done what it was supposed to do unlike other, they brought commercial relations to an end as ordered by the sanctions.
TP: But what about the historical ties between Namibia and North Korea, should Namibia just discard that?
TD: If there is one thing I learned during my time here is that loyalty is an important value, so I can understand why, particularly those who were in the struggle, want to maintain loyalty to their old friend One of the points I made is that you have to look at how the behaviour of that old friend has changed, and the behaviour of North Korea has changed over the years in a way that forced the international community to hit it with sanctions. With that said, yes you can still honour the country that supported you during the liberation struggle but that does not mean you can give them money. We never said you must cut off all contacts, the sanctions only says you must not do business with them.