Monday 12 April 2021
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Reflections on the portrait of Dr. Nickey Iyambo

For the first time, I saw him vividly from close-up, well groomed, advanced in age, with clenched first in the air, evincing the never surrender spirit through the revolutionary power salute, while with rhythmical grace responding to the beckoning of  the spellbinding lyrics of Hage the Unifier by Ndilimani, at a SWAPO rally in Otjiwarongo, in 2014; I never anticipated that this “Grande Personnage De La Revolution Namibie” would the following year become a major role player in my 23 year-odd civil service career.
This was none other than Dr. Nickey Iyambo, the longest serving Minister since independence in 1990, and the 1st Founding Vice President, a leader once assigned with the life threatening responsibility of leading an advance team of exiled SWAPO Party cadres  into South West Africa in 1989, to set up the Repatriation, Resettlement and Reconstruction Committee. And to prepare the groundwork for the return of the SWAPO Party Elections Campaign Director and Head, Dr. Hage Gottfried Geingob, and ultimately that of His Excellency, Dr Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma, then President of SWAPO, in fulfilment of UN Resolution 435 for the independence of Namibia.
For many Namibians, 1989 was an extremely volatile, and difficult transitional year in which hundreds of Plan combatants were massacred on April 1, and Anton Lubowski assassinated on September 12.
The mainstream media, supported by the South African managed Government administration was promoting apartheid embracing anti-SWAPO propaganda, except for the than pro-liberation and independence advocating, The Namibian newspaper.
These are grim reminders of the dangerous milieu, and accentuate the height of bravery displayed by Dr. Iyambo to have risked his own life, by having entered Namibia as the head of the first SWAPO leadership team. I elaborated on this home-coming incident, since it was the first time when the greater than life personality of Dr. Nickey Iyambo appeared on my mental map, when I was a 22 year-old youth.
These two incidents, one very recent, on the campaign trail for Namibia’s 3rd President and the other the 1989 home-coming, formed lasting impressions on me about the courage and the never die spirit of Aluta Continua which comprised the mosaic personality of Dr. Nickey Iyambo.
I and my colleagues, were most fortunate due to the perceptiveness of President Dr. Hage Geingob, who was kind and trusting enough, to entrust us, as former employees of his Prime Minister’s Bureau, with the responsibility to help the 1st Vice President, set-up from the ground, and manage the Office of the Vice President, post March 21, 2015. I with Presidential Advisor on Elders’ Matters, Tate Mukwaita Shanyengana; Ms. Loini Ter Avest, a Personal Assistant; and Ms. Elina Kamalanga, Executive Secretary, were seconded in this respect.
I will be amiss if I do not mention also a few of Dr. Nickey Iyambo’s most loyal staff members such as Ms. Mimmie Dunaisky, Inspectors Kafita, Kamenye, Shikesho, Amunyela, and Witbooi, as well as Sgt Tomas Naluno, Josephine Kamati, Thomas Jonas, Niita Asino, Losvita Shambwila and Hesron Amutenya, under the command of Deputy Commissioner Valeria Elago, who formed the core team of cadres, of the Vice President’s Office, and closely interacted with him daily.
From 2015 to February, 2018, that I and my colleagues continued to work under his tutelage, it was a once in a lifetime, rare, liberating experience to serve the Namibian people under Dr. Iyambo’s leadership.
Him being an eminent personality, decades ahead of our time, a well-qualified holder of MSc, MA, and MD in Social Sciences, Political Science and Medicine at the famous University of Helsinki, Finland, and a veteran of the first Liberation Struggle, added a refreshing perspective to our life views.
Dr Iyambo was a very gentle and humble soul, who loved his family, SWAPO and country, and yet was a meticulous planner, his wedding, farm, life and even his death are clear examples of such planning, as  he never left the smallest detail to chance. He was purposeful and firm on the specifics of what should be done, by whom, when and how it should be done.
I will relive here some of the anecdotes on trust, patriotism, patience and inclusive development to which we were fortunately introduced by Dr. Iyambo.
On trust, Dr. Iyambo in the cutthroat competitiveness of Government boardroom power politics was an astonishingly composed leader to work with, in part because he inspired those around him by bestowing them with unconditional trust.
This in turn motivated us to aspire to always do the right and best thing, to the utmost of our capacities, to return the trust. I still remember, his classical approach, the day when he heard a very bad rumor about me, it was so uncommon and full of trust, and almost brought tears to my eyes: “Mr. Pakote, I was visited yesterday at home by some people who told me a worrisome story about you, but I said to them, I really do not believe what you are saying, because the Mr. P that I know and the one you are telling me about, are totally two different people, worlds apart.
Nevertheless, I thought of asking you whether this is true or not, to remove any doubts.” After I factually rectified the unjustified rumor ostensibly calculated to cause a rift, and as I learnt could be a career sinker at this level, he responded, “You confirmed my thoughts, that there was no way for the Mr. P, I know to have done any such thing, these were some jealous people coming to me with their yakayakas,” and that was the end of the matter.
On patriotism, clearly he was the most eligible No.1 choice of President Geingob, in the entire country, to serve as the 1st Vice President, because Dr. Iyambo’ was an absolute sincere patriot without an iota of a counterfeit gene. He unequivocally abhorred the base idea of the supposed validity of tribal supremacy notions.
To him tribalism was akin to the discredited apartheid and therefore a non-starter.
He madze this clear to me when he stated that I should ensure that we bring in employees who are qualified and competent to execute the job, but that he wanted a tribally balanced office to reflect the rainbow colors of the President’s Harambee House, reflective of all Namibian tribes. And he never allowed those who reasoned that because they speak the same language as him, they had the leverage to use such proximity, to disrespect his senior staff, they would be cut down to size, gently, “he is in charge here, work together with him, and go to him if you have any problem, or Ms. Elina is the one organizing and running my diary, speak to her.” Through, Dr. Iyambo, we were introduced to his circle of friends such as Dr. Leake Hangala, Niilo Taapopi, and their families, and also friends from Finland, of whom I knew some before, and of course to some family members such as his trusted sister Esther, and some members of the Onayena constituency members, and of course later on to his wife to be, now the widow Madam Iyambo, which we appreciated very much.
He only had one team in his office, and that was the Namibian team.
On patience, one day, I was totally taken aback when during consultations one well-known Chief took offense and with characteristic arrogance, railed against the fact that the Vice President was delegated to meet and hear his concerns. The emotionally incensed Chief said to the VP “we will not speak to a messenger.” However, Dr Iyambo unfazed, unmoved, not least displaying a grain of indignation, listened with full composure to such insulting arrogance. At the end, he responded affably, promising that he will accordingly deliver the message and wishing the Chief all the best.
I have never seen such cool headedness in my entire civil service career; I and most other people if we were in Dr. Iyambo’s shoes, would have most probably being irritated, told the Chief where to get off. But that was the leader he was, nothing could bring him off course from his principles of civility.
On inclusive development, we as part of the Vice President’s outreaches visited the Kunene region, where he commented after having heard the cries for development at community meetings and having observed that economic life was very difficult in drought stricken places such as Opuwo, Outjo, Kamanjab, Khorixas excetra, that “something must be done here, we cannot all wait for one day when we will have money.”
This is how the Khorixas Vocational Training Centre was birthed as a brainchild of Dr. Iyambo, and he still wanted to do more in the two Kavango regions, Omaheke region, and others, especially among the marginalized communities, but it was not to be.
He took his retirement in 2018, in a stride, also cautioning us not to be alarmed about the incoming Vice President, Dr. Nangolo Mbumba, “he is a good person, I have known him for many years, trust him and work with him the same way you were working with me.”
This golden advice turned out to be 100% correct. And when I visited him to convey news in person on my deployment to the President’s Office, he gave his blessings and stated, “Mr. Pakote, go and serve the President well, do your best, but stay away from people and places which will distract you from your work.”
He had the greatest respect for the President, being appreciative of the development challenges facing the country. Dr. Iyambo was a firm believer in the President’s policy direction of transparency, effective governance, poverty alleviation, and a corruption free Namibia, in which prosperity and progress is shared between the affluent minority and the Namibian masses, as the only means of securing a peaceful, united and strong Namibia for all its generations.
Despite his sun-setting age, Dr. Iyambo’s spirit was as young and revolutionary, as the day he first joined the struggle for Namibia’s liberation, and to the very last end he was willing to serve the people of Namibia, not for financial benefits, but due to solid convictions of uplifting the Namibian people and realizing the Namibian Vision of development, prosperity and economic emancipation.
He also firmly, believed in the Namibian Youth as the emerging leaders under preparation to steer this country to the Namibian Vision, and very conscious that the sun was setting fast on the era of the first Liberation Struggle generation leadership, who consistently become fewer in leadership positions, due to changes in policies such as on gender representation and the dictates of the new technology age, among others.
He wished for an orderly generational leadership transfer, since the youth still require lessons on ideology, solidarity, internationalism etc. to safeguard Namibia’s hard-won freedom. Most unfortunately we were unable to pen some of his life experiences and thoughts in a formal narrative as he wished.
The mosaic portrait of Dr. Nickey Iyambo, suggests that he will be remembered as a fearless freedom fighter and a most loyal Comrade by some, by others as a physician who assisted thousands of SWAPO fighters with medical treatment and facilities, and still by some as a good father, husband, brother and uncle; but for us, we will remember him as a rare God-given shooting star for humanity’s enlightenment, a mentors’ mentor, a flesh and blood archetype, inherently capable of good and bad traits, but still the ideal African and Namibian Com-Patriot and Hero, may his soul rest in eternal peace!
Tribute by Moses Pakote- former Deputy Executive Director in the Office of the Vice President

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