15. May 2011

Foreign Minister, in Vienna, calls for a negotiated solution of Libyan conflict

In context of his working visit to Austria, Walter Sauer and Astrid Esterlus from the Austria Namibia Society had a chance to talk to Namibia’s Foreign Minister, Utoni Nujoma, on priorities and activities of Namibian foreign policy. In this meeting, the Namibian Foreign Minister called for a negotiated solution of Libyan conflict and requested Austria to introduce reciprocity regarding visa rrangements.
The interview took place in Vienna/Austria, May 1st 2011.

INDABA: Wich matters is Namibian foreign policy concerned with right now? What yre your current priorities?

MINISTER NUJOMA: Let me say first that our supreme law, that is the Namibian Constitution, provides that Namibia should be a democratic state founded on the principles of solidarity, freedom and justice. Our foreign policy is also embedded in our constitution. Our foreign policy adopts and maintains a policy of non-alignment, promotes international peace and security, creates just and mutually beneficial relations among nations, endeavours to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations, and encourages the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means. That is very important, that is the anchor of our foreign policy.
Now, you ask me which foreign policy matters I had to deal with when I left Namibia. You know that there are a lot of demonstrations in the Arab North, there are developments in North Africa and so on. We are an active member of the African Union and also of the Peace and Security Council of the AU.That is where we derive our mandate from. Wherever we are we must promote the peaceful resolution of disputes. That’s what we do at the AU, that’s what we do at the United Nations, that’s what we do at the Non-Aligned Movement, and also within SADC. So, whatever is happening there in North Africa, we want to encourage peaceful conflict resolution.
If the people are demonstrating peacefully, that is fine. But when demonstrations also resort to arms – because I suspect every government when there are armed elements who are killing the police, the security forces, destroying property and so on – no government would be quiet and watch chaos to develop. They will rather try to resolve the issue by peaceful means, but when the situation gets out of hand, that is when organisations like the AU come into play to resolve the dispute. That is our mission.

INDABA: You are actually referring to the situation in Libya. Which position has Namibia adopted regarding this conflict?

MINISTER NUJOMA: Our position remains the African Union resolution. The Peace and Security Council met and assessed the situation, and we wanted to send a mission to Libya when the violence started, when the situation started to get out of hand. We mandated countries in Africa who are part of the Peace and Security Council like President Zuma of South Africa, the President of Mauritania, the Presidents of Mali, Tchad and other countries to go quickly to Libya to try and find an amicable solution. Unfortunately, when they were busy preparing themselves in Nouakchott, the UN Security Council passed that resolutions, 1973 and 1970, providing for the establishment of a no-flying zone and the protection of civilians. But we at the AU feel that we were not given enough time by the powerful people to try to find an amicable solution. The resolution was passed, and the bombing started. So our mission could not start afterwards. We managed to send another delegation, a second attempt, they managed to get to Libya and to meet the two belligerents, that is the rebels and the Gadaffi regime. Unfortunately, the rebels refused. So this is from the Namibian perspective, we want a peaceful solution because now they are bombing all the other sites indiscriminately, all the cities and so on, and this is what we were anticipating, that there would be a lot of misery for the civilian population. Now we don’t know what the bombing is intended for. To save the population? We think that the bombing will continue and cause more suffering to the civilian population! I don’t think that the intended purpose will be well served by resorting to the use of force.

INDABA: So, do you think that if the AU had had more time and there had been no bombing at this early stage, the course of events could have been different?

MINISTER NUJOMA: Correctly! Because Libya is also a member of the African Union, more active in the AU than in thr Arab League for example who was also part of that resolution, so we in the AU have more persuasive powers. That is our belief. And we would like to be given the opportunity to pursue that. What the motivation was for Europe to not pay more attention to our proposals I don’t know. Libya is on the African continent, it is distinctly an African country, and a member state of the African Union. It is deplorable, really, that Africa was ignored but we hope the Europeans will now sort out the problem they have created. We as Africans would like to defend our interests, tht comes first. The European Union, the Europeans have their own interests. Maybe oil? We don’t know what is the interest there. If a similar situation is happening in Syria for example or in Bahrain, we hear nothing about the civilian population. Is the civilian population in one country more important than the civilian population in another? These are some of the questions we are asking. Are they more important as a civilian population than others? Or what is the criteria being used?

INDABA: Turning to Zimbabwe. In you statement in Parliament in February, you spoke about some progress in Zimbabwe in terms of implementation of the Global Political Agreement. But there is also a lot of doubt whether there is genuine interest by all parties to implement the GPA. How does Namibia look at the situation?

MINISTER NUJOMA: Zimbabwe is our neighbour, a SADC member state, and we would like the Global Political Agreement to succeed. But there are other impediments, for example sanctions imposed by the Western countries. It is also in the Agreement that sanctions must be lifted to create the necessary conducive environment for elections to take place and also for free political movement, free political mobilisation, free press and so on. This is what we are working on. As we are speaking now, we send a team of senior officials to Brussels, Washington and London, and they are engaged in that process to try to have sanctions lifted. Because it is not only Zimbabwe which if affected, other countries in the region are as well, for example there is no credit facility, funds have been frozen and business cannot take place. Those are the things which have an adverse effect, and we need to level the playing field.

INDABA: But according to the GPA, there should be a new constitution before new elections take place.

MINISTER NUJOMA: Yes, we support that, they have agreed that they will draft a new constitution. They have not been progressed in this but we have to facilitate and create the necessary conditions. The drafting of the new constitution is paramount but if there is no agreement between the political parties… So we want to resolve that impasse.

INDABA: Here in Austria, you are going to meet the Foreign Minister – how do you assess bilateral relations between Namibia and Austria?

MINISTER NUJOMA: We have excellent bilateral relations in my own view but in terms of cooperation, I think we need to intensify. We need more cooperation in areas like education, health, tourism for example, also in areas like skills transfer, you have highly developed experience with water, sanitation or housing provision where you can assist us to solve our problems. Of course, the middle-income status of Namibia adversely affects us. We have almost 10 % of the population who are extremely rich, the other 90 % are very poor. Therefore the middle-income status which is only the average affects us. Here we would like Austria to understand and to make other countries to understand the uniqueness of our situation. We have two worlds in one country – one of extreme poverty and the other one which dominates, overshadows the main problem which is the Third World characteristics like poverty, unequalness and all these elements associated with underdeveloment. And we are also looking for diplomatic consultations to bring about a common understanding of international issues.
The other critical are is the visa exemtion for the Austrians, they can travel to Namibia but Namibians require visa. So, in diplomacy there is the important principle of reciprocity, even between smaller countries. Sometimes Namibians struggle, even my officials sometimes were supposed to travel but could not obtain a visa. You Austrians literally walk into Namibia with no hindrance, nothing. But our officials have to struggle to obtain a visa… I don’t think that is fair.

INDABA: What do you expect of a bilateral friendship association like ourselves, the Austrian Namibia Society?

MINISTER NUJOMA: Well, I believe that people to people contacts are extremely important because we as politicians, we are there today, tomorrow we are not there any more. But the relations, the friendship and solidarity between the peoples must continue. As I said, some areas of cooperation are very critical for us. You can help us for example to obtain teachers, mathemathics or science, of even German language. That is one thing. And you know we are also having the problem of HIV/Aids, and we would like you assistance also in this area maybe with educational pamphlets, working with social NGOs n Namibia who are involved in these activities. Looking into orphans and vulnerable children or helping women regarding reproductive health. Another important are maybe for people to people cooperation could be housing we need housing which the people can afford, with sanitation and clean water.

INDABA: In your relationship with the Federal Republic of Germany, you have this legacy of 1904. Does Germany enough in your view to address this legacy?

MINISTER NUJOMA: In my view it is not enough. There are some small developments, for example the official development assistance which goes to those areas and communities which were affected. They provide some assistance, buying some cattle and goats and so on. This is a small gesture which is appreciated. But I think we need to do more. For example, they can do more by assisting government to resettle the communities to purchase farms. That would also be a nice gesture. Because we budget every year for land resettlement, and as we budget for a farm it becomes more expensive. So it is a very difficult situation. But definitely, the communities are not happy, they think Germany must do more, must be more visible in their approach. What we also would like as a government is tht the Germans work directly with us, not by channelling this official development assistance through certain foundations or NGOs. (© Austrian Namibia Society; contact: namibia@sadocc.at)

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