update: The Namibian has a story on this bill, entitled ‘”Supreme Court might become irrelevant”‘

In the space of three days last week, government passed the “Namibia Citizenship Amendment Bill” — a document which could render some Namibians stateless, all while undermining the separation of powers in our government.


Well, basically there was a Supreme Court ruling recently that government didn’t like, and they passed a law to ovverrule the court. The case in question concerned a foreign couple who’d had two kids here. One got a Namibian birth certificate, the other one didn’t, and they sued that both should get Namibian citizenship while the government said neither should. It’s not a clear decision, because the constitution says if you have a child in Namibia, it will get citizenship if you are “ordinarily resident”. Home affairs said that means permanent residence only, the court said it wasn’t that clear – and so these kids should get their passports. Mind you this doesn’t just concern this family. There are a bunch of people who have had Namibian passports for a long time, sometimes over two decades, who have recently been told that they are no longer citizens and their passports won’t be renewed.

So government didn’t like the ruling from the court, and set out to “correct” it. They were clearly in a great rush: the first draft was so full of typos (what is a “zitizen”?) that they withdrew it and came back the next day with a  fixed version. And then they passed it on Friday.


Why does this matter?

1. This bill could take away the citizenship of Namibians

If parliament just wanted to clarify that from now on, only permanent residents get citizenship for their kids, and all of you on work permits or student visas don’t get them even if you’ve lived here for decades, have built a house, etc — that would be one thing. But the bill makes explicit reference to the recent ruling, saying “no rights may arise” from it. It appears to me this could mean that people who have already been Namibian citizens their entire life — whether that life has spanned six months, or 25 years — can be told “nevermind, you’re no longer a Namibian”.

The motivational speech seems to indicate as much. Pendukeni Iivula Ithana said that:

I am aware that the Constitution prohibits our deprivation of citizenship to the extent that we render people to be stateless. I do however hasten to add that, in many cases these children would not be otherwise stateless as they ought to follow the non-Namibian citizenship/s of their parents.

in MANY cases people won’t be stateless. So are we fine with some people — Namibian citizens — becoming stateless because the Ministry couldn’t sort out its definitions in time and doesn’t want to follow the court?

Which brings me to my second objection

2. This bill could undermine the system of checks and balances in our country.

The Supreme Court has that name for a reason.It’s supposed to make the ultimate decision as to what is lawful and what is not. If they interpret the constitution in a certain way, that should be the end of the discussion for the vast majority of cases. The fact that the National Assembly was so quick to dismiss this court ruling, simply because they didn’t like the outcome, is very worrying indeed.

Last Friday, two lawers from the Legal Assistance Centre wrote an article in the Namibian called “A Constitutional Crisis?”. They write:

The memorandum accompanying the bill asserts that the bill is clarifying the ambiguities created by differing opinions from the attorney general, the High Court and the Supreme Court. But the ‘opinion’ of the Supreme Court on the meaning of the Constitution is not just one of many interpretations. The Supreme Court has the Constitutional responsibility, under Article 79, to interpret the Constitution. And, as the highest court of appeal in Namibia, its decisions on the Constitution’s meaning take precedence over those of lower courts and government officials

There is no doubt in this case. The bill currently before the National Assembly directly contradicts the Supreme Court’s ruling. If it is passed, it would subvert the separation of powers, which is the essence of Namibia’s Constitutional framework.

The subject matter of the bill before parliament will not affect many people in Namibia. But undermining the role of the courts and the supremacy of the Constitution would affect us all.

I’m going to emphasise their next two paragraphs because they matter so much.

If parliament can overrule any interpretation of the Constitution which it does not like, then the Constitution is no longer the supreme law of Namibia. If this bill is allowed to pass, it means that parliament is supreme, and the Constitution and the courts have become irrelevant. This would change the very nature of Namibian democracy.

Passing this law would take us back to the system which prevailed in pre-independence times when there was no check on the legislature. Even a democratically-elected parliament should not be all-powerful.

Doesn’t sound too much to ask for.

It’s always interesting to see how our different papers decide to report on an issue, as their takes usually vary. Here’s how some of them reacted to Minister Schlettwein’s asset declaration on Wednesday.headlines




Of Note:

  • Most papers led with the top line figure, the overall amount the Minister is worth
  • The Sun strayed on the side of tastelessness, imo, by printing a picture of the Minister’s house on the front page. Unnecessary.
  • The Patriot immediately asked the central question: will other ministers also declare? Like other papers, it then moved on to the juicy info about the dollar amount the Minister is worth.



Foreign policy seldom makes headlines in Namibia, but our dealings with North Korea have been making the front pages a lot. No surprise: the revelation that they built us an ammunition factory is a big deal, and the government having to change its public stance (without ever really admitting it) is a juicy story. Anyways, the whole story is a little bit complicated at times, so I wrote an overview for African Arguments:

Pyongyang will be taking heart from the fact that after explaining Mansudae would have to leave the country, the Namibian government later added that they would in fact stay on for few more months. Renovations at the State House had recently begun and, as a minister explained, “we do not want them to leave the renovations hanging just like that”.

You don’t leave old friends hanging just like that either

The full piece is here.

I’ve been doing a bunch of writing for Insight in recent months, here is some of it:

  1. An argument for why Namibia should house Syrian refugees
  2. An assessment of the Harambee Prosperity Plan’s performance early on
  3. A piece asking why political parties get so much control over the regulations governing them
  4. A review of Richard Poplak and Kevin Bloom’s Continental Shift

I understand the magazine is still trying to fix the website, so apologies for the wonky formatting.


I’ve got a piece in this month’s Insight Magazine where I talk about how I think we’re focusing too much on Vocational Training.

I think vocational training has its uses, of course. But we’re not funding much of it, and there are doubts that the money we spend is very effective (Why do we have to send students to South Africa to learn boilermaking and welding?). In a more broad sense, I’m concerned with the way we talk about vocational training as a solution for our education problems.

the role VT occupies in the national discourse has long outgrown its current scale or future potential. Looking at the way it is name-checked in every speech with even remote links to education, it is hard to shake off the impression that VT is viewed as a panacea for Namibia’s educational and economic woes. It is striking that, at the same time as the graduation rates of high schools kept declining, there has been more and more talk about vocational training. This juxtaposition leads to the impression that VT is supposed to make up for the dismal performance in secondary education.

The thinking seems to be: The kids aren’t reading and can’t do maths? Let’s teach them something to do with their hands. The prevailing attitude is expressed by the NPC when it frames vocational training as an alternative for “poorly performing learners in Grade 10 and 12”. However, this is no solution. VT needs to complement tertiary education, not replace it. In a functional education system, students pursue the paths that best fit their skills, making sure that their talents are maximised. Vocational training should be a specialised career path, reserved for those with particular aptitudes and interests in such professions and careers. Those with the talent for and interest in sciences, engineering, and so on, should pursue an education in those fields. Instead, vocational training is mooted as a last alternative for students doomed by a sub-par primary and secondary education, students who might have talents in other areas, which they cannot fulfill because the system has failed them.

The full article is on the website here.

Update 3: There have been quite a few developments since then. An amended version of the bill passed the National Assembly, then was rejected on principle by the National Council. We haven’t heard an official update about it since. In Insight, I wrote about the negative impact the original bill would have had here, and wrote about how flawed the process of drafting the bill was here.

Update 2: In a post to the AR facebook page, the movement reports back on a meeting with government on earlier today. Included in it is the revelation(claim?) that the Technical Implementation Committee

The restructuring also includes the committee assuming an additional function to deal with amendments of laws and issues related to housing finance. This includes practical implementations of matters like Rent Control Boards and prescribing of Estate Agents tariffs. All these are expected to happen before 31 October 2015.


Two things about that. First, it’ll be interesting to see the quality of legislation coming out of this. The Local Authorities Amendment Bill seems rushed and disjointed, and I don’t know if this committee will do better than the ministry. In fact, I’ll have to ponder my opinion on this committee drawing up national policy on land. I’m not sure who’s on it, but it didn’t sound like it would go through regular channels. Verdict’s out. Secondly, on the idea that we will have Rent Control Boards etc mandated by law before 31 October — well, I’m willing to bet a lot of money on that not happening. The NA is wrapping up its business already; the speaker had requested members to submit new bills no later than October 15 because they still have to go to the National Council. So yeah, not going to happen.

Update 1: It appears we weren’t the only ones with these concerns. Today, The Namibian reported that the deputy Minister of Agriculture drew parallels between this law and apartheid legislation.


A couple of weeks ago Parliament started debating amendments to the Local Authorities Act. Really dry stuff, for the most part, but the draft contained some dynamite provisions regarding new property regulations, probably spurred on by recent political pressure on the administration to do something about the urban land crisis.

Under the law, what will basically happen is this:

  1. urban land will be divided into Namibian zones and open zones. In open zones, foreigners can buy dwellings, but not commercial properties.
  2. Namibian zones are subdivided by income level, and you won’t be allowed to buy land in an area that is classified as being of a lower income as yourself.

The IPPR put out a paper about the laws, with several concerns.

First, kicking out foreigners is great politics, always has been — we identify a scapegoat to blame for causing this crisis (in this case, rich foreigners pricing us out of the housing market) and solve the problem decisively. The first problem is that this is not evidence-based: foreign home-owners are probably a small part of the market, so they didn’t cause the house price crisis, and anyways the law only allows them to buy houses, which definitely won’t help prices for Namibians. Secondly, it could have negative consequences in that a lot of the money Namibia’s economy gets for its economic growth comes from abroad, and this move might discourage foreign investment.

I’m most concerned about the rule dividing Namibians by income. Windhoek is already starkly segregated by economic class, a very visible manifestation of our apartheid past. While there has been some reconfiguration of wealth patterns, the reality is that this wealth segregation is also a de facto segregation by race. Now, the idea behind this provision is that developers won’t go into poor areas and price out lower-income folks. That’s an admirable goal, but the policy won’t help. All it will do is legally mandate the segregation we already have. What we need is a comprehensive affordable housing project to integrate the exclusive Windhoek suburbs. Because poor Namibians certainly can’t afford to buy properties in rich areas anyway, as it stands. So what would happen with this rules is that the rich stay among themselves, and the poor stay what have now become legally designated ghettos. This means those areas would unlikely see an increase in property values, so that home-owners there don’t see an increase in their wealth while the still-exclusive rich areas see property prices (i.e. the wealth of already rich people) go up. Hello inequality.

This might just be unconstitutional on a variety of fronts — check out the full paper here.

  1. “Why Obama blundered by speaking out on LGBTQ rights in Kenya”. Politics is complicated, and saying the right thing can be counterproductive to the goals you want to achieve. The speech didn’t help LGBT rights, it likely made things worse.
  2. Evil But Stupid”. On Seymour Hersh, the War on Terror and journalism. Why did journalists turn on him when he accused the US government of lying?

    given the zeal for secrecy that characterizes Obama’s presidency (to say nothing of its enthusiasm for extrajudicial assassinations), the question becomes: Why isn’t the media more paranoid? What may be irking journalists about Hersh is the way he harks back to an era of heroically paranoid journalismthe kind that once brought down governmentsthat they no longer feel themselves to be living in. It was, after all, the mainstream media that decided to run the Pentagon Papers, and it was the Washington Postthat broke the Watergate story. It was also the press that uncovered the high-level conspiracy to fund the contras in Nicaragua by selling arms to Iran.

  3. “Canon of Taste.”  We put a great deal of effort into preserving and appreciating past masterworks of literature, painting, and music. We should do the same for food.
  4. “Searching for Sugar Daddy.”  A — disturbing, for me — look at the subculture of daddies and babies in the US.


TL;DR: We shouldn’t assume that the relative success of the BIG pilot programme can be extended nationwide. But the evidence we do have, plus experience from other countries, suggests that cash transfers could have a great effect in reducing extreme poverty. At the very least we should have a conversation about whether we should implement  a BIG, and how this could be implemented.

Long version:

Continue reading

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, was not among the ones arrested. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, was not among the ones arrested. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty

The New York Times reports that several high-ranking FIFA executives were arrested in Zurich and are to be extradited to the US on corruption charges. Allegations of corruption have long surrounded the organisation. Specifically, awarding the world cup to Qatar raised eyebrows:

Even before  the vote took place, two committee members … were suspended after an investigation by The Sunday Times caught both men on tape asking for payments in exchange for their support. It was later revealed by England’s bid chief that four ExCo members had solicited bribes from him for their votes; one asked for $2.5 million, while another, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, requested a knighthood.

A whistleblower who worked for the Qatar bid team claimed that several African officials were paid $1.5 million each to support Qatar.

An official FIFA inquiry was never released to the public, and disavowed by the attourney leading the process. The American authorities seem to be little impressed.

For more on FIFA’s corruption, see this Grantland piece: Corruption, Murder, and the Beautiful Game: On FIFA’s scandalous history.

And of course, this John Oliver segment explaining it all is outstanding:

From Chris Blattman, citing an ODI study which I’m still tracking down:

The largest documented case of fraud in a humanitarian program providing money is from the United States. In the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) quickly provided aid through the Individuals and Households Program, which provided money for housing and immediate needs.

As of February 2006 more than 2.6 million payments were made totalling over $6 billion. The US Government Accounting Office estimated $1 billion of these payments were fraudulent from bogus claims and double registration (GAO, 2006).