Uietele, quiet but determined

NEWLY appointed governor of the Omaheke Region and now former parliamentarian, Festus Uietele spoke to the Windhoek Observer for this week’s question and answer session.

He is the second youngest governor President Hifikepunye Pohamba has appointed, after Clinton Swartbooi who serves as governor of the Karas Region.

Uietele described his background and political journey, highlighting some of the key moments he feels, groomed him for this appointment. He admitted to not having been the most vocal parliamentarian over the years, and gave his reasons for decision to refrain from using that platform to tackle and address national issues. Uietele who is one the younger Swapo politicians, also spoke at length regarding what his generation of leaders, should bring to the table, as well as what he feels Government can do, in order to act as a catalyst for youth empowerment.

The governor further discussed some of the main challenges facing the Omaheke region including the high unemployment rate, and poverty related issues. He also took the opportunity to disclose some of the matters he feels most passionate about, and in doing so mentioned the first issues he would like to tackle in the region.

Windhoek Observer (WO): Could you give us a brief summary of your political journey, in particular some of the key moments that you feel have guided you up until your appointment as governor.

Festus Uietele (FU): Well I would say it started back in 1988 with the schools uprising in Namibia, which was still South West Africa at the time, when I was one of the leaders of Nanso in the eastern region. I tried to inform, mobilise and organise the branch of Nanso at my school at the time, Drimiopsis. Because of the solidarity we had from the schools in the north at the time, we mobilised the students at Drimiopsis, and the school eventually closed.

It reopened for a short period but then closed for good, which did not allow me to complete my grade 10 at the time and shortly afterwards I was arrested and imprisoned for four days because the school was now banned. I was one of the accused, and once they released me, I tried to enrol at other schools. I tried in Okakara first, where I learnt the education department had circulated my name as problematic and a disruptive student. I decided to peruse other schools such as Augustineum and even Valombola, but none of these schools was interested in taking me, in order for me to complete my high school.

At this point, I opted to rather mobilise Nanso, and lucky that was the end of 1988 and in 1989, we saw the signing of Resolution 435 and a ceasefire agreements. From that point, I worked for Swapo in Omaheke as the regional secretary in 1989 and 1990. Thereafter I obtained a job with the Ministry of Health and Social Services as a technical assistant, until the ministry sent me to the national health training centre from 1991 until 1993.

After this course, I became a qualified environmental health assistant and continued to work in the ministry of health, in the field I had studied. It also now gave me the opportunity to travel throughout the Omaheke region, as I conducted inspections of shops, eradication of malaria programmes, spraying houses and so forth. In this way, I could become well acquainted with many different groups of people in the region, and I become known for the work I was doing. In 1996, party elders in the region approached me to stand for the position of councillor, but I declined.

Then in 2001, when I served as the information and mobilisation secretary for the Gobabis district, they approached me once again and lobbied for me to run for regional co-ordinator. In 2002, I became the party’s regional co-ordinator and then won re-election in 2007. In 2010, they nominated me as a candidate to serve in parliament and I won election into that position. I have served in parliament from then up until last week.

WO: With all the speculation in recent weeks, did you at any point expect President Pohamba to appoint you as governor of Omaheke? What went through you mind when he informed you of his decision?

FU: In politics, it appears that lobbing plays a big role in everything, but from my side because I already served as a member of parliament, I did not think they would consider me for that position. There were times when senior leaders or other MPs would ask me who I thought the president would appoint, and as someone who knows the region well, who I think would be suited to serve the people there. When the president informed me of his decision, it occurred to me that, the head of state must really have trust in me, and my abilities.

He could also just have the assessed the situation and decided that I would perform better in the region, than I would or have been in parliament. If this was his line of the thought, I agree with the president in thinking that I will be more effective in the region amongst the people, than in parliament.

WO: As one of the younger MPs, why did you appear to take a back seat in parliament? Why were you not more vocal on issues, and what mark do you feel you have left in parliament?

FU: I think members heard my voice on two or three issues I raised in parliament. When I first came to parliament, one of the things I advocated was access to clean water in rural areas. I also advocated the demarcation of the portions of land, hectares, farming units on resettlement farms and all those things, including the building of roads.

I can proudly say that some of the things I called for are now materialising. They have started demarcating the units in the blocs, we have resettled people, and they recently informed me that the building of pipelines is well underway. What I came to learn is that in parliament standing up to speak every five minutes is not necessarily the most effective way to get things done.

However, I feel the standing committees are one of most effective tools. I opted to use the platforms created in the standing committees more to engage and put ideas forward and reach consensus. You are right, I was not necessarily the most vocal person in parliament, but neither did I take the floor to make merely political statements, which is what many MPs do.

WO: You are the second person from the younger generation of leaders President Pohamba has appointed as a governor in recent times. What do you feel young leaders such as yourself should bring to the fold?

FU: As a young governor, I welcome the idea of bringing young people on board very much. However, my opinion is that we should not appoint or elect a person purely because he or she is young. I feel that an attitude and mind-frame of service delivery has to accompany a person’s youth.

This is why it disturbs me to see the high unemployment rate in a region that everyone knows as cattle country and that exports 60-70% of its beef. I feel this is unacceptable and we need to see how best to address problems such as these. For me personally I will use my use of experience and knowledge gained by working with the people of the region, to engage them on possible solutions. I feel young leaders need to explore this particular dynamic and be able to unite and bring the young and the old around one table. I feel young leaders have the ability to tap into the wisdom of the elders and into that incorporate contemporary and holistic approaches to problem solving. Therefore, each young leader will have a unique leadership
style, but what needs to be the centre of all our approaches is service delivery, and uniting people of all generations.

WO: What are you most passionate about, and in this regard what will be the priorities you would like to address as you take office?

FU: Firstly, it is the high unemployment rate that I mentioned earlier, and I feel that one of the ways in which we can address this is by providing vocational training to people. In this way our youth in particular who are not able to proceed to tertiary education, are able to acquire technical skills, in agriculture and so forth. I also think these centres would be a great tool to empower the women of the region to also acquire certain skills, and group together in order to apply for certain tenders, or apply to the SME Bank for start-up capital to fund their business ventures.

One of the other things that disturb me is that although Omaheke is regarded cattle country, we export all the cattle and the residents buy cattle products just like anyone else, who is not a producer. Why is it we are unable to produce our own milk, butter, and even making use of the skin of the cattle to build the economy of the region.

The region has been fortunate to have a mother like Laura Mc Leod, who was also passionate about these things, and who even travelled to India in search of investors to set up these factories to produce our own dairy products. Therefore, I feel strongly about starting where she left off, and ensure that the people of Omaheke fully benefit from their cattle.

WO: What do you think of Agribank’s intention to liquidate Witvlei Meat and how will this affect the residents of the small town?

FU: Yes, I have heard of the problems that the abattoir in Witvlei faces, and I feel it would really be bad thing if it had to shut down. The abattoir employs hundreds of people and it has literally kept the town alive, and that is not something that we should disregard lightly.

With an already alarming rate of unemployment in the region, we cannot afford to put even more people out of their jobs and remove that vital service from the town. I feel another area government needs to intervene in, is the sale of livestock where producers are being told that the price for animals have dropped due to the drought situation in Namibia, and buyers pay very little for cattle. However, when it comes to the retail price nothing has changed, and we buy meat in shops for four times the price very often. We need to cut out the middlemen in this instance, where it appears producers are losing out, especially in this time of drought.