President Geingob recently made a spectacle out of scornfully singling out The Namibian newspaper, labelling it amongst his “enemies”, and threatened to hold the draft Access to Information (ATI) law hostage over critical coverage of his administration. The episode suggests a profound misunderstanding of the potential benefits of ATI and stands as another prime example of the Executive undermining Namibia’s press-freedom standing

It appears the Namibian president labours under the faulty impression that ATI is predominantly a media or journalistic concern.  For his information, it is not. It is a developmental concern – one which is recognized explicitly in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

For the president’s information, ATI is about making governance systems  and processes accountable, transparent, responsive and enables broad public participation in the developmental sphere. In other words, it’s about good practices and efficiency, that in turn should unlock prosperity, all of which after all are what the president has proclaimed he would be injecting into the public service and society during his incumbency.

At the press briefing last week where President Geingob made his disturbing statements, it appears that he was attempting to cast himself as being ‘nice’ while actually not being ‘nice’. And he disingenuously claimed that he was unaware of the ‘soft ban’ on state sector information dissemination through the private, independent media, announced recently, when it really is hard to fathom how any Cabinet decision, whether in his presence or absence, would not be run by him first before being endorsed.

And then of course he literally and bizarrely, and not very subtly, threatened to withhold the draft ATI bill.

The entire episode speaks of a political culture and mindset that is averse to critical engagement and open debate, but rather seeks the comfort of an echo-chamber of incessant congratulatory hand-clapping (!Omake!).

Threatening to withhold the formalizing of a democratic ATI dispensation really amounts to standing in the way of development. No country develops in an information and knowledge blackout or suppression context. In fact, a number of studies have resoundingly proven that ATI is a harbinger of prosperity in the 21st century (or any century for that matter).

Ultimately, President Geingob’s attitude is symptomatic of a rising tide of hostility towards critical voices and independent media who for the most part have legitimate concerns around glaring public policy and governance issues. The casting of critical voices as “enemies” of development or prosperity, or even national unity and security, really is not a wise stance to take, given everything that is on the line for a small struggling society looking to turn the page on trying times and conditions.

The ACTION Coalition hopes President Geingob will be more prudent with his public utterances in future.