Namibia: Geingob – a Beacon of Transparency

In the ever-evolving landscape of governance, few leaders can boast the commitment to transparency exhibited by Namibia’s late President Hage Geingob. His formula, “Accountability + Transparency = Trust,” became more than a catchphrase – it encapsulated his vision for effective governance that resonated throughout his tenure.

On 19 January 2024, President Geingob, with unwavering transparency, disclosed the presence of cancerous cells detected by his medical team. In a rare move for a sitting president, he announced his immediate medical treatment, opening a window into his health journey for the Namibian people. This revelation triggered a tidal wave of prayers, well-wishes and even medical support offers from both within Namibia and the international community.

Embracing the goodwill extended by scientists and medical professionals in Los Angeles, California, President Geingob opted for novel therapy in the United States. Remarkably, he declined the government covering travel, medical and accommodation expenses, emphasising his commitment to financial prudence and accountability.

While 95% of the treatment would transpire in Namibia, the President’s brief stay in the US held a strategic purpose. The medical technology employed would be transferred to Namibia, accompanied by President Geingob’s medical team, catalysing the infusion of advanced medical skills into the country’s healthcare system. This move exemplifies his foresight in bolstering the nation’s medical capabilities, benefitting not only himself, but future patients.

During his short medical leave from 25 January 2024, Vice President Nangolo Mbumba stepped into the role of acting President, ensuring continuity in governance. The subsequent smooth transition exemplifies the institutional strength President Geingob sought to build during his tenure.

President Geingob’s advocacy for transparency wasn’t confined to matters of personal health. Notably, in July 2019, education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa resigned, citing the President’s strong stance on transparency and accountability. This incident showcased the stand President Geingob took on ethical governance.

While Namibian law does not require the president to disclose his personal assets, Geingob saw the disclosure as a “key requirement in preventing undue benefits accruing to public officials.”

In May 2015, early in his presidency, President Geingob took the unprecedented step of voluntarily declaring his assets and business interests, as well as that of his wife, citing transparency as the driving force behind this move. This commitment extended beyond personal matters, as he emphasised the need for improved efficiency and transparency in government processes, systems and institutions. He felt obliged to declare because “transparency starts at the top”.

The Namibia Media Trust (NMT) on Sunday, while expressing their condolences that it is essential to reflect on his profound commitment to press freedom, a cornerstone of his legacy, which has positively shaped the media landscape in Namibia.

“Moreover, our condolences extend to all Namibians. President Geingob’s impact on the nation is immeasurable, and his memory will endure through the progressive and positive changes he brought about during his tenure.

“We recall very clearly how, on 10 May 2017, when he presided over the national World Press Freedom Day celebration and the launch of the revised Media Code of Ethics and Conduct for Namibian Print, Broadcast and Online Media, President Geingob declared publicly that for as long as he is head of state, press freedom in Namibia is guaranteed. He remained true to his word, and was immensely proud of our country’s press freedom ranking as number one in Africa,” said Zoe Titus, NMT director.

NMT further said President Geingob’s vision for a free and vibrant press was not merely a professional stance, but a reflection of his dedication to upholding democratic values. This is aptly displayed through the promulgation of the Access to Information law in 2022 – a vision that he first expressed in 1998.

The executive director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Graham Hopwood, hailed Geingob’s legacy on democracy.

“He was a proponent of the media’s rights, and genuinely proud of Namibia’s media freedom record. I see him as a democrat who fundamentally shaped the Namibia we have today in many positive ways. He leaves Namibia as an open democracy where there is freedom of expression, and where journalists and civil society activists can operate freely. This is a tremendous legacy. I did feel that despite his strong rhetoric on transparency and accountability, his government could have done more in this area. But this is a debate for another day; for now, I would prefer to think of the many positives he left the country.”

The President’s promise of increased transparency bore fruit in April 2019, with Namibia reclaiming its position as the country with the freest media in Africa under his leadership. The commitment to openness was further emphasised in a June 2020 press statement, highlighting the President’s dedication to media accessibility and transparency.

President Geingob’s meetings were often open to the media, and press conferences lasted well beyond traditional norms, reinforcing his commitment to press freedom.

Geingob’s PhD from Leeds University was obtained in 2004 under the theme ‘State Formation in Namibia: Promoting Democracy and Good Governance’. Having served twice as Namibia’s Prime Minister, he was instrumental in the creation of governing structures of the country.

His townhall meetings in both 2015 and 2019, across Namibia, were a first for the country, and not just platforms for dialogue; they were vehicles for promoting democracy and transparency. President Geingob sought a two-way communication channel between the government and the masses, emphasising his commitment to fostering a transparent and accountable administration.

In a remarkable move, President Geingob publicly disclosed his mild aortic condition, successfully treated during a four-day stay in South Africa in 2023. This act further solidified his reputation as a leader unafraid of sharing personal health information. His openness, even regarding contracting Covid-19, showcased a rare trait among world leaders.

President Geingob’s legacy is etched in the annals of Namibia’s history as a champion of transparency, an architect of effective governance, and a leader whose commitment to openness has set a precedent for future leaders. As Namibia mourns the loss of a visionary, the nation can draw inspiration from the enduring legacy of a president who believed that transparency was not just a principle, but a pathway to building trust and a better nation.

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