Saving lives and protecting the environment

Allow me space in your paper to share some of my own thoughts on saving lives and protecting the environment. The rather potent issues implied in the heading cover a wide area of public deliberations, policy perspectives, lawmaking agendas, citizens’ awareness strides and media investigative reporting.

We must be willing, as a concerned community, to take a great leap of faith into the future and about our survival and heritage that we are going to have to bequeath to future generations. It is all about responsibility and plowing through our collective conscience to do the right thing and not to compromise leadership. Instead, we must stand up for our patriotism and service to the people.

Without ignoring the everyday challenges of globalisation and vagaries of the economy, there are various forces which are at play, right under our noses, that are encroaching upon the stability of the Republic and well-being of our communities.

Economics of nuclear waste dumping, drug trafficking, money laundering, along with mercenary redoubt and greedy middlemen, are slowly but surely wreaking havoc on concerted efforts we are making aimed at unity, development and prosperity in the country.

The theme and direction of the 1992 RiO UN Earth Summit (Environment and Development) sensitised the whole world on the interlink and interdependence between the two.

We learnt from the RiO Summit about ecosystems, biodiversity, water crisis, fauna and flora, sustainable social development and negative consequences of toxic waste and pollution. Our Constitution insists on eternal vigilance and state-sponsored pre-emptive measures for saving lives and protecting the environment.

Those criminal and unaccepted activities I have alluded to above, if allowed to penetrate the system of governance and law enforcement agencies, will germinate everywhere and contaminate the social fabric of the whole society unbeknown to individual citizens.

The result will cause political instability, banking and other financial sectors can hardly survive the onslaught, tourism promotion and corrupt practices will compete for space, administration of justice will face stiff competition and, above all, the economy would dry up without investment, robust exports and meaningful trade with the outside world.

Namibia and other African countries, while not alone in this kind of an horrible predicament, are by and large worst-off for lacking necessary capabilities to resist hostile invasion.

Finding unsuspecting countries and recruiting from within by means of corrupting responsible public officials placed at strategic places to look the other way is the name of the game.

Thus, floodgates are opened for bringing into targeted countries unwarranted dangers and insecurity. These nasty intruders seem to be succeeding judging by frequent and often embarrassing public revelations that involve names and faces of culprits and collaborators in print or on TV.

For me, the situation is reminiscent of what is called a war beyond a shooting war. Yes, it’s too early for finger-pointing or for blame games. However, we would be terribly remiss if we did not in very pro-active ways at this stage deal with real or impending threats that are here or on the way.

It’s all about knowing the enemies and their sinister mode of penetration and destruction.

Let’s now inch step by step closer to what I have been hinting at so far but not mentioning by deed or character.

I have in mind mafiosos and killers who relish in undermining development and stifling people’s dreams for a better life and self-improvement in developing countries.

Their faith lies in dirty-money and illegal deals at crossroads of greed and passion. And here stands Namibia arguably exposed and defenceless in the face of brutal and disguised colossals.

In mid-1980’s, here in Namibia and in a few West African countries, the ugly spectre of dumping of nuclear or pharmaceutical toxic waste were reported in the world media.

The jury is still out on what actually happened on this score in Namibia when the so-called interim government was in office.

But for sure, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and others found this lethal stuff buried under the soil of their respective countries. The OAU at its nearest Summit, soon thereafter, had to adopt a stringent resolution prohibiting any such ugly thing from ever happening anywhere in Africa.

However, just three weeks ago, Ivory Coast was surprised and outraged that it too has now been exposed to this terrible danger of toxic waste dumping.

In a recent past in Namibia, I as Foreign Minister, took it upon myself to have stopped in its tracks, a dubious scheme to dump toxic waste by an “investor” and his local collaborators in the vicinity of Walvis Bay. The very same “investor” was shortly hereafter exposed as a dangerous fraud in Mozambique.

Who doesn’t know, unless one is ignorant about the sterling work of Greenpeace international, about ships loaded with nuclear and all kinds of other toxic wastes, roaming the seas in search of countries to secretly offload their deadly cargo? Aircrafts, trains and longhaul trucks are also said to be doing the same on land.

Namibia apparently has a unique attraction to these monsters because of its vastness, ancient rock-formations, strategic location and modern harbours, airports and tourism networks, near the desert, sandunes and a long coastline.

I don’t believe I am alone in hearing unceasing stories and rumours at the coast about suspicious people and their activities day and night, for the most part pretending to be tourists, research fieldworkers or prospecting agents of potential investors in this huge area. God-given gifts have made Namibia vulnerable to toxic waste dumping and other sinister activities.

This makes our country susceptible to infiltration by fly-by-night businesspersons and scoundrels. Saving lives of our people and protecting the environment have become matters of extreme challenge for all of us as citizens.

I must add to all that a dimension of Hollywood’s increasing film-making in Namibia. Film-making includes bringing into the country gigantic and sealed containers. We cannot shut the door and chuck them out at this stage. That’s not the point.

Namibians must, nonetheless, not loose their sanity and judgment to the glittery and moneymaking and forgetting in the process potential disasters.

We cannot afford and we will be guilty of becoming accomplishes in putting the lives of our people at risk and contributing to the degradation of the environment. Film-making involves massive demolitions, excavations, mammoth scaffolds, mixing of hazardous chemical and industrial materials.

At the end, dumping of contaminated waste and scraps are swept under the carpet. I understand, Namibians have been told and accepted to stay out of the way of no-go-areas where shooting of movies take place. So, we don’t know what is going on, do we really? Protecting the rights of Namibian workers attached to foreign film-making is crucial, but that’s not all.

What is equally crucial and more lasting in terms of devastation is laying to waste the ecosystems and biodiversity in the affected landscape of our beautiful Namibia. The responsible Government and other key authorities must be aware of the cost in human life and the environment.

All the aforementioned things are major concerns and they must be debated in various public fora. What I have stated are my own thoughts and I am ready to debate their implications. Recently, I had a lively encounter with my usually discerning eggheads who predictably came up with “yes, but than again” pontification of one or the other kind.

My mind was focused more on the good, the bad and the ugly concerning environment, development, technology, Hollywood and on issues of nuclear energy for peaceful and developmental purposes. My group zeroed in on the nuclear energy issue.

Their thinking and concerns reminded me of the past horrors: one a dramatic nuclear nightmare in the USA in 1979 and the other a worst nuclear disaster in the USSR in 1986. The Three-Mile Island threat, in Pennsylvania, USA in 1979, came very close to a massive explosion of a nuclear reactor with unimaginable consequences of radiation far and wide.

In 1986, the world witnessed, at Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR, the worst nuclear meltdown since 1945 in Japan. Chernobyl has now become a tragic point of reference about potential mishaps of nuclear reactors.

We did a lot of thinking and upon deep reflection we concluded that Namibia should with confidence and foresight go ahead to establishing a nuclear reactor supplied with our own uranium for peaceful uses of energy in the interest of our country, Africa and the world.

Our conviction to defend this position has been reinforced by the long established and readily veritable fact that R’ssing uranium mine’s performance in all respects has been lauded for its consistent compliance with IAEA requirements.

That’s a remarkable track record which puts Namibia in good stead to further plan for the future. Planning and projection for actual establishment of a nuclear reactor will take a considerable time, but the principle to go forward is sound and justifiable.

Nobody will treat lightly the dreadful happenings of Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl. Nearby in our region, Namibia should with a keen interest pay attention to Koeberg story and clarifications.

My aforegoing tour de force, so to speak, on safety and protection has sought to underline preference for survival, productivity and inheritance that are core virtues of human existence, eternal vigilance and self-preservation.

I have drawn from lessons learnt at 1992 RiO Earth Summit. I listed case studies of nuclear tragedies and warned against the ever present threats, due to machinations of sinister human beings, against life and environment and stated our Government’s duty to prevent any form of industrial genocide in Namibia.

I concluded with endorsement of Namibia’s intention to construct a nuclear reactor to sustain life, develop the economy and put an end to poverty. This would have nothing to do with geopolitics, nuclear proliferation or arms race.

I have entertained no idea about the last chapter and verse in expressing my convictions. Lastly, frequent appearance in our daily talk or in public mind of words such as “washing dirty money”, “illegal money transfers”, “kickbacks”, “shady tender deals, “over charging of customers” and “partnerships with crooks on the run” may strongly suggest endemic corruption in the country. We must beware of this because we are being watched. We must dare to become winners.

Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, MP

Speaker, National Assembly of Namibia

October 2006
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