As Many Questions as Answers While Meeting the President of Namibia

The day was finally here for one of the headline events of our study tour — the opportunity to meet the President of Namibia, Hage Geingob. Dressed in business formal wear and having been sufficiently prepped on appropriate customs and ways to address him, we climbed out of our vans and into the impressive state house.

The group definitely felt apprehensive as we walked up the escalators into the forma conference room. Just the day before, we had driven around one of the poorest neighborhoods of Windhoek, Namibia, including seeing the houses where our drivers for the week lived. And now here we were, hopeful that we would get to ask some hard questions from a political leader while balancing our desire to be respectful and grateful for the opportunity.

His Excellency, as we referred to him throughout the meeting, was a consummate diplomat. Warm, soft-spoken, and an expert at diverting the questions we asked to the topics he wanted to cover, he also made us feel respected and gave us a sense of the strong team that he relies on.

I was excited to be able to ask a question that had just come to me that morning. Earlier in the day, we had a half-day conference with some industry and cultural leaders in Namibia, including the CEO of Pupkewitz, the largest company in Namibia. When I spoke with him, I learned that his company had surprisingly tense relations with the government despite their large employment base in the country. When I asked the President about this sort of bottom-up and top-down financial and employment inclusion, he gave an answer that surprised both me and the CEO (who joined us in the Presidential meeting). President Geingob indicated that he had recently changed certain investment policies and was increasingly open to internal investment over FDI (foreign direct investment).

The fact that this came as news to the CEO echoed many similar tensions we had seen throughout our journey so far. Indeed, just the day before I had heard about the long wait lists for government housing despite the availability of land. The state house itself was another reflection of these tensions — built by North Korea, its opulence and origin was striking for a country that only gained its independence in 1990 post-apartheid. And when our visit was posted on the President’s Twitter account, someone commented (and rightly so) that it was a shame he had never met with local Namibian students.

So, as was a theme throughout our time in Namibia, we left pondering the diverse opinions we had heard, but also grateful to have a deeper understanding of this country and its complexities in a way that can only be seen on the ground.

An official picture of our study tour group, President Geingob, and his wife Madame Geingos. The picture was posted to his Twitter account — he’s a very active president on social media!

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