Welcome to Windhoek
It’s been an unlikely evening. I’ve seen oryx and giraffe and baboons from the back of an old South African military vehicle, I’ve seen the sights the sun set on, and I’ve eaten more meat than even the most fervent follower of the Atkins diet could justify. But possibly even better still, I’ve sat and had a beer with Ed Moses and he’s agreed to help host the show on Friday.
(If you’re under 25 you may need to remind yourself of how serious an athlete he was - nine years, nine months and nine days was how long he went unbeaten over the 400m hurdles.)
As usual on an arrival somewhere new, I was pressed to the window taking in everything, and the road signs from the airport provided a surprise crash course in the history of Namibia. For at least thirty minutes you drive through undulating and barren hills sprinkled with low-slung prickly bushes, dry rocks and dust and the occasional tree flowering in the African spring. Bar a sign for ‘taxidermy souvenirs’, there was very little sign of life (and clearly the items on sale there have seen better days).
The road is named after Sam Nujoma, and that’s the first name you need to know in Namibia. He fought the South Africans for years for independence, and when he got it, he served three terms as president up until the elections of 2005. No Namibian comes close in terms of prestige, affection or respect.
(There’s a great story about the current President Hifikepunye Phamba’s having his
motorcade puling to one side to allow Mr. Nujoma’s motocade to pass. The Presidential power may have been passed on, but the deference remains.)
Off Sam Nujoma Road you turn onto Robert Mugabe Avenue. Mr. Nujoma may have cooled his open enthusiasm for the Zimbabwean President but their freedom fighting ties reach along way back. Driving along the Avenue, numerous adverts painted on walls and pasted on billboards use Afrikaans and German words. This was a country the British handed to the Germans, who lost it to the South Africans who resolutely resisted UN pressure for many years until 1990.
A couple of quick turns more and we were on Lauren Kabila Drive, a reference to the support that Namibia gave the Congolese leader during the war in DRC.
Windhoek is a small capital by the standards of WHYS’ recent trip to Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana and Kenya. The building are lose-rise and the traffic is light. The sparseness of the landscape on the road in is broken up in the suburbs by these fantastic palm trees (I’m searching for the name but haven’t found it) that stand about 10 metres tall and whose trunks are laden with bright yellow flowers.
The townhouses set on the hills in the suburbs are strictly in the ‘only right-angles and pastel colours’ school of architecture that seems so popular in hot dusty parts of the world, while further into town the corrugated iron roofs, steel windows and steps up to the front veranda reminded me of my old house in Johannesburg and Issa’s in Kampala where we broadcast in May.
WHY ARE WE HERE? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO TALK ABOUT?
We’re staying at the Safari Court Hotel and we’re here to attend the Next Step conference. Its goal is to establish ways of using sport to inspire people to lead their communities and societies in ways that benefit us all. Our goal is to test just how sport can do that, and whether money invested in sport is the best way of achieving those goals. But that’s not it… I’m curious to explore what it is that can empower people to work harder, or more creatively, and to bring new and rewarding ideas and practices to their country.
BLACK ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
The reason I’m curious about that is all the talk of Black Economic Empowerment. Zimbabwe may have made all the headlines with its approach to land reform and wealth redistribution, but Namibia is grappling with all the same issues (and the President is the former Land Minister so he's in the thick of this). One article in The Namibian newspaper on Wednesday rages against the continued injustice it sees here.
I mentioned all this to the taxi driver who was dropping me to the hotel. ‘Hold on,’ he said,’ ‘if you give us land, we have no money or expertise to use that land. Our parents are dead, the parents of the whites are dead. The past does not matter, we need them to train us and then we will be empowered’.
Many companies here are searching for a way to make BEE work for their business and their country (or at least that’s their official line). Presumably though the taxi driver is right – you need people who are up to it else the idea is lost.
Which all leads us back to one to of the recurring themes of our trip to East and West Africa. Time after time you told us that there wasn’t the quality of leader to guide black Africans away from their problems – whether they be economic, social or political.
There are plenty of people at this conference who think that sport can help provide that leadership. Are you convinced the business leaders, politicians, judges and moral guides that Africans say they need can be, in part, provided by sport?
Ed Moses and a woman called Caroline who’s a trainee-teacher from Zimbabwe are going to be my co-hosts on Friday as a range of people from the conference share their experiences and beliefs. Needless to say we’d like you join us. It's all very well saying sport works, but is the money best spent on sporting achievement and involvement or on new schools and new hospitals?
I’ll email you all tomorrow once our agenda is set. Speak to you then.