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State Building. Lessons from afar


It was probably early 1993 when I walked into the Office of the Prime Minister in Windhoek, Namibia, to meet for the first time one of the PM’s senior officials, Lohmeier Angula. I had been called to a meeting to brief him on some work I had been doing for the Ministry of Fisheries.

He greeted me with the surprising words “So Mr Mullin, the Rangers are doing well…..” .

Prior to Namibian independence in 1990, Lohmeier had spent a number of years studying in Glasgow , if I recall correctly at Strathclyde University. He became a Rangers fan (they used to win trophies back then).

We talked that day as much about his background and time in Scotland as we did about my work. He had taken a postgraduate degree while in Glasgow in the field of human resource management. He had done so because even before independence, and in the midst of the Namibian war of independence, he had been earmarked by SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) for a role in government once independence was won and his was to be a role dealing with human resources.

I had previously met another young man, Samuel /Goagoseb who was back then the personal assistant to the Minister of Fisheries. He had been head of Namibian students in Cuba, and been earmarked for a role just like Lohmeier.

(Samuel and I were to become such good friends he was married in Scotland to Esther the head of national museums of Namibia, and I was best man. Samuel is now Ambassador for Namibia to Cuba and was previously Permanent Secretary to the President.)

Why do I relate this tale? Because of the preparations that were being made for Namibian independence well before 1990. These preparations were being made too at a time of great conflict as SWAPO fought its campaign against the rule of Apartheid South Africa: Immeasurably more difficult circumstances than Scotland faces.

There were many lessons I learned over the years (I had a variety of assignments in Namibia over the course of 20 years). Let me relate just a few more.

At one point in the 1990s, Samuel made arrangements for me to interview President Sam Nujoma . You need to understand a little of his background to appreciate what I am about to tell you.

Sam Nujoma was leader of the national liberation movement in campaigning for Namibia's political independence from South African rule. He established the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) in 1962. Following the United Nations  withdrawal of the mandate for South Africa to govern Namibia, he launched a guerrilla war against the apartheid government of South Africa in August 1966 at Omungulugwombashe. He was then to lead SWAPO during the lengthy Namibian War of Independence, which lasted from 1966 to 1989.

Given his experience of apartheid, of a bloody long conflict, it might have been expected that this would have dominated his future political plans. I found no sense of that. In our interview (part of which was published in the SNP’s SNAPSHOT magazine) he explained to me the need to be driven by the future, not the recriminations of the past. There was to be no attacks on the culture and heritage of those, predominantly white, Namibians who had resisted Namibia’s independence.

If I take another example, when along with my friend and colleague David Thomson we met Helmut Angula the Minister of Fisheries, he had a very clear idea of what he wanted us to do. We were (alongside many others of course) to prepare plans for the “namibianisation” of the fisheries sector at the same time as not compromising, indeed enhancing, its efficiency and effectiveness.

The wealthy fisheries sector in Namibia had been owned and controlled by South Africa. Very few Namibians were employed in the sector, let alone were owners or managers of businesses. The fisheries sector was centred around the major port of Walvis Bay. The Walvis Bay area had been made an enclave of South Africa and it was to be 1 March 1994 before Walvis bay transferred to Namibia thus completing Namibian independence.

But even when Walvis Bay was an enclave of South Africa, our plans were afoot. At one stage, both David and myself addressed business meetings in the Walvis Bay enclave, discussing what we were working on and what they could expect once the area became part of Namibia. Very interesting meetings they were too.

Here was a country coming out of a civil war and apartheid era working purposefully as it transitioned to independence and began building for the future.

Thinking of Scotland today, we need to have a very clear vision of the future, of what we are trying to create and how we are going to get there. Like Sam Nujoma, we should not allow our hopes for the future to be driven by experiences of the past. Like Helmut Angula, we should be undertaking detailed preparations, and driving forward with a clear strategy.

Too often I fear the SNP and Scottish Government are ignoring the need to prepare for transitioning to independence and using the early days of independence to build for the future. Too often, in my not very humble opinion, we are allowing ourselves to be distracted by unnecessary in-fighting over issues of little significance to the major task of transitioning to independence. It’s perhaps time to refocus on what should be our priority of independence, and ensure we mobilise all our talents in planning and preparing for the future.

Postscript. Sadly, Lohmeier Angula was to die at an all too young age in 2003. My thoughts remain with him.

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