A good sport

From student agitator to senior civil servant, farmer, prospective race-horse breeder and High Commissioner – the life of Steve Katjiuanjo has been one of contrasts, much like the country he represents, Namibia.

Growing up under apartheid in South-Africa controlled Namibia (then called South West Africa), the High Commissioner was drawn to politics from a young age. In the 1980s he became a youth leader and founder of NANSO (Namibian National Students Organisation). He organised protests resisting Bantu education and campaigning against the South African Defence Force setting up their bases near schools.

His activism drew unwelcome interest from the security services, recalls the High Commissioner. “The pressure was always there; our activities were disrupted, we faced intimidation, arbitrary arrests…”

From activist to top civil servant
But the apartheid regime eventually yielded to the pressure and agreed to Namibia’s independence. Returning home after his studies, Katjiuanjo was keen to contribute to the country he had campaigned for so long to liberate. His track record as a youth leader and his work on a Commission of Inquiry into the plight of domestic and farm workers caught the attention of Prime Minister Hage Geingob (now widely tipped to become the next President of Namibia).

Appointed Deputy Cabinet Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office in 1997, rising to Permanent Secretary in 2005, Katjiuanjo goal was creating “a modernised, efficient and effective public service,” he says.

In 2007, Katjiuanjo was appointed Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice where a key objective was to improve access to justice, he says. “Namibia is a vast country with magistrate’s courts in remote areas so it was quite a challenge to ensure they were well resourced and disciplined.”

Coming full circle, Katjiuanjo was appointed Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Youth, National Services, Sport and Culture in 2012. “I thought it would be familiar terrain but I soon realised the priorities of Namibia’s young population had changed. They wanted to access skills and employment opportunities.”

One of the initiatives was setting up a fund with the help of the Commonwealth Secretariat, for young people to start their own businesses. A National Youth Council was also created to encourage youth leadership.

Namibians love their sport (Olympic sprinter Frankie Fredericks is a national hero and Namibia ranks in the top 20 worldwide for disability sports). As Permanent Secretary, he put in place programmes that he hopes will show dividends at the upcoming Commonwealth Games. “Four top athletes are training at the University of Technology in Jamaica which produced stars like Bolt and Blake. So we are looking forward to results….” he smiles.

Namibia is not short on cultural resources, he adds. The rock paintings at Twyfelfontein are a renowned World Heritage Site and as head of Namibia’s delegation to the World Heritage Committee meetings, he campaigned hard for the Namib Sand Sea to achieve World Heritage status.

The iconic red sands and wildlife of Sossusvlei is a showcase for Namibia’s conservation projects and he hopes to use these to attract more British visitors to Namibia.

This is just one of the goals he has set himself as High Commissioner. He takes up his post in London as Namibia prepares for elections and its Silver Jubilee celebration in 2015, both opportunities for Namibians to reflect on what has been achieved, and what is yet to be done.

“Inequality is still the unfinished business from the colonial era,” says Katjiuanjo, adding that Namibia still ranks as one of the most unequal societies in the world. “Better access to education, skills, housing, healthcare and land could prove to be a way out, but it won’t happen overnight.”

Land reform, in particular, is a slow process and costs money. Over the past decade the government set aside N$100 million annually to facilitate the access to land and N$45 billion has been allocated to provide 185,000 houses over the next 16 years.

Investment opportunities
Fortunately Namibia is blessed with mineral resources and good prospects for the discovery of offshore oil and gas deposits look positive. The High Commissioner will be encouraging more British investment in mining, oil and gas and infrastructure projects.

The country has ambitions for its port city, Walvis Bay, to become a shipping hub. “We also want to seriously get into the energy generation industry,” he adds.

Feasibility studies have been done to build a hydro-power project on the Kunene river on the border of Angola which will enable Namibia to meet its energy needs and export to neighbouring countries.

An enthusiastic farmer, the High Commissioner wants to see more of Namibia’s agricultural produce on UK shelves. Namibian fisheries, once depleted, are now thriving thanks to on-going conservation efforts.

But patrolling Namibia’s coastline and managing a shipping hub will be a challenge. So Katjiuanjo will be working closely with the IMO. He also plans to use the Commonwealth to raise issues on a global level, particularly on climate change, which affects many Namibian farmers.

It’s packed agenda but the High Commissioner hopes to make time for a passion he shares with the Queen: breeding race horses. Although his horses are still young and inexperienced, he hopes one day to see them competing with the best in the world – a bit like his country.

Elizabeth Stewart, the editor of Embassy Magazine interviewed the Ambassador of Namibia on 17 February