By Asser Ntinda
As the National Council prepares to wrap up its final arguments on the merits and demerits of the
Namibia Communications Bill, concerted efforts are being mounted by some unscrupulous elements
and NGOs to stop the Bill from being passed into law.
These elements’ shared objective is one – to ensure that Namibia does not do legally what other countries
do legally, that is to use the world’s fastest developing information and communications technology
to detect and avert, among others, criminal activities on time and spare Namibians the pains of what
could easily be detected and averted on time.
The National Assembly, Namibia’s greatest debating chamber, passed the Bill a few months ago and
sent it to the National Council, the Second House of Review, as per procedures of Namibia’s Parliamentary
system. The National Council extensively discussed, scrutinized and debated the Bill. In its wisdom,
it chose to refer the Bill to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security, which, in the end, also
thought it wise to organize public hearings on the Bill.
Concerns raised in the National Council as read out by the Chairperson of the Standing Committee,
Councillor John Hakaye, were mainly technical, and were promptly answered by Information and
Communications Technology Minister, Cde Joel Kaapanda, and Board members of the Commission
who attended the hearings. The story simply needed to end there. It did not, unfortunately.
Arguably, the public hearings were also meant to give members of the public a chance to air their
views on the Bill – a commendable move indeed. But Namibians understand the importance of the Bill
and trust that their representatives in Parliament would not let them down. Thus, only a few individuals
attended the public hearings, leaving only an assortment of uppity whites and embedded leaders of some
nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, to make noise before the Committee.
The notable absence of many members of the public irked Gwen Lister, Editor of The Namibian, to
the bone. She was quick, as she always is anyway, to conclude that the “public hearings were not properly
advertised” to allow for more public participation. She missed the point completely. After more than 24
years of “Telling It Like It Is,” Gwen still dismally fails to understand the psychological behaviour of the
people of Namibia.
Members of the public, who have, more than anybody else, borne the blunt and ghastly consequences
of organized crimes, did not attend the public hearings because they understood and appreciated the
importance of the Bill, and certainly not because the “public hearings were not widely advertised in
order for more public participation to be possible.”
With members of the public absent from the public hearings, some media houses and NGOs took it
upon themselves to block the Bill from being passed, or to have Chapter Six removed. If Gwen thought
she would have a big following at the hearings, she must have been shocked to see the opposite. Chapter
Six deals with interceptions, Gwen’s only bone of contention as far as this Bill is concerned. Suddenly,
Gwen repackaged herself into a constitutional expert, “urging” the Parliamentary Committee on Defence
and Security not to pass the Bill at all. She argued that the Bill “contravenes” the Constitution,
particularly the Bill of Rights. Interestingly, more than 80 per cent of the current Members of the National
Assembly, which passed the Bill recently, were the ones who drafted and adopted Namibia’s Constitution.
To whip up emotions, Gwen handed to the committee a copy of an interception order issued by the
then Security Police against her mail, pointing out to the Committee “the perils of forgetting the past at
the expense of the future.” Just look at who is teaching us from the past! Gwen has always been quick to
point out our shortcomings and “lack of delivery on the promises” we have made to the people as a
government, but she has never appreciated us whenever we point out that we have done better here and
there than the former apartheid regime, always reminding us that we should not compare ourselves with
the former colonial regime because it “it was illegal, brutal and never cared about the people.”
A good point indeed! But, it now seems, it was only good when it suited her then. Gwen of that time no
longer lives. We now have a new Gwen who has found it opportunistic enough to use the past – the same
past which she has never wanted us use to benchmark our successes against what apartheid South Africa
had failed to do – to raise unnecessary alarms and incite fear because she is not comfortable with the Bill.
Gwen should not compare us with the former apartheid colonial regime because we are “responsible,
elected and do care about the people.”
If it is not good for us to benchmark our successes against what the former colonial regime had failed
to do, it should equally not be good for Gwen to come full circle and raise unnecessary alarms and fears
quoting the same past and using examples from the colonial apartheid regime to condemn us because it
was “illegal, brutal and uncaring.” To condemn us for doing so and exonerate herself for doing exactly
the same is double standard at best, and selective morality at worst.
If Gwen has skeletons in her cupboard, she has all the reasons to fear and worry about the Bill. But
that is her burden, not ours. For us, national security and national interest come first, Gwen’s fears and
alarms last. If it hurts, so be it. We are not reinventing the wheel here. The greatest democracies in the
world, which she is so fond of using as examples, have more sophisticated, highly wired and technologically
equipped interception centres.
In the first place, the Communications Commission Bill is not a spy Bill, as Gwen would want the
public to believe. The phrase “spy bill” was deliberately coined by Gwen and her newspaper to instil fear
and whip up emotions against the Bill. The Bill, in its current form and content, has greater national
value than her myopic and short-sighted views in the greater arrangement of national security and
As Gwen was putting together her spurious arguments before the Standing Committee, Britain was
sending three Al-Qaeda convicted terrorists to life imprisonment. They were convicted last week on
terrorist charges as they plotted to blow up, in midair, one by one, seven transcontinental airlines mainly
destined for the US. They were arrested with explosive liquids, disguised as soft-drinks, enough to make
20 powerful homemade bombs to carry out their mission. Part of the pieces of evidence that worked
heavily against them was intercepted e-mails through which they discussed and shared strategies on how
to carry out their plot. The ensuing disaster could have been catastrophic and ghastly. The entire airline
industry could have come to a standstill.
Yet, in the name of “privacy and civil liberties,” Gwen says Namibia should not intercept to detect
criminal activities. Forget about the noisy Media Institute of Southern Africa and the endless ranting of
National Society for Human Rights, NSHR’s Phil Ya Nangoloh during the public hearings which ended
last week Wednesday. We should remember that various entities have been hired and lobbied to sustain
a campaign and create a negative climate on, about and around the Bill and to put up a coordinated
stance against it at the expense of national security and national interest.
The arguments so far advanced against the Bill are essentially spurious. We must therefore have the
courage and moral conviction to demand an end to this insulting stereo-typed notion that we, as black
people governing ourselves, cannot responsibly be trusted with the responsibility of safeguarding and
sustaining our national security and national interest in the manner and ways we see fit.
The notion that the Bill is “open to abuse” and that we are prone to abuse, venality and mismanagement
must be trashed and shredded with the contempt it deserves. This is not a defensive overdrive, but
a well-thought out and rationale reaction to what obviously amounts to nothing more than a mere fishing
expedition whose aim is to find abuse and dishonesty Gwen wishes should have happened.
We have put in place checks and balances to ensure that there is no abuse. There will be no interception
without a warrant issued by a High Court judge. And those who will man interception centres will be
vetted by the Namibia Security Commission, whose members are men and women of integrity and
honesty. Namibians out there expect the Bill to pass through. At stake is our national security and national
interest. On those two key necessities, there can be no compromise. We owe it to those Namibians
who laid down their lives in the cause of Namibia’s independence struggle for Namibia to be free. We owe
it to succeeding generations to whom we should pass on a peaceful and stable Namibia.