The Nordic Africa Institute

Hifikepunye Pohamba

SWAPO—Chief Representative to Tanzania—Secretary of Finance and Administration / National Treasurer Minister of Home Affairs

The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Windhoek, 15 March 1995.

Tor Sellström: As SWAPO’s Treasurer, you worked closely for many years with the Nordic countries in several countries in Africa. Could you describe this relationship?

Hifikepunye Pohamba : I have been involved in the aid programmes extended to the people of Namibia, particularly in exile, by the Nordic countries and many other organizations and governments of the world. In the early 1970s I started to work with the representatives of SIDA in Dar es Salaam, where I was the SWAPO representative. At the same time, I was also dealing with FINNIDA and NORAD. On a very small scale, I should say. SWAPO then had its headquarters in Lusaka.

Let me first talk about SIDA. And when I talk about SIDA, I talk about the government and the people of Sweden. Through SIDA the people of Sweden have given an enormous financial, material and moral assistance. The people of Sweden and SIDA assisted us politically. At the UN, the representatives of Sweden and of all the countries in the Nordic world supported the liberation of Namibia and SWAPO, which was fighting to liberate this country. They opposed apartheid and imposed sanctions against the apartheid regime, both in South Africa and here. That expression of solidarity with the peoples of Namibia and South Africa was extended to humanitarian assistance to those who ran away from the oppression.

The refugees who left this country—particularly after the collapse of the Portuguese empire in Angola and Mozambique—faced a lot of problems when they came to Zambia. We had no means to give them assistance. Sweden was the first country to decide that the Namibian refugees must be assisted. They gave us money, with which we bought food for the refugees at the Old Farm in Zambia. The food and clothing—including clothing for the babies—was given to us by SIDA.

As time went on, the Swedish government made special budget allocations for the people of Namibia in exile. I do not recall exactly how much it was when it began, but it grew into millions of Swedish Kronor every year. It started with food and was then extended to vehicles. If the food was bought in Lusaka it had to be transported into the camps. We did not have any vehicles, so we said: ‘OK, here is the food, but we have no means to take it to the people.’ SIDA then made provision for vehicles. Not only that: shelter, schools and hospitals were provided. It even went to the building of garages for our vehicles, which eventually became many. Not only those contributed by SIDA, but also from FINNIDA, NORAD, DANIDA—through WUS Denmark—and from other countries, for example, the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. The assistance that we received was also extended to Namibia itself, through SWAPO.

SIDA’s financial contribution to the people of Namibia was divided between Angola, Zambia, Tanzania and Namibia. We had a lot of problems here. People were detained and the families had nowhere to get the means to live. SIDA’s assistance increased when the children boycotted the apartheid schools. Our people inside the country then decided to put up their own schools. Gibeon is one of them. The money was channelled into Namibia to assist them. Volunteers also came to our assistance. Some came as teachers and others as medical personnel or as workers. Being responsible for the aid programmes to SWAPO from various countries, I rated it. When I did that, the SIDA assistance was the largest.

We received similar assistance from WUS Denmark, DANIDA and NORAD. NORAD put up a school in Loudima (Congo) and provided the teachers and the funds. WUS Denmark—apart from food and clothing— assisted in putting up housing structures at Kwanza Sul (Angola), where most of the Namibian refugees were accommodated. Ships came from the Nordic countries to Luanda full of building materials with which we put up the houses in the settlements.

Each country contributed what they could. FINNIDA played a very important role. They provided, for example, materials and money, and many young Namibians went to study in Finland. Some have become ministers in independent Namibia. The first person we sent there was Nickey Iyambo, who is now the Minister of Health and Social Services. There are many others in the Namibian government who had their education in Finland. For example, my former Permanent Secretary, Dr. Freda Williams. Dr. Hangala and many others are graduates from Finland. We also had many people who studied in Sweden. I recall an institute in the north at Sandö. We sent people there, especially those who were working in my office, dealing with finance, book-keeping etc. There were also some people who were sent to one of the universities near Finland, Umeå I think. They were trained as teachers. When they had completed their studies they came to teach in the Namibian health centres in exile.

There were also private companies, although they were contracted and paid, but to us it was still assistance. Container Express, for example, put up building structures in our camps. We also had people from Denmark and Norway assisting us. In the Nordic countries you also had organizations such as church aid organizations. I discovered that they were given some kind of subsidies from SIDA and the other government agencies, like NORAD.

In other words, the assistance that we received from the Nordic countries was not only channelled through SIDA, NORAD, DANIDA or FINNIDA. We also received assistance from non-governmental organizations in these countries. When you put all the assistance together, you see that they were the largest donors of humanitarian assistance to the people of Namibia. Of course, they told us: ‘We are assisting you on a humanitarian basis and we do not want to give anything that could promote the military struggle’. They made it clear. However, when they gave us food, it went to the camps and the camps were also the reserves of the PLAN cadres. It would therefore not be wrong to say that the people of the Nordic world also assisted PLAN. But they never gave us guns. They fed our people, they educated our people, they clothed our people and they gave shelter to our people, but they never gave us guns.

Tor Sellström: Did the Nordic countries demand anything in return? Were there any conditions attached to their assistance?

There were no strings attached. There were some countries that assisted us in order to get our support—politically or diplomatically—but the assistance from the Nordic countries did not have any strings attached. It was free humanitarian assistance given to the people of Namibia.

Something that I particularly enjoyed with the people representing SIDA was the nonexistence of strict bureaucracy. One person who I worked with and really assisted me is Berit Rylander. That lady was attached to SIDA to work with us. I will not forget how she assisted us. She would come and tell you what you should do. She would go to the camps and assess the situation herself. Then she would come and say: ‘This is what you should do.’ Another lady who did a lot was the representative of WUS Denmark, Tove Dix. She made a fantastic contribution to me personally when it comes to the administration of the goods and money donated by different organizations. Like Berit, she would go to the camps and assess the situation.

You would perhaps think that the men did not do much. However, we had people like Roland Axelsson, who worked with us for a long time. I started with him in Dar es Salaam and we worked together right through, up until independence. We had individuals like Ola Jämtin and the one we used to call Ongwala. These people made enormous contributions. You would sit with them and they would tell you what to do. I owe them a lot.

Let me talk about the transport assistance. As time went by, we had a lot of vehicles bought with money not only from the Nordic countries, but also from other countries. The problem was that we needed garages where these vehicles could be served. SIDA then agreed to establish garages for us in Lusaka, Luanda and Kwanza Sul. So the fleet of vehicles was serviced by SWAPO with the assistance of SIDA experts. I was very happy to see the head of the garages, who was here recently. He came to visit us.

SIDA also put up bakeries. There was one in Lusaka and one in Nyango in western Zambia, where the Namibian refugees were. Others were put up in Luanda and in Kwanza Sul. These bakeries were of great help, particularly to the children. They could now get bread. Cakes were also made there. I recall Berit Rylander’s father, who is a baker himself. He came to Angola to assist us.

This was an enormous assistance, not only from the governments, but from the people of the Nordic countries. That assistance made us go forward. Other countries did assist too. The government of the Netherlands came to our aid. And, as time went by, more assistance came from other countries when they saw the light in the tunnel and that the situation was going to change. But when we talk about real friends, we talk about the people of the Nordic countries. They started to assist us when there was no light in the tunnel at all. There is a proverb in English which says: ‘Your friend in need, is your friend indeed’. They are the friends, indeed, of the people of Namibia. They started to assist when the South Africans were saying: ‘No independence in Namibia! No freedom in South Africa!’ We really have to thank them for what they have done.