INTERVIEW: 'Egypt played a pivotal role in Namibia’s struggle for independence,' former president Nujoma says

Mervat Diab, Thursday 19 Nov 2020

The icon of Namibia and its founding father was in Cairo on a short trip this week to be honoured by the Kemet Boutros Ghali Foundation

Sam Nujoma
The icon of Namibia and its founding father honoured by the Kemet Boutros Ghali Foundation, where he was awarded a medal for his efforts in the field of diplomacy and conflict resolution

Namibia, a once German colony at the turn of the 20th century, is a young country, which won its independence in 1990 after a long struggle against colonialism and the apartheid regime of South Africa.

With a population of 2.5 million, Namibia is a mineral-rich country that is bigger in size than France and Britain combined as it t sits where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Kalahari Desert at the south-western part of Africa.

Namibia is also rich in its history of struggle.

During the country's struggle for liberation, Sam Nujoma went into exile for thirty years where he organized the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), a guerilla warfare group that fought against the apartheid regime.

The icon of Namibia and its founding father, now 91, was on a short trip to Cairo this week to be honoured by the Kemet Boutros Ghali Foundation, where he was awarded a medal for his efforts in the field of diplomacy and conflict resolution.

The one-time leading Namibian freedom fighter turned president of the country after its independence and served two terms (1990-2005).

He also lobbied for his country’s independence and pleaded in the United Nations (UN) to end apartheid rule.

Nujoma managed in 1990 to finally win the international support that forced the UN to issue a decree mandating the pull out of the South African forces from Namibia.

During his visit to Cairo, President Nujoma was received by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, where the two leaders discussed several issues concerning the continent.

“As you may recall, the friendship and strong bonds of solidarity between the Republic of Namibia and Egypt are historical and date back to the years of our protracted armed liberation struggle. It was during those testing times of our liberation struggle that SWAPO joined hands with other progressive forces at multilateral fora such as the Non-Aligned Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, as well as the UN through the United Nations Council for Namibia, who supported the noble cause of the struggle for the liberation of Namibia,” he said.

Nujoma is not only the founding father of Namibia, but the very close comrade of other African independence leaders like Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's Patrice Lumumbah, and Egypt's Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

“North African leaders like Nasser politically inspired those of us in the colonised and occupied parts of Africa,” he said.

The road to liberation of Namibia was a very long one.

Nujoma recalls attending the third ‘All-African People’s Conference’ that took place in March 1961 in Cairo where he met many other Pan-Africanists, including the late President Nasser, who was a dedicated supporter of African liberation movements.

“[Nasser] assured us of his support to SWAPO and sent us plane tickets to travel to Egypt in order to receive military training. As a result, in July 1962, SWAPO sent seven men to Egypt for military training in guerrilla warfare tactics, including parachuting and marine training.”

“Those were among the first combatants of SWAPO’s military wing, and some of them were even the leaders who lit the road to Namibia’s armed liberation struggle on 26 August 1966 at Omugulugwombashe in Northern Namibia,” Nujoma explained.

The former Namibian president still remembers in minute details how Egypt played a pivotal role in supporting the Namibian struggle.

“This country hosted the first SWAPO Office in Ahmed Hishmat St, Zamalek, Cairo, which was the home of Africa’s liberation movements; hosting and training African freedom fighters and supplying us with arms and ammunition.”

In 1964, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU), set up the African Liberation Committee, later renamed as the Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa, with headquarters in Dar Al-Salaam, Tanzania.

Among the nine OAU member states who formed the Liberation Committee, was Egypt.

This Committee, as Nujoma recalls, was under the chairmanship of Egypt. The committee recognized SWAPO as the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people, which was also endorsed by the UN General Assembly.

The former president of Namibia said that given all that has happened, “I would be failing in my duty if I did not thank the gallant people of Egypt for the unflinching political, material, diplomatic, and moral support they gave to our liberation movement, SWAPO, until the attainment of our freedom and genuine independence on 21 March 1990.”

“After independence, we introduced a policy of national reconciliation, which brought former enemies together under one umbrella. We did this because we were aware of the fact that only peace could assure sustainable development and nation-building for our country.”

Nujoma, who was elected twice as president, stepped down from the presidency and decided to launch a new war; this time against the abuse of human rights. He is now the Director of the National Society for Human Rights.

According to him, the award he received in Egypt is a dedication to the Namibian people.

"I was honored to be part of their leadership during the bitter and protracted liberation struggle against the foreign rule of our country, and for whom we laid a foundation to share the future destiny of a free and independent Namibia.”

Nujoma feels proud to be associated with the name of Boutros Boutros Ghali, who was “The first African to serve as UN Secretary-General in 1992; a period of great global challenges that faced the United Nations.”

He recalls the significant achievement of Ghali later as UN Secretary-General (1992-1996) and his “Agenda for Peace,” which initiated a plan for the UN to start examining the socio-economic dimensions of development in a more integrated way, especially in the aftermath of conflicts.

The theme of the Kemet award, as Nujoma explained, namely the “Outstanding Achievements” in the field of Diplomacy for Peaceful Conflict Resolutions and Strengthening of Cooperation, “is very important, especially for us in Africa. It resonates the will of the African Union to silence guns in the African continent, as perceived in Agenda 2063. It is also in conformity with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as contained in Agenda 2030.”

With regard to finding peaceful solutions to various situations in Africa, Nujoma expressed his appreciation for the positive and constructive approach displayed by Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia in finding a peaceful, negotiated settlement for the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

He said he believes that those involved in this issue should emphasise the importance of a win-win situation. “We should emphasise the spirit of solidarity and cooperation and express our confidence in the process led by the African Union and strongly support the mediation.”

Nujoma has thus urged all member states of the AU to work towards finding African solutions for African problems.

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