Israelis are killing our comrades

but we can do business with them, says Governor Mutjavikua

Erongo Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua says in light of the current water shortages, Namibia may have to overlook the repressive policies of the Israeli government in order to access Israeli technology.

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Erongo Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua

Mutjavikua in his State of the Region address in May reported that the regional authorities were in discussion with as yet unnamed Israeli investors regarding a new desalination plant and a desert irrigation scheme.

He said a new firm, the Erongo Water Utility, would be set up to ensure availability and sustainable use of potable water in the region by establishing a new desalination plant for the region and beyond.

“We are engaging Israeli private partners in a 20-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BoT) agreement” to construct the desalination plant,” he said.

Namibia has, however, been highly critical of Israel’s discriminatory policies and violence towards the occupied Palestinians, and has been outspoken at the United Nations in defense of the rights of Palestinians, including the right to access safe drinking water.

In November 2015, President Hage Geingob told the UN General Assembly: “Namibia stands together with the international consensus that the Israeli occupation of Palestine must end. We reiterate that statehood and independence are the national, inalienable and legal rights of the Palestinian people.”

Geingob called on the international community to unite against ongoing military aggression by Israel, as well as the illegal embargo and siege of the Gaza Strip, which he said “resulted in the death and displacement of many Palestinians.”

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Palestinian protesters flee from incoming teargas canisters during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza City, May 4, 2018. Photo credit Mahmud Hams

‘We don’t agree with their policies’

Confidente asked Mutjavikua how far the negotiations with the Israeli investors had progressed, and whether the plan risked undermining Namibia’s foreign policy objectives, that clearly express support for the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and an end to the illegal occupation.

“The Israelis are killing our comrades in Palestine and we don’t agree with their repressive policies,” Mutjavikua said when asked for his view on the ongoing violence meted out to the Palestinians, but added that they were not dealing with the Israeli government as such, but with investors.

The governor said although he personally did not agree with “the repressive policies” of the Israeli government and was concerned about “the killing of our Palestinian comrades”, Namibia has not instituted sanctions that would prohibit local entities from dealing with Israeli firms.

“The Namibian government is not having sanctions against Israeli companies and technology. As government and Swapo Party functionaries we are mindful of the position that had been adopted in solidarity with the suffering Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government.”

Mutjavikua said he was, however, concerned that Erongo region faces “a serious situation” due to the recurring drought and lack of potable water in rural areas. He said 65 percent of the region’s water requirement was currently being met by Areva’s desalination plant at Wlotskabaken.

“We need an urgent intervention,” the governor added, pointing to places such as Uis and Omatjete that would soon run dry in the event of another drought this year. He said Israeli water desalination technology was in use across the Middle East and believes it would be a “good investment” to alleviate the chronic water shortages here. They were also looking at other investment options.

“Since the State of the Region Address, we had various interactions with various companies that specialise in desalination and desert irrigation. We broadened our search and included Chinese companies, Israeli companies and some companies from Egypt. We also had consultation with stakeholders in Namibia. All these consultations are work in progress.”

Water shortages loom large

On the proposed green scheme, he said: “The Coast to Omaruru Agriculture Development Corridor will be comprised of desalination plants to supply potable water and irrigation water. The potable water will be made available to the inhabitants at the central coastal area for industrial and consumption purposes, as well as for the entire region.”

Mutjavikua emphasised that the regional authorities want to avoid the rationing of water. “We don’t want to do that,” he stressed. “The aim is also to alleviate the rationing of water to the rural settlements of Uis, Omatjete and Okombahe, especially during drought.”

Asked how long such a project would take to get off the ground, he said it was tangled up in bureaucracy at present “and during this critical stage of negotiations it’s difficult to come with a specific time-frame. However, the desalination plant is envisaged to be operational in a period of two years.”

He was also not in a position to name the proposed Israeli investors and said: “At this stage I am unfortunately unable to provide the names,” as the parties were still in the process of putting the deal together, along with various role players and investors.

Asked whether Namibia would be making itself dependent on foreign technology through this deal, Mutjavikua said, “It is very important that we are also working on packaging a broad-based investment [plan] that is not only dependent on one country. Our own national investment will be employed also.”

* First published in The Confidente on 20 December 2018

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