The Chinese Are Here

What have the Omusati Regional Council, the Crafts Centre being build, the recently opened 100km tar road C41 between Okahao/Tsandi and the Opuwo/Ruacana junction, the ‘Outapi Times Square – Outapi’s newest and biggest shopping complex – and our region’s showcase school Onawa near Annamulenge in common? They are build and sometimes also financed or donated by the Chinese.

I’ve read a lot about the People’s Republic of China and their increasing presence and interests on the African continent during the last years. Recently I also watched the rather humorous BBC documentary ‘The Chinese Are Coming’. You easily could shoot another episode in Namibia.

Except when supervising their ‘China’ shops in Northern Namibia, where clothings, electronics and miscellaneous stuff of poor quality, are sold you barely see them in public life here. That they are numerous also in Namibia I had to hear the first time when I was listening to someone working at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry at a cozy dinner in Windhoek. In construction business they are simply everywhere here in the North. At Onawa, our newest school, roughly 40 Chinese workers, a few local labor, and even fewer ‘boers’ working there seven days a week – the Chinese are even not resting on public holidays. A tour on the construction site is a tour into a different world: earth moving vehicles, most building materials, engineering drawings, staff quarter kitchen (they do make delicious steam bread) and the toilet paper. It all comes from China. At the Omusati Regional Council things went into absurdity: even the emergency stickers on the water hose boxes are imported and have exotic phone numbers on it. Luckily they have their own fire truck.

There are many good articles on websites of relevant economical magazines trying to get to the bottom of PRC’s involvement on the African continent: explaining why comparatively simple work is done by ‘imported’ Chinese labor in African countries with high unemployment rates. So no need to philosophise about that. My only observation is that they work at a breathtaking pace. But the constructions have low quality standards and will not last long it seems to me.

Much more interesting is what locals up here think about their new neighbors. Whenever I had a good chance I’ve tried to bring up the topic or was watching, for example when waiting at the car wash or gas station and I Chinese store owner drove up. More black than white. Not surprisingly many locals are critical, sometimes even adversarial and express it verbally, when it comes to it. In the Omusati Region we have an unemployment rate of ~75%. Most people work for the government. Private business comes down to small shops, bars (shebeens – go on a building picture tour here), taxis or the car wash. The Chinese are competing exactly in that very first category with their shops which are flourishing. So they are, and are seen, as competitors and the same goes for the construction business. Some of my colleagues are on the other hand in favor of the Chinese and say they are doing good for the country. It is hard to say what their opinion is based on.

The Chinese itself don’t have it easy on the African continent. When staying at a friend’s place in Oshakati in the evening I often end up outside the apartment of Mr. H with a bunch of his friends eating and talking (as far as the language barrier allows it). H and his lovely wife and daughter own well running stores in town. He is in his mid-thirties. If you meet him the first time you would not think that. He had been in two African countries before. Several times robbed at gunpoint and injured with a knife. It is not a secret that Chinese store owner make a lot of money in cash. Crime has drastically increased in overcrowded areas around Oshakati since I came in 2010. Staying in Ongwediva (when Oshakati is L.A. – the adjoining Ongwediva is Beverly Hills) I heard several times shots fired at night – close to the police station. Due to that H. and most of his friends legally carry a gun with them all the time.

Construction workers at remote sites in the bush, for example at our Onawa school, are contrary to shop owners not exposed to the public at all and usually cannot speak a word English. They virtually never leave their barracks at the construction sites, where traditional food and phone calls via Internet help against home sickness. During my inspections at Onawa I also always felt welcomed and experienced a great deal of hospitality.

Namibia here I am: T plus 3 years

Before coming to Namibia at the beginning of 2010 I had a preparation course back in Switzerland. One of the things we had been warned of is that at some point during the assignment one would experience different cycles during the three years. Closer to the end time would run fast. But you would most likely also experience stretches where things would be quite sticky and days only pass by in slow motion.

Looking back I realize that I luckily never had those days. The three years had been flying by at the speed of light. However this is not the reason that my last blog post was published half a year ago. This is because the things you do at work and in your free time become normality after a while. Regardless where you are – routine takes over. So you start to think that they are not worth to be mentioned on any blog. Another reason will be explained in a following post on the tightrope walk of a development worker embedded within a large government institution.

So how does it feel to leave in a few weeks? To be honest this is not easy to answer. At work I had a smooth start from the first day. On the other hand the time off had been rough at the beginning. Compared to other parts of Namibia the 4-O-Region makes it tough in many regards (lack of cultural & culinary choice, dead nature, limited shopping facilities – to name a few). I always referred Outapi as the place to work – not the place to be. Although still going to Oshakati, which is 100km away, almost every weekend I refer Outapi as home by now. The reason for that is NOT that the town and Omusati has become more attractive in any of the above mentioned departments (to be honest shopping has improved also here). It is the amount of people you know after a while and friends you have up here. Your network. For work this is crucial to get things done. For your free time and emergencies like having your head stitched at midnight it is everything. And it is everything but easy to leave all those people back after three years. Happy new year!

What applies to blog posts also applies to taking pictures. At some point you stop doing it. Nonetheless a random selection of pictures taken in 2012.

Hilux 2.4 for sale

Toyota Hilux 2.4 double cab (long wide body) 4×4
Build: 1997
Engine: 22R
KM: 281’000 (24/12/2012)

price: TBD
handover of car in serviced condition in Windhoek after full payment. Payment into Bank Windhoek or German/Swiss account (IBAN can be provided). NO instalment sale. Vehicle available first/second week of February.

description

  • vehicle in pristine condition all components (engine, drive train, 4×4, air-con etc. are working 100%)
  • serviced every ~5000km (or less in rainy season and after extensive off road driving)
  • only qualified service provider: BZ Auto Electric (Windhoek), Ozzy’s Auto repair (Oshakati), Toyota Pukepwitz (Oshakati)
  • major engine overhaul at Pupkewitz Toyota (KM: 272’000): new timing chain, oil pump, gasket kit, divers internal parts
  • prop shafts overhauled (01/2012)
  • diff, gear- and transmission box oils replaced (12/2012)
  • starter and battery replaced (04/2012)
  • windscreen replaced (PGGlass, orig. Toyota, 12/2012)
  • 6x BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A KO Tires in excellent condition (4x original Toyota rims, 2x new standard rims (unused)
  • ARB Emu Dakar Leaf Springs (added: 01/2011, KM: 248’000)
  • ARB Nitrocharger Shock Absorbers (added: 01/2011, KM: 248’000)

recovery equipment

divers accessories installed

accessories inclued

lunch break stories: sometimes even the stamp does not help

'kill bump' Oshikuku, Omusati RegionIt is not a secret that traveling on African roads is more dangerous than in the Western world. Tough very well developed Namibia does not make an exception when it comes to this. And sometimes you see something dreadful coming, try to do something about it – and fail.
When coming back from a meeting in Windhoek Friday night, 20th April, we were passing Oshikuku: in a slight turn, at dark – and only a tiny sign next to it – we saw the newly installed two speed bumps a second before I hit it with more than the allowed 60km/h. Luckily we were driving our rugged Nissan GRN buggy and not one of our fragile Renault sedans. It was everything but enjoyable. The following Monday morning (23th April) I sent an official letter of complain to the Oshikuku Town Council about how grossly negligent the missing signalization is. On top of it I gave a copy of the letter to traffic control officers at our police station. Even some of their officers drove over the speed bump and complaint by that time.
The following Friday evening (27th April) a family drove over the speed bump. Their vehicle lost control, turned over and an eleven year old girl was thrown out of it and died at the scene. Helplessness. I would be surprised if anything has changed when I am heading back to the North tomorrow.

The Namibian: Speed-humps at Oshikuku a danger to motorists

alternative tourism in the North – part II

I probably drove the road from Outapi to Ruacana hundred times, two dozen times the gravel branching off to Onesi so far and thought I knew the surrounding area pretty well. Not really. Otherwise I would have bought a kayak during my first week in the country: only half an hour North-West from Outapi is a lake with a length of almost 30km. First time I heard from it was when a Portuguese friend mentioned that his farm is situated up there. Thanks again to Patrick’s good relationship with Rural Water Supply we’ve been two times on the lake so far – and many more trips to come: as you have the lake virtually on your own it is the perfect place to watch birds undisturbed – and to relax.

Namibia, Land of the long Meetings

Annual planning meeting, David Sheema SS, OutapiWhat have economizing, management, PQA, price giving, RPIS and many other meetings or gatherings all in common? They usually take quite a while. In the western business world we are – of course not everywhere – used to quick and efficient meetings: in and out within an hour or so. As with many other things it is a bit different in the Namibian Government regardless if you are in the North or in Windhoek. You go in at 09:00 and you come out at 17:00. Sometimes without a single break except a walk to the toilet room. After two years I still have trouble to deal with it. Main causes for such ‘meeting marathons’ are the group and the agenda – both are usually way to big. Take 17 people, 23 new topics, another twenty resolutions to go through from the last meeting and you and your day is done. RPIS teacher conference, Regional Council, OutapiI admire some of my colleagues as they really stay focused at all times whilst I often space out after a couple of hours and a few ‘generic’ red-bulls. However recently some of them also criticized long meetings and the amount of them which keeps them away from their offices. Change takes time. Also in meeting culture. Until then unhealthy consumption of caffeine and lobbying it is: no matter how important your items are, if they are on the second half of the agenda you’re better off taking them of the list completely. People might not be as exhausted as you are. But at the end things always become rushed as everyone is keen for the knocking-off time.

lunch break stories: reminder that you’re in Southern Africa

Winning the battle, loosing the war?..., Anamulenge, OutapiAt cozy home in Anamulenge with (almost) all goodies (stove, fridge, AC, Internet) I sometimes miss the fact that the Omusati region is quite rural. Besides an army of ants doing regular night marches through the house (almost forgot the tough cockroaches at the old NHE place) I’ve been lucky so far. Three weeks ago I discovered a colony of termites behind the back of the kitchen cupboard – or what was left from it.

MCA deployment Omusati/Oshana region die Zweite…

The first two weeks of this month the two installations teams from the contractor given the tender by MCA, two technicians from the head office in Windhoek and I had been moving between the 13 school sites to do the installation and to start with the training. Weather God had been gracious: except for one site we were able to reach all locations within the planned schedule. However reaching some of the bush schools had been quite adventurous – once the water came up to the side window. Of course not everything during the deployment, let alone the situation now, is rosy in the garden. If this will be the case one day it is definitely time to go home for all foreign development/aid organizations.

MCA site inspections in Omusati and Oshana

Almost the whole of last week I had been out of the office doing site inspections at 13 schools in the Omusati and Oshana region which will receive new computer laboratories funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) soon. Two technicians from the head office, a technical administrator from the company who will supply the equipment and I had a look at the conditions at every school site which buildings had been recently constructed or renovated. Due to the high water level getting to the school sites had been everything but easy and a lot of bush driving was needed which took its price. The deployment of the equipment will start next month – if the water situation allows it.

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Calm before the storm?

Around 70 of our 284 schools are closed since last week due to the impact of the rain the Omusati Region (west of Ogongo) received so far. The main reason for the closing is not that the school premises are flooded. The problem is that the schools are hard to reach for the learners which often have to walk huge distances. The government is not concerned about wet shoes. Learners had been drowned on the way to the schools during previous floods.
For the last couple of days the weather has changed: non-stop sun shine and rising temperatures have brought down the water level noticeable. However rainy season is not yet over. Locals say it will most likely start fiercely to rain again next month. Even by this time the biggest threat for the North is still to come: the torrent of water coming from the Angolan rivers. Already now the basin at the Ruacana dam is filled quite well.