The Namibian turned 26 yesterday.
Announcing the decision in a media statement, the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Joel Kaapanda, also confirmed an earlier report in this newspaper that the Cabinet had overturned former President Sam Nujoma’s order that no Government department should buy copies of The Namibian.
“Cabinet further directs offices, ministries and agencies to source all local newspapers for political office bearers and senior Government officials in accordance with their sectoral requirements and interests,” the statement said, without naming The Namibian.
The Namibian is the only news medium that the Swapo government has officially boycotted through a Cabinet order and a Presidential decree.
Documents obtained through Government sources in 2000 and 2001 indicated that the Cabinet imposed the sanctions “because of its [The Namibian’s] anti-government stance and unwarranted criticism of Government policies”.
Interestingly, the ban was decided on the birthday of The Namibian’s founding editor, Gwen Lister, on December 5 2000 and yesterday’s announcement marks the reversal on the historic first edition of the activists-driven newspaper 26 years ago.
Even without mentioning The Namibian, the announcement is unambiguous that the Cabinet is moving away from a decision which disregarded the popularity of a media outlet and the use of taxpayer funds to punish a critic, real or perceived.
“That Cabinet directs offices, ministries and agencies to place Government notices, announcements and advertisements on a competitive basis in all local newspapers and publications, as well as electronic media, taking into account procurement requirements in terms of the Tender Board Act,” reads the two-paragraph statement on the letterhead of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
The letter, signed by Kaapanda, was faxed yesterday afternoon. Kaapanda could not be reached for comment and the Permanent Secretary Mbeuta ua-Ndjarakana did not respond to a message left at his office.
The paper’s editor, Lister, had long argued that while the sanctions did not cripple the paper as the Cabinet seemingly had hoped, it nevertheless denied many readers instant access to vital information such as publicity campaigns on census and voter education.
The Namibian has no peer in popularity, just as it was unparalleled among newspapers in its anti-apartheid stance. It is the country’s largest newspaper in circulation and readership, printing between 32 500 and 46 500 copies a day and selling more than double the number of its second-biggest competitor. It has a readership of about 200 000 a day and one copy is read by up to eight people, according to some research organisations.
Hardly a single Cabinet member is said to have argued for the ban to remain in place, although it stood more than 10 years mainly out of ministers’ deference to Nujoma.
People in the know say President Hifikepunye Pohamba personally led the move to lifting the sanctions. People familiar with Cabinet discussions say some of the ministers juxtaposed The Namibian’s reporting with that of the Swapo mouthpiece Namibia Today, which they said was divisive “because it supports some factions against others within the ruling party”.
Some Cabinet members referred to the government-owned and perennially taxpayer-subsidised New Era as at times more critical than The Namibian and thus making the ban ‘mind-boggling’.
The 2000 boycott of all advertising has regularly been condemned as an imprudent use of government funds merely aimed at muzzling freedom of expression.
The Namibian turned 26 yesterday.