A Textbook for Every Namibian Child

Posted by William J. Burns
April 28, 2010
Under Secretary Burns Participates in Book Ceremony in Namibia

About the Author: William J. Burns serves as Under Secretary of Political Affairs.

Namibia was the fifth stop on my seven-country tour of Africa last week. Everywhere I went, I saw great examples of how our partnership with African countries is paying dividends. As President Obama said in his address last year in Ghana and Secretary Clinton reiterated in her address to the AGOA Forum in Nairobi: we will be partners with the African people as they strive to build economic prosperity in their countries, but these must be partnerships built on shared responsibility.

An important feature of my stop in Namibia was the opportunity to participate in a ceremony marking a milestone in their MCC Compact: the handover of 695,164 textbooks for 951 schools in Namibia. Namibia's goal is a science, mathematics and English textbook for every child in grades 5 though 12. This is an important first step.

The event was held at NAMCOL, the Namibian College of Open Learning center in Katatura, one of the poorest sections of Windhoek. NAMCOL is a government distance learning and tutoring program that helps students who fail the exams that allow them to finish secondary school or apply for university to get back on track. They produce study materials so good that not only remedial students but standard classrooms use them, and they are one of the Namibian publishers who are contributing textbooks to the MCC program.

I sat with the Director General of Namibia's Planning Commission, Tom Alweendo, their Minister of Education, Abraham Iyambo, and our Ambassador to Namibia G. Dennise Mathieu under a banner with the Namibian MCA's mission statement: Poverty Reduction Through Economic Growth. That vision perfectly encapsulates our goals for America's on-going partnerships with Africa.

The highlight of the transfer ceremony was undoubtedly Lydia Iita, a student leader from Hage Geingob High School, one of the schools that will soon be taking delivery of new textbooks thanks to this Millennium Challenge Account project. Her self-confidence and enthusiasm were infectious as she told all the others students attending the event that they should treasure and preserve these books. I also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Geingob at a reception at Ambassador Mathieu's residence. He was Namibia's first Prime Minister from independence in March 1990 to 2002, and is currently Minister of Trade and Industry. It's interesting to be in a country so young that it has the chance to honor its freedom struggle heroes while they are still alive.

What made the book event special, as CEO Penny Akwenye pointed out several times during the ceremony, was that it was an event where seeing was believing, where concrete copies of the books about to be delivered could be touched and read by the students, staff and distinguished guests who attended.

Earlier in the day, President Pohamba opened our meeting by thanking the United States for its many contributions to Namibia since independence, from landmine disposal to ARV delivery. I was proud to represent a country which, partnered with the government of the republic of Namibia, has been able to offer so many tangible benefits to its citizens over the last twenty years.

Read Under Secretary Burns' previous entry from Liberia.



New Mexico, USA
April 28, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Dear Undersecretary Burns,

I keep trying to tell folks the secret to "super power" status and being as under funded and under-resourced as I am, I'm not shy about asking for all the help I can get if you would be so kind as to feel free to plagerize my words to your heart's content.

The secret is simple, "To be a super power you have to feed a lot of people."

And that includes their minds.

Now I have no clear idea how many textbooks might be recycled from state educational public schools and found to be in good enough condition with the idea of passing them on to humanitarian aid org's and governments to distribute to teachers, but it might be worth a phone call to the Dept of Ed.

At one point in time a hundred years ago the language of science was mostly in German, today it is mostly written in English.

So if our used English language textbooks can be utilized, I think it will only help further communications and study.

Feeding people wins a lot of friends and it puzzles me sometimes when folks think having a nuke is what's going to gain them respect, friends, security, or influence. It's not our nukes that do that.

And it puzzles me more as to why this simple answer to the political power conundrum of those seeking spheres of infuence has not been voiced by persons in my government.

So let logic prevail over ethical infants who are begging for an education.

I don't know why we put up with them.

"Legendary patience" I guess.

With any luck maybe some of your's will rub of on me if you'll pose thoughts here to any of this. There's been question raised on this blog as to whether anyone's "listening", and I guess this is your cue, sir.

I'm inclined to ask you to pass a thought on to the Russians for me, and see if they'll toast drink to it.

"We can do this, so long as we remember our joy."

And get stuff ratified simultaneously as well.

Safe travels,

Virginia, USA
April 28, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

Dear Undersecretary Burns:

I see the need for English textbooks. That's a good thing. Are the science and mathematics textbooks in Afrikaans, or will the students have to learn English before they can use the other textbooks?

This thought occurs to me because I saw that although English is the official language of Namibia, only seven percent of the country actually speak it. The majority speak Afrikaans and German.

Nevertheless, I can't find any fault with a people learning their national language if they don't know it.

Thanks for your service.

United States
April 28, 2010

O.C. in USA writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico,

If you look in a school trash bin in the latter part of August and September, before school starts you'll find all kinds of unforgivable waste, textbooks, workbooks,expensive math manipulatives. The list is endless. Teachers throw these very valuable things away because they know the tax payer doesn't know about it and we, the taxpayer will buy new materials every year.

Also, bookstores rip the covers on millions of paperbacks every year and throw perfectly good books in the trash. These books could teach every Namibian child to speak english. It's a travesty but that's how our system does it.

Regarding Africa, I think it would be really cool to have coffee shop/study shacks. Science, math and other books can be donated to the coffee shacks. The coffee shack can pay a tutor for 2-3 hours in the afternoon after school and feed the kids a snack and juice as an enticement to study when business is slow. The coffee shack turns into a study center for children and high school kids. This is a nearly cost free way to educate children as they love the extra attention they get while studying and it would turn a nation's mindset towards books and learning not terrorism. You could also use vetted patrons as unwitting tutors too. Why not help a child with a math problem and give him/her encouragement while sipping on a nicely brewed cup of coffee? Easy and sooooooo fun!

New Mexico, USA
April 29, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ OC and Flavorit,

Look guys, I can see a day when Namibians work with us in space, you don't think there's a kid out there thinking of getting off this mud ball?

Why shouldn't they learn English if that's the agreed upon common language @ the international space station among astronauts?

Gimme one good reason.

I haven't done any dumster-diving lately so that's why I say I have no idea how much material is re-usable.

English is becoming more the common trade language by the very nature that a lot of folks speak it as a second language, and it helps bridge economies acrross waters.

So make fun of a random thought put forward if you want, they may just do democracy better than we do and have the economy to show for it without your support someday.

No one is suggesting English take over the world, at the expense of other soverign or indiginous languages, so why go there?

Put internet in those coffee shops and you might have a working program OC, but I think someone has already gone and done that.

Today one can be homeless and get a degree on line.

Who would have thought it possible a quarter century ago?

By the way, teachers can't afford to thow anything away, it's administrators that do that by decree of obsolesence.

Doesn't mean there's not a solid learning to be had from old textbooks still.

Virginia, USA
April 29, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

Never suggested English shouldn't be taught, for heaven's sake, Eric the Red and Green. I merely hope that the textbooks meet the needs of the students.

I studied German in high school. Wasn't an academic highlight, but I did my best. Now, imagine if my math and science textbooks had been in German. Do you see where I'm going? It isn't unreasonable to ask the question that I asked.

English should be taught. It is the international language of commerce, science and... diplomacy.

I do have difficulty with the NATIONAL language of a nation being English when only seven percent of the population actually speak it. One gets the feeling that that seven percent pretty much owns Namibia, top to bottom. That isn't democracy, you would agree?

However, they ARE attempting to teach the language to the rest of the people, and that is a good thing. You would agree?

So I don't have to give you one good reason because I think everyone should learn English! It is how you get ahead in this world. If you want to sell the 800 pound gorilla a banana, you better speak his language!

It would also help if they learned a little Mandarin. Insurance, you know.

New Mexico, USA
April 29, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

(chuckle) I was like, "Why is Flavius calling me colors?"

Then I noticed how well my typo managed to mangled your namesake and whah-la!

I shouldn't even suggest folks learn English when I tend to mangle the language better than a former President, but it's nice to know we actually agree on something for a change.

The question you raised I think is more about equal opportunity through language skills as an aproach to inclusiveness in government and economic mobility.

I would temper your conclusion by suggesting that the percentage of people still living that were alive at the time before Namibia's independance would be abot 3-4% of the population, so factor that into the 7%.

I'm not discounting what you said, though I do think there's some additional factors involved in the demographic. Age being one of them.

It may be that the language represents the last official vestiges of the British Empire.

That folks kept it as their official language after independance says somthing about their attitude towards history and the contributions others have had on their history.

Virginia, USA
April 29, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

Seven percent comes from the CIA, so for all I know it is current.

Namibia gained it's independence from South Africa! This is an interesting history. It's on state.gov.

Namibia is obviously a work in progress (as are we all, of course) but Namibia I think more so. There's a lot of bad mojo associated with Afrikaans historically speaking it seems and maybe not quite as much with English. German (more widely spoken than English) is still too close to Afrikaans for comfort, I bet. Then there are all the native languages, none of which seem to stand out from the crowd, like Zulu or Xhosa would for South Africa.

So, English does seem a smart choice after all, and not "necessarily" wrapped up with colonialism either. Or, at least, the BAD colonialism.

Just wanted to say to some who will object to what I just said, yes, all colonialism is bad, but there is bad colonialism and there is BAD colonialism.

I haven't had time to go into detail on this, so forgive me if I've made some assumptions that the facts don't bear out. This ain't no dissertation. Its a blog post. Please feel free to hand me my hindquarters if my SWAG don't match with the facts. I'd appreciate it.

Of course the whole Eric the Red (and Green) thing has to do with a famous Eric from the past and New Mexico's state question. Just by way of explanation.

Virginia, USA
April 29, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

Oh, and for those who wanted to know just what IS New Mexico's state question, here we go:

"Red or Green?"

I'll let Eric explain. And, as always when ordering my enchiladas, I'll reply.


He can explain that too.

John P.
April 29, 2010

John P. in Greece writes:

@ Flavius in VA and Eric in NM

Extremely interesting writing and comments, full of color and taste from both of you!

By the way, you two gentlemen made me order Tex-Mex too. (LOL both of you)

Eric, as always, your sentences, I’d say that even every single word of you make us think. They are really intelligent hits in the keyboard.

e.g. QUOTE: The secret is simple, "To be a super power you have to feed a lot of people." And that includes their minds. END OF QUOTE

They say that it’s not polite to use Caps Lock when you write in social nets, but I’ll do it my way.


Actually, I don’t think that anyone can "hit" this thesis of yours. According to my oppinion, it’s obvious. You are right.

However, and this is something that puzzles me over, where green stops and red begins? Or vice versa.

What I mean is:

Joe in TN has written plenty of times in the past that we feed (food & mind) 80 or something like this % of the world. Huge amounts!


Through his posts all these years, he raised the question –Susan in Florida, her way, did it too recently- concerning “where” we can have in the Excel a secure financial line that can allow U.S.A. to be strong, safe and “giver”, without being in danger to become bunkrupted, all of which means.. non-super power anymore.

At the same time, U.S.A. MUST spend money for her military security. According to my opinion, THIS IS NON-NEGOTIABLE too!

I mean how can can we trace and underline this wise green and red borderline (in terms of budget) that can keep America safe and healthy for the people and the rest of the world.

Eric, I think that you understand my concern, the way I understand how much difficult is for Congressmen and Committees to decide this very difficult equation.

Many people say that politicians are silly guys who cannot do the job. Nevertheless, if you think of the parameters they have to face, it’s not that easy job to do.

They are heroes.

New Mexico, USA
April 30, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Beyond my general musings about the echos of the past being found in interesting ways, feeding the people isn't just about food and food for thought, but hope as well as all that goes along with delivering it.

Now how do we get the biggest bang for the buck?

"I think it makes sense to match funding and programs with goals and priorities and combine them to stretch the taxpayer dollars and end up having a lot more to show for it than otherwise might be less fiscally responsible and less effective."


In the balance of all things considered, the people are the final arbiters of what works and what doesn't, and ever Congress be so humbly mindful of this to know their place as good stewards of the public trust.

There's a lot of aspects to the idea put forward in the link above, and I just don't know what the social ramifications on a global level for humanity as a whole to see nations get together to not only explore space and go to Mars as a family of nations that has overcome its dysfunctionalities, but to solve a few problems at home on the way there, since we're going to spend the money anyway, one way or another.

I guess I'll just have to let time prove whether or not my words mean anything or not to those with decisions to make.


Latest Stories

October 12, 2010

Travel Diary: En Route Sarajevo

Writing for the U.S. Department of State DipNote blog, DipNote Bloggers highlight the background briefing of U.S. Secretary of State… more