Ten years after the United Nations Security Council first imposed sanctions on North Korea, Namibia said it would implement the UNSC measures – but not everyone was convinced that the SWAPO-led government would finally end its military relationship with the pariah state’s Mansudae Overseas Projects (MOP).
The state-owned Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) a week ago reported that the Ministry for International Relations and Cooperation had informed the UN that it would implement the latest round of sanctions announced in early December and sever all but diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
Indications, however, are now that MOP was now possibly trying to disguise itself as a Chinese construction company, of which several hundred are registered in Namibia.
“We Chinese construction company. We no talk to each other,” an MOP official approached at the company’s offices, located in an up-market suburb of the capital Windhoek, told NK News and other journalists when asked for an interview.
The reason for this attempted subterfuge, a source close to the Namibian government said, was to buy MOP time to complete the work they were sub-contracted to do by other local, politically-connected construction companies.
Just who those companies are remains a state secret. The increasingly secretive Namibian Ministry of Defense has not disclosed how and where its spends its N$10 billion-plus budget (the second-largest after education) since 2010 on the grounds of state security.
“We Chinese construction company. We no talk to each other”
Since 1999, MOP has been awarded no-bid state contracts to construct the Heroes Acre, the new Chinese-funded State House, a Military Museum in Okahandja, the Independence Museum, new head offices for the National Intelligence Services (NCIS), a secret munitions plant at the former Oamites mine, more “residential offices” at the new State House and new headquarters for the Namibian Defense Force.
Documents seen by NK News showed that MOP also was used in 2005 by the ministry of Works and Transport to add extensions to founding President Sam Nujoma’s house on his farm at Etunda, some 390 km north of Windhoek. Although no figures were ever made public, MOP is estimated to have earned itself close to N$1 billion (US$74,239,100) since 1999.
MOP also was used by two local politically-connected businessmen to develop a new “luxury suburb” at Otavi in anticipation of a new steel mill planned for the moribund town of Otavi, 450 km north of Windhoek.
NORTH KOREAN NEIGHBORS
Local residents said the North Koreans were a common sight in their light-blue overalls, and were all living on Nujoma’s former Presidential Office secretary Ndeutala Angolo’s farm just outside Otavi.
“Pak [the local foreman] always paid in cash from a fat roll of notes he carried around,” said one local who regularly supplied meat to MOP workers. “It was all cash – they were not paying any VAT (Value Added Tax) on the invoices.”
The “luxury suburb,” however, was of such shoddy workmanship that a new contractor had to re-do much of MOP’s work, said this source. As for the steel mill, this appeared to be yet another pipe dream: there is no source of iron ore within a 400 km radius.
Why MOP kept winning such lucrative contracts remains a mystery: shoddy workmanship is the rule rather than the exception for their work.
Local residents said the North Koreans were a common sight in their light-blue overalls
Three years after the Heroes Acre was inaugurated in 2002, the monument – which has a giant “Unknown Soldier” statue bearing an uncanny resemblance to Nujoma – had already started falling apart, local press reports said. Large parts had to be completely rebuilt in 2010 by other, local, contractors.
Their most recent monument, the Independence Memorial in the center of Windhoek, is largely dedicated to Nujoma and the former People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) history. It has been criticized for both its historical inaccuracy and its fake bronze statue of Nujoma, made of plastic like all other exhibits in what is derisively known as “The Coffee Percolator” for its resemblance to a well-known Chinese brand of coffee machine more noted for its flashy appearance than its effectiveness.
So far, only Namibians have felt the pain of the sanctions against Pyongyang
Their most controversial project, an incomplete munitions plant situated some 45 km south of Windhoek, was recently taken over by a Serbian company, a well-placed diplomatic source told NK News. The move came late last year, after International Relations Minister Netumbi Nandi-Ndaitwah’s visit to Belarus to negotiate unspecified military and political cooperation agreements.
The NDF, meanwhile, insisted to the local media that the Oamites plant was just a harmless “bottling plant,” in spite of clear evidence to the contrary that it was a heavily-guarded military installation.
So far, only Namibians have felt the pain of the sanctions against Pyongyang: last week, MOP fired 25 local workers at their NDF HQ site. A MOP spokesman told NBC TV that Namibian workers’ building skills were lacking and inferior, while the workers complained that MOP was retaining 200 North Korean workers for the low-level jobs they had been doing until now.
The North Korean workers were not reaping the benefits of Namibian munificence, either. Housed in on-site barracks built for this purpose, they are poorly dressed and rarely leave the base unless in a group. Local residents in the adjoining Suiderhof suburb complained that they had dumped the bones and skins of cats and dogs across the fence.
Their only outings appeared to be to go fishing at a heavily polluted local dam for food.
Pyongyang’s policy of radical self-reliance for their ambassadorial staff, however, only applies to low-level workers: the MOP management all live in a luxury house in one of the best parts of Windhoek.
Featured image: John Grobler
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