Interview by: Heidi Powell
Namibia, a country in southwest Africa, is distinguished by the Namibia Desert, the oldest desert in the world, along its Atlantic Ocean coast. The country is home to diverse wildlife. The capital, Windhoek, and coastal town Swakopmund contain German colonial-era buildings such as Windhoek’s Christus Kirche, built in 1907. Since its Independence Day on 21 March 1990 Namibia has successfully completed the transition from white minority apartheid rule to a democratic society. A multiparty democracy was introduced and has been maintained, with local, regional and national elections held regularly. Several registered political parties are active and represented in the National Assembly, although the Swapo Party has won every election since independence. The Honorary Consul of the Republic of Namibia, Giti Zarinkelk, invited us to her office located in downtown Houston, so we could talk and learn more about Namibia.
Heidi PP: First, tell us about yourself, and walk us through your background.
Hon. Ms. Zarinkelk: I am actually a civil engineer. I have a civil engineering company, and I supported the Consular Corps for many years. I was introduced to this job by getting to know Ambassador Cynthia Perry, she was the one that introduced me to Namibia. So that is how I started. I said let me go and visit Namibia so I can learn more and see if I am interested. It is a very long trip from Houston, 23 hours. After I got there, I was able to meet with authorities and all the key people, and I said Ok I will try it. I am not a politician, but I am a problem solver. Engineers are problem solvers, so maybe it can be a good combination, and I can be of service to the people of Namibia. I started in December of 2017; so not that long ago.
Heidi PP: Tell us about the Honorary Consul of Namibia. What are the services it provides?
Hon. Ms. Zarinkelk: We are Honorary, so we are not paid. We also do not issue visas, that service is out of Washington D.C. What we do is make the connections that can be beneficial and prosperous for both the U.S. and Namibia. We attend the meetings and conferences, such as; at the Greater Houston Partnership and at City Hall as representatives of Namibia. I was already a member of many of the organizations through my company’s work, so it was an easy addition to my duties there. Now I wear two hats. However, it is challenging to make the connections, since Namibia is so far away, and there is not much going on currently.
Heidi PP: What is Namibia known for?
Hon. Ms. Zarinkelk: Namibia is mainly known for tourism. It is #1 for Self-Tourism in the region. This is because once you get there you do not need much guidance. You can plan your own trips, drive, and back pack through Namibia on your own and be relatively safe. There are beautiful pink deserts, elepants, rhinos, cheetahs, and more. It is the place that has the most cheetahs in Africa. Namibia is the only African country that can export meat into the U.S. Mining is a major industry as well, up to 13%. They are getting into solar energy and have always been involved in agriculture. It’s also where the De Beers diamonds are mined. Namibia has many natural resources.
Heidi PP: What is a major concern for Namibia at this time?
Hon. Ms. Zarinkelk: A main concern at this time is water shortages and clean water. Namibia is in the seventh year of drought, and there are no water sources except under ground. The engineers on the team are stressing to stick to Walvis Bay because Namibia’s only option for renewable water resources will come from the sea. There are desalination plants on the coast, but they only service Walvis Bay/Swakopmund, and are run by the uranium mines in the desert. A much larger investment is needed to produce water that can supply inland markets. There is the need for exploitation of wind energy for electricity and also for operating desalination efforts.
Heidi PP: What are some past, present and future goals for Namibia’s relationship with the United States?
Hon. Ms. Zarinkelk: My office has put a lot of effort into developing a sister city relationship with a city of strategic importance to Houston. We are currently in the process of developing our board and committees in Houston and Namibia. These are the steps we need to take for becoming a sister city with Houston. We have two qualified cities to work with, Walvis Bay and Windhoek. Considering we live in the great diverse City of Houston and have a wonderfully supportive mayor, we can look forward to upcoming brighter days.
For those who love to travel, and would like to travel to Africa, specifically, but have reservations about doing so, Namibia is an ideal choice as a country to provide a “soft” introduction to the continent for Americans. English is the official language, and is spoken widely.
Currently the Houston Zoo is working with two organizations on Black Rhinos Namibia of which both the Integrated Rural Development of Nature Conservation (IRDNC) and Save the Rhino Trust Namibia have been heavily involved in over the years. The Houston Zoo has been supporting the Rhino Pride Campaign and both of these organizations’ efforts for a number of years now. They are truly having a positive impact on local communities and wildlife in the region. My office is working on an MOU to expand that effort.
Heidi PP: Please tell us about some things that make Namibia unique. What do visitors to Namibia see first?
Hon. Ms. Zarinkelk: Namibia is very large, about the size of Texas and Louisiana combined. One of the first things that will stand out is that it is very dry, the driest country south of the Sahara. However it is a country of extremes, lush tropical vegetation in the northern part of the country, a savannah in the center and two deserts on either side. All of the favorite big game can be found. For Americans, it is a very good introduction to the continent.
Heidi PP: We are a business magazine. What are some ways that Houston businessmen and investors can work with Namibia?
Hon. Ms. Zarinkelk: The first projects that would come to mind would be renewable energy, solar power and wind energy. And as we discussed earlier, water and clean water especially, are a priority. Desalinization plants are needed as well as plants to supply water inland. Namibia is ready to do more import and export trade with the U.S.
Ms. Giti Zarinkelk, email@example.com
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