February 2023 was a busy and interesting month, especially so because of a bizarre incident and a dodgy political statement
The news media landscape was abuzz during the month, but two stories stand out for the way they were reported.
Both stories played out at the same time, making headlines on the same day for different reasons.
The first, and probably most bizarre, reporting during the month involved a story carried by all major print, broadcast and online news media of the alleged theft of 60 billion dollars (whether Namibian or US never really became clear).
According to the initial reporting, which came across as rather uncritical, a police spokesperson apparently stated that a case of theft of N$60 billion dollars had been opened in December 2022. The money had allegedly been stolen or defrauded from an entity called Credit Union Namibia and the case had been lodged by the supposed principal officer of this entity, an individual going by the name “Theron Rupping Louie (56)”.
The story of the alleged theft of this outlandishly large amount of money made headlines prominently across the media, even though there were significant red flags that suggested it could all have been made up.
That aside for a moment, over the few days that the story ran in early February, many Namibians on social media were quick to voice their suspicions about the supposed theft and others criticised the media, in the way the alleged theft was reported, for misinforming the public. Others were quick to point to the alleged theft as being another example of corruption running rampant in the country.
Now for those red flags.
First, that was just too much money to have been stolen.
Second, the Credit Union Namibia entity did not appear to have any sort of footprint in the financial sector – it didn’t have a functional website or physical address and appeared to only exist in mentions on social media.
Third, the supposed “chief executive officer” of Credit Union Namibia, also appeared to not have any footprint on social media or the internet for that matter. The CEO of such a well-resourced ‘company’ surely would be someone of public prominence and eminence. Not so in the case of “Theron Rupping Louie (56)”, who didn’t seem to have any sort of social media or online presence.
Fourth, almost immediately after the alleged theft hit the headlines, this “Theron Rupping Louie (56)” contradicted the police statements on the matter.
Fourth, that was just too much money to have been stolen in one go.
By 9 February the Bank of Namibia had issued a statement that underscored this point. There was just no way that N$60 billion could have been moved or shifted without anyone noticing. In fact, the BoN stated that there was “no evidence to support the existence of such funds”.
Following this, the Namibian Police publicly apologised and “reassures the Namibia nation and potential investors that the alleged fraud did not take place in Namibia”.
All of this could have been avoided if journalists had just done a little digging online that quickly would have revealed that the allegedly missing money probably was just a figment of someone’s imagination.
The dodgy presidential claim about schools under trees
The second story that caused quite a public stir in early February was when President Hage Geingob, at the official opening of Cabinet for the year, on 7 February 2023, was quoted saying, while talking about the deplorable state of public education in the country:
“The other thing that I now see is a problem is children [being] taught under the trees. I was traveling in this country and I did not see that before.”
It was almost immediately pointed out, though, by The Namibian newspaper that in 2014, while campaigning ahead of the November 2014 National Assembly and Presidential elections that he had promised to do away with schools under trees in rural areas, demonstrating that he was fully aware of the situation of a lack of classrooms and related infrastructure across large parts of the country.
The newspaper referenced its own story from 1 October 2014, in which it was reported:
“Addressing the well-attended rally at the Kuisebmond stadium, the Swapo presidential candidate said Swapo cannot allow the situation whereby some children are taught outside to continue.
“No child should be taught under a tree. This must be addressed during the second phase of the struggle, which is economic emancipation,” he remarked.”
Of course, a few days later, with something of a minor political storm having been swept along behind his unfortunate utterances, the president saw the need to publicly express that he felt he had been deliberately misunderstood, stating:
“My comment was taken out of context, people are looking for things to ridicule me and make me like I have no humanity.”
Amidst all that the news media got wrong in February 2023, this stood out as a small, but meaningful example of accountability journalism done right, in that the most powerful politician in the country was held accountable, only if momentarily and in a very limited way, for the statements he makes.