Geingob received the 7th African Leadership Summit Awards in Washington, DC in September this year as the African political leader of the year from Nigerian-owned African Leadership Magazine at the same time as Jammeh, who was recognised for his “political leadership for tourism development”.

Jammeh’s award was presented to the Gambian vice president and minister of women’s affairs, Isatou Njie-Saidy. At that event, Geingob ironically spoke about a “new Africa” – a continent that has turned away from authoritarian rule and instead embraces electoral democracy.

Jammeh has ruled the Gambia with an iron fist since grabbing power in a bloody coup in 1994. He has killed, tortured, jailed and persecuted opponents as he clung to power for more than two decades.

Amnesty International said in July this year that the climate of fear that has blighted the lives of Gambians for more than two decades has worsened over the last 12 months with journalists, people perceived to be gay or lesbian, and those considered to be opponents of the regime and their families increasingly targeted.

But the Namibian President appears not to be bothered by being associated with Jammeh through an award ceremony whose credentials are questionable. The African Leadership Award is conferred yearly to recognise achievements made by selected high-profile leaders in Africa and honour their contributions towards their countries.

Presidential spokesperson Albertus Aochamub said they wholeheartedly welcome such recognition for Namibia.
“Personal accolades to the President were given for selfless dedication to public service for a career that spans over some 50 years. It wasn’t only about the presidency of six months,” he said.
The presidency insisted that it will not be correct to compare Geingob, in terms of class, to Jammeh.

“Leadership is not a beauty or class contest. Every leader is judged on their own merits and we cannot determine who is less of a leader than the other,” the presidential spin doctor said.

That’s not the only controversial award conferred to Geingob in his few months in power. While on a four-week tour of Cuba and the United States, the President also received an award from the Africa-America Institute (AAI), an institution that has long been led by international diamond businessman Maurice Tempelsman.

Geingob received the AAI lifetime achievement and distinguished alumnus award in New York. Tempelsman has been funding AAI through his diamond company Lazare Kaplan and has been its leader for over 50 years.

Lazare Kaplan is one of the few companies that receive Namibia’s best diamonds as a special client via the Namibia Diamond Trading Company. Geingob’s spokesman also sees nothing wrong with the awards, saying the AAI panel is composed of varied and respected individuals.

Tempelsman’s links to Namibia do not start with Geingob but date back to the liberation struggle and first President Sam Nujoma.
The involvement of AAI appears to have been a gateway to access political leaders who were set to take over an independent Namibia. Leaders such as Geingob, former Prime Ministers Nahas Angula and Theo-Ben Gurirab all had connections to Tempelsman’s AAI which funded their studies directly and indirectly.

Tempelsman’s lawyer in southern Africa, Christian Merkling, last year defended his client’s presence in Namibia saying Tempelsman is privileged to have been asked for advice by senior Namibian decision-makers from time to time on various matters, some diamond-related and many others not, which he provided in good faith.

Ironically, it was Merkling who doubled up as Tempelsman’s lawyer and the Namibian government’s legal consultant when the current Diamond Act of 1999 was drafted.

Probed whether he was worried about being rewarded by an institution long funded by one of the darlings of Namibian diamonds, Geingob’s spokesperson avoided the question and instead answered in general terms, saying Namibia and its successive leaders have enjoyed a wide variety of friendships before and after independence.

“Many people and nations have made supreme sacrifices for the freedom, peace and stability we enjoy in our lifetime in Namibia. We are a friend to all and enemy to none until such time as they threaten our nationhood and hard-won freedom,” he said.

Geingob’s predecessor, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, was not known for getting and accepting awards easily. Pohamba left the presidency in March this year on a high note after being awarded the 2014 Ibrahim Prize for “good governance” in Africa.

* This story was produced by The Namibian’s investigative unit.

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