Chief Executive Officer, Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI)
In late March, a Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union branch went on strike at New Era Investments, a Chinese construction company, over wages and benefits. Namibia’s high unemployment rate – over 51% by some estimates – and vigorous foreign activity in the markets are a recipe for tension. Tarah Shaanika is leading the battle for local businesses.
Shaanika moved to scupper a trade visit ahead of the May 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, in protest at regulations blocking Namibian meat and fish exports to China. After up-to-the-deadline negotiations, the trip went ahead, but the compromise agreement only permitted exports for the half-year duration of the Expo.
Shaanika backed the Southern Africa Development Community free trade zone launched in 2008. But local businesses vying for contracts in Angolan reconstruction have met stiff competition from Chinese companies and, at home, they fare no better. President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s new residence is Chinese-built and Namibian and Chinese merchants compete in local markets. The NCCI lobbied for regulatory measures to clamp down on Chinese-owned small businesses, such as beauty salons, that were enacted in 2010.
Shaanika, a member of the governing South West African People’s Organisation’s Think Tank, has won a reputation for outspokenness at the NCCI, where the University of Namibia graduate has been Chief Executive since 2001. In March, he criticised Pohamba after the President defended Chinese interests on the grounds that Chinese arms had supported SWAPO in the battle for Independence. Pohamba embellished the argument with a dig at South African companies such as Shoprite and Standard Bank. Shaanika shot back that the NCCI objected to illegal business practices, not just Chinese businesses.