The Namibian ambassador kept us waiting a few moments, which provided the perfect opportunity to act like tourists in his conference room.
Three staffers participated in the meeting along with the ambassador, Martin Andjaba. I’ve always been better at being backup for a leader I respect, so I quickly found a kindred spirit in Freddie !Gaoseb (the “!” expresses one of four clicking sounds used in Namibian language – I wish I’d learned them all but I barely managed to learn how to us the one in his name), a large, bespectacled man with a quick smile and a brain that shifted from economist to cultural expert to trade advisor and back to economist again, answering all the questions Ambassador Andjaba tossed his way (and there were many – our friend the ambassador was charming and informative but clearly not a details guy. Or perhaps he was thrown off by his obvious surprise that “young political leaders” hadn’t seen high school hallways for a very long time. Fortunately for all of us, ACYPL defines “young” as under 40.)
The Namibian embassy staff has a big job: they serve as the Namibian embassy for the U.S. , Mexico, Canada, the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Panama and some other countries. (Cuba isn’t on the list because they have a full embassy on that island. I’ll add more details on Cuban-Namibian history later, but for now it’s safe to assure you that every Namibian in the room lit up when they learned I’d been to Cuba.)
I was amazed and grateful about how accurately the State Department expert on Southern Africa predicted the issues we would hear from the Namibian delegation. Like they were reading her script, they addressed priorities that the State Department staffer had spoken of without a single note.
The key priority Namibia has when it comes to the U.S.: exporting. They are currently working through federal regulatory processes to sell table grapes, beef and game meat in American markets. (Yes, “game meat” is pretty much what you would expect it to be...the only animal I recognized was antelope. Animal lovers, prepare for battle.) Namibia is actively recruiting investment from foreign businesses. They sometimes suffer because of their proximity to South Africa, since international companies are more familiar with their southern neighbor and don’t always seek out what Namibia has to offer.
The next meeting loomed so our after-meeting chats were unfortunately cut short, but not before I got to talk to my new pal Freddie about our shared love of Cuba and the extensive travel he’d done around Arizona. He and O’Brien Simasiku, the embassy’s First Secretary, assured me I’d feel right at home: “Namibia looks just like Arizona.” I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that.