WASHINGTON — PRESIDENT Sam Nujoma of Namibia doesn't hedge. He says his country's need for cash is a big reason he's visiting America. Namibia has some things that are rare in Africa - namely, an elected government, an independent judiciary, and curbs on executive power. But among the things it doesn't have are decent schools, hospitals, and housing. The South African government, which ran Namibia for 75 years until its UN-brokered independence in March, didn't build any, he says.
``We have to start from scratch, really,'' Mr. Nujoma said at a meeting of United States African experts.
So on his US tour this week, Nujoma has been everywhere from the UN to the White House, asking for help. When he met with President Bush on Tuesday, Nujoma asked for an increase in the $10 million in assistance that the administration has already promised for this year. Bush was ``quite positive,'' says Nujoma.
Although administration officials said they'd like to be helpful, they add that an aid increase is unlikely. The White House says the main purpose of Bush's meeting with Nujoma was to encourage the Namibian leader to moderate his socialist views and allow development of a mixed economy.
For a socialist, Nujoma sounds enthusiastic about the prospect of foreign businessmen operating in his country. ``We would like to invite American citizens to invest in Namibia,'' he says. Repatriation of profits will be easy, he claims. Joint ventures will be encouraged.
But hints that Namibia's uranium mines might be nationalized are making some potential investors anxious. Nujoma says flatly there are no plans for mine nationalization. Then he adds, somewhat obliquely, that it is always in the interest of any nation to decide if an industry is to be publicly owned. As to Namibia's rich mineral resources, Nujoma says that ``this has been exploited by a few colonialists. This cannot be allowed to continue.''
Land redistribution is coming too. Some 85 percent of Namibian land is in the hands of whites, says Nujoma, many of them absentee landlords. The average annual income of a white Namibian is $16,000; of a black citizen, $63.
Yet there ``is no tension'' between Namibia's 78,000 whites and 1.4 million blacks, claims its president. Whites, with their skills and capital, are being encouraged to stay. A white, Otto Herrigel, serves in Nujoma's Cabinet as minister of finance.
US officials see Namibia as a hopeful example of African democracy. After a 30-year guerrilla war waged by Nujoma's South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), United Nations-sponsored elections last November ended more than a century of white rule, first by Germany, then by South Africa after World War I.
The elections proved SWAPO to be popular but not dominant.
SWAPO won 41 of 72 seats in Nambia's new constituent assembly; the white-led Democratic Turnhalle Alliance won 21. In negotiations with the Alliance over the country's new Constitution, SWAPO dropped some of its most radical positions, including socialist economic restructuring, detention without trial, and single-party rule.
Promising starts have faltered in Africa before. But Namibia is beginning its new life as a nation with a Constitution that establishes a multiparty system, promises human rights, limits the president to two terms, forbids discrimination, and promises private ownership of property.
Now the challenge is 30 percent unemployment and a food shortage. ``Basically our problem is agriculture, education, health, and housing,'' says Nujoma.