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Twenty years after Andrew Young built the now-defunct ostrich abattoir, he is back with business friends

Twenty years after Andrew Young built the now-defunct ostrich abattoir, he is back with business friends

Spending an hour with Andrew Young in his office in Atlanta, GA, in 1999 was one of the highlights of the earlier part of my career. At that time, his shot at the American presidency was not that long ago and still formed part of his impressive resumé.

What I remember most of my Young interview were the many accolades he has collected for his work of taking Atlanta from a backwater state in 1981 when he became its first black mayor, to a progressive, modern, semi-industrialised state with its own international airport when I visited in 99.

Perhaps the most revealing part of our discussion was when he informed me that an investor group to which he was affiliated, was working on plans to invest about US$ 7 million in an ostrich abattoir in the south of Namibia. Immediately my ears perked and when I noticed his mischievous smile, I knew he knew he had me hooked.

As it turned out, the ostrich facility at Coenbult on the banks of the Fish River some 30 kilometres from Keetmanshoop became a reality. If my memory serves me correct, the total capital investment at that time was about N$70 million, and the exchange rate was N$6,20 to the US dollar. This translates to a Young investment of N$43 million, ultimately giving his group shareholder control at roughly 60% of equity.

The abattoir’s history is common knowledge. When the Namibian ostrich industry collapsed, the abattoir was turned into a small stock slaughtering facility which suffered from the same gross government interference as did the ostrich industry. As far as I know the facility is dormant.

At the end of 2014 going into 2015, there was much local talk about reviving ostriches as an agricultural commodity. In the meantime, the very successful South African ostrich industry had survived the market implosion and was back firing on all six cylinders. It was then that I toyed with the idea whether Mr Young’s investment group perhaps still controlled the defunct abattoir but I could not verify my mild suspicions.

But as with any industry where fatcat middlemen, corruption and government interference abound, nothing came of the 2015 hopes for a revival. Ostriches are still as dead as they were in the early 2000’s.

When the US Information Service informed me last month that Mr Young, now 86 years old, will be escorting a US business delegation to Namibia, it rekindled all sorts of questions I had about the ostrich abattoir investment.

Sadly, my schedule never allowed me to attend the investment seminar in Windhoek where he participated but about a week later, the Namibian Ports Authority announced that Mr Young and his delegation have visited the harbour. The picture at the top is of him and the NamPort top management. (Courtesy of NamPort)

I am spiffballing but I suspect Mr Young’s visit had much to do with trade between the United States and Namibia and not so much with direct investment. If I consider his track record of promoting trade in Atlanta and of the enormous task of getting the international airport built, it seems not a scatterbrain idea that trade facilitation may still be his forté. Or at least he is a powerful connector when it comes to opening African trade doors for American companies, and vica versa.

I doubt it very much that Mr Young will ever again promote US project investments in Namibia, not after the Coenbult calamity, but it now seems that he has not forgotten us or our potential, even if it is almost 20 years later.

I will probably never know the real agenda for his visit but an octogenarian does not travel halfway around the world for no reason at all. It will be fantastic if Mr Young can convince a new generation of American investors that we are a sound investment goal, but before that happens, I suppose they would want some government guarantees, not the conventional financial type but an operational guarantee of sorts: “we will not interfere in private sector projects!”


 

About The Author

Daniel Steinmann

Brief CV of Daniel Steinmann. Born 24 February 1961, Johannesburg. Educated at the University of Pretoria: BA, BA(hons), BD. Postgraduate degrees are in Philosophy and Divinity. Editor of the Namibia Economist since 1991. Daniel Steinmann has steered the Economist as editor for the past 29 years. The newspaper started as a monthly free-sheet, then moved to a weekly paper edition (1996 to 2016), and on 01 December 2016 to a daily digital newspaper at https://economist.com.na. His editorial focus is on economic analysis based on budget analysis, dissecting strategic planning and assessing the impact of policy formulation. For eight years, he hosted a weekly talk-show on NBC Radio, explaining complex economic concepts to a lay audience in a relaxed, conversational manner. He was a founding member of the Editors' Forum of Namibia. Over the years, he has mentored scores of journalism students as interns and as young professional journalists. He often assists economics students, both graduate and post-graduate, to prepare for examinations and moderator reviews. He is the Namibian respondent for the World Economic Survey conducted every quarter for the Ifo Center for Business Cycle Analysis and Surveys at the University of Munich in Germany. He is frequently consulted by NGOs and international analysts on local economic trends and developments. Send comments to [email protected]