President Sauli Niinistö made state visits to South Africa and Namibia last week. It had been 12 years since the previous Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, paid a visit to Namibia. In 2013, former President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia made an official state visit to Finland. Yours truly has warm memories of the chilly day in November waiting next to the long red carpets spread over the cobblestones in front of the Government Banquet Hall in Helsinki for the president to arrive with his spouse.
In 2013, President Niinistö also visited South Africa when he attended the memorial service for President Nelson Mandela.
This time, President Niinistö’s visit began last Tuesday, when he met with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital.
The presidents, according to the Finnish president’s office, discussed, among other things, the geopolitical situation and security, global challenges, such as climate change and problems related to food security and their impacts on the African countries and the bilateral relations between Finland and South Africa.
While the press conference had a relaxed tone — both presidents seemed to be able to share their thoughts spontaneously — the conference took a dramatic turn when the state flag of South Africa crashed down, missing President Niinistö by inches.
“It almost fell on your head,” President Ramaphosa said while pointing at his Finnish counterpart.
“But we are both lucky,” President Niinistö said.
(Watch the video of the dramatic event in our article here.)
On Thursday, President Sauli Niinistö was received by President Hage G. Geingob of Namibia at a welcoming ceremony in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
During the official reception ceremony that, among others, included a tribal dance performance, President Niinistö got loose on his feet and seemed to enjoy the groove of the tribal rhythm. (Watch the video of Niinistö enjoying the music on the website of the Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat.)
At their meeting, the two presidents discussed bilateral relations between Finland and Namibia and the global political situation.
President Niinistö said that Finland has the longest relations with Namibia amongst all the African countries. “We were an early and strong supporter of the independence movement and the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Namibia. As you said, President Martti Ahtisaari played an important role in this process of independence. I have the pleasure to convey his and Mrs. Eeva Ahtisaari’s warm greetings to you and to the people of Namibia,” the Finnish president said.
“We discussed the global situation, which is not at all satisfactory at the moment. I think we agree that — discussion, diplomacy — these are words we need now and more co-understanding,” President Niinistö said at a joint press conference after the discussions.
Before the press conference, both presidents were present at a ceremony, where two fragments of the sacred power stone of the Ondonga Kingdom were repatriated. “We have brought back, what we once took,” President Niinistö said later while highlighting the historical event.
The fragments had been cut from the power stone in 1886 in violation of the Kingdom’s law. The repatriation agreement was signed between the national museums of Finland and Namibia. The event was also attended by the King of Ondonga Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo.
In the evening, President Geingob hosted a state banquet where President Niinistö gave a speech.
“I had planned to come here a lot earlier, in 2020, when we celebrated the 150th anniversary of our close friendship. But unfortunately, Covid hit Finland. Covid hit everywhere. But now things are better,” President Niinistö said. “What started as Finnish missionaries’ fascination for your country and its people has in the course of all these years turned into a modern partnership. Finland was an early and strong supporter of Namibia’s struggle for independence.”
President Niinistö concluded his speech by speaking about football.
“Maybe this is a secret but we have agreed that Namibia will qualify for the world championships in football after they get a new coach,” President Niinistö said with heartfelt laughter. (The Namibia national football team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. And for reference, Finland participated in the world cup qualification for the first time in 1937 and lost all three matches. As of April 2022, Finland sits at 57th place in the official FIFA rankings.)
In the video stream from the event, guests in festive attire sipped Moet and wine, listened to groups performing traditional African music and later carefully nodded their heads to the soft, jazzy saxophone of Suzi Eises, who has been called “one of the hottest properties in the Namibian music industry.”
On Friday, President Niinistö met with Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila of Namibia and Peter Hitjitevi Katjavivi, the speaker of the National Assembly, and attended a business seminar in Windhoek.
The Finnish president has returned from his visit and is prepared to receive traditional May Day greetings with his spouse, Jenni Haukio, at the Presidential Palace on Monday, May 1.