I TOTALLY understand this article may not please everybody, but all the same, I have put my head on the block and risked writing it. I say this because the issue, which I have decided to write about, is sensitive and some people simply don’t want to talk about it.
We seem to be hypocrites of the highest order when it comes to the issue that I have decided to write on. The deputy editor of the Villager newspaper was brave enough to raise this issue in the Villager of February 04, 2013 on page 3. Whoever wants must read the said article titled ‘Let’s kill the tribesmen’. Tribalism is a deadly cancer and politically charged, sensitive and can be an explosive topic. It can cause strong feelings of negative excitement, displeasure and reaction. But all the same, we cannot bury our heads in the sand like ostriches and pretend the issue of tribal infighting is dead and buried in our beloved country. It is high time that we talk about it and expose the evils of tribalism in our country and find appropriate ways to deal with this political cancer.
I will only confine myself to one aspect of the issue, unlike what is properly written in the Villager newspaper. And that aspect is the recognition of tribal authorities. However, before I go into the substance of the issue on which I am writing, let us pause here and see how some people understand the word ‘tribe’. What is a tribe actually? In accordance with the Concise Oxford English dictionary, tribe is described as “a social division in a traditional society consisting of linked families or communities with a common culture and dialect”. If we consult the Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary it is stated that “(sometimes offensive) (in developing countries) a group of people of the same race, and with the same customs, language, religion, etc., living in a particular area and often led by a chief”.
It is further said in the Concise Oxford English dictionary that “when used to refer to traditional societies today the word can be problematic, because it is associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized people.” Therefore one can conclude from the above that as far as Europeans are concerned they do not regard themselves as tribes and this term is used to describe people in developing countries who are perceived to be either primitive or uncivilized. It is therefore clear from the above that tribalism is only supposed to be practised in developing countries. No wonder then that when people talk about tribal conflicts they refer only to Africa and other developing countries. The conflicts in developed countries are apparently between nations or peoples or communities and there cannot be tribal conflicts there, since apparently they do not have tribes, but only nations, communities and peoples.
I am bringing this up to underline the point that the topic of tribalism is a complicated one and it needs to be analyzed properly. To come back to the topic as I have said, I shall write about the recognition of chieftainship only. Let us first look at what happened in Tanzania. The late Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, was an extraordinary leader who from the very beginning of his rule of that country understood that his government should not promote tribalism by recognizing tribal authorities. Tanzania, if I am not wrong, has about 121 tribes, but because of the farsighted and progressive approach of late president Julius Nyerere the country is among the more united countries in Africa today. He simply decided that his government from the very beginning was not going to get involved in tribal issues and their politics by recognizing and supporting tribal leaders.
He took the stand that allowed tribal chiefs to solve their own problems without any involvement or support by his government to tribal leaders - period. That approach worked well, because there were no incentives from the government to make the rank of tribal leadership an attractive and useful option or position or standing in society. It did not pay or matter for one to fight for tribal leadership in the country, because it was not worth it and there were no incentives available to chiefs although government did not outlaw tribal leadership. The result of this was that slowly, but surely the Tanzanian people started accepting that they are first and foremost one people and one nation and tribalism took a back seat. Today, Tanzania with her 121 tribes is a united country without visible tribal problems. However, the moment we here in Namibia decided to support and give recognition and material incentives to our tribal authorities we just promoted interest in tribal infighting, because it pays to be a tribal leader.
It must be understood clearly, I do not say there are no tribes and there should be no tribes in the country. We cannot pretend that tribes do not exist in this country, they do indeed exist, but to support tribal authorities materially and politically is tantamount to promoting tribal divisions, because people tend to fight for benefits which are made available to the tribal leadership. Even worse, some people who do not even qualify to be chiefs want to become chiefs and get what the government provides to chiefs. Chieftainship has become an institution of economic survival and a position through which those who are becoming chiefs are jockeying for material and financial wellbeing, hence the inner tribal conflicts and infighting. We have gone out of our way to give motor vehicles and money to tribal leaders – and note that I do not say that the government must abruptly take these benefits away from those who are benefiting now, not at all.
But it will be advisable that we recognize our past mistakes and decide to reconsider these benefits and end them with the present generation of tribal leaders i.e. for those who will take over from the present ones we should go the Nyerere way and let them see how they can run their tribal affairs themselves without government support. By so doing we shall eliminate the root cause of this problem, which is, by and large, promoted by the incentives the government is giving to tribal authorities at present. If we do so, albeit late, there will be no incentives for fighting for tribal leadership, because it will not be an economic or politically viable position to fight for such positions. If this infighting stops we shall have paved the way for national peace, harmony and unity and we can start emphasizing the fact that we are one Namibia, one nation first and foremost, different tribes notwithstanding.
Of course, this is just one aspect of the problem, but it is worth considering, other problems notwithstanding. It is against this background that I support the article titled “let’s kill the tribesmen,” which was printed in the Villager newspaper of February 04, 2013.