(And the Legacy of Oppression)
By Dr Freddy Kustaa
Some of us are disappointed by the battle of personal attacks and insults between Drs Hage Geingob and Joseph Diescho. This exchange by two highly educated Namibians is detrimental to our efforts to build a tolerant democratic society and the strengthening of Namibian civil society.
I would venture to argue that the practice of public vilification of others and name-calling is one of the key problems in our political culture.
Contrary to the view that we should draw an unnecessary dichotomy between focusing either on the future or the past, we are now realizing that as human beings (and this includes Namibians whether or not formally educated), we are products of our environment, culture, and history. This is why it is important to understand how this problem is rooted in Namibia’s colonial experience.
During our colonial experience under German and South African rule our oppressors used tactics of public name calling, slander, public vilification, intimidation and harassment, defamation of character, disparaging and insulting language, personal humiliation, intrigues, put-downs, and blackmail against us.
As the late Russian literary and social critic, Mikhail Bakhtin pointed out, in very subtle and subliminal ways the oppressed do internalize the tactics that the oppressors use or used in the past against them. This legacy of oppression is still with us in Namibia.
Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why tactics of name-calling and public vilification of others are commonly used in our political organizations, churches, and in so-called public debates.
Further, it is not surprising that occasionally some of our formally educated intellectuals also resort to this practice of name-calling and public vilification of others even when they know quite well that this is detrimental to the development of a political culture of respect and tolerance in this country.
Geingob had the right to defend himself against Diescho’s disparaging and insulting remark that he and Dr Theo Ben Gurirab are “opportunists.”
However, as Diescho correctly pointed out last week, there was no need for Geingob to use a public forum to vilify and call him an “intellectual prostitute” (New Era, 11/01/2008).
Geingob could have effectively made his argument against Diescho’s remarks without resorting to name-calling.
While Diescho elaborates eloquently at length on what politicians should do and urging them to refrain from name-calling and getting into rings to fight other Namibians who are not even in rings, he contradicts himself in the same statement when he says that he stands by his disparaging and insulting description of Geingob and Gurirab as “opportunists” which is a form of name-calling.
How can Diescho say that he is standing by his disparaging and insulting remark against Geingob and Gurirab as “opportunists” when in his statement he says that politicians and all of us should speak a language of love to one another?
Is the use of disparaging remarks, insults, and name calling examples of the language of love that Diescho is insisting on? The notion of do what I say, and not what I do will not suffice. We should practise what we preach.
Diescho has the right to criticize Geingob and Gurirab as public figures, but he doesn’t need to describe these leaders as “advanced opportunists”. This approach will not take us anywhere, and it is not needed in this country.
The disparaging remarks and insults that we hurl at one another in newspapers and in public to “score points” against others is a clear indication that, as former oppressed people who have been socialized to disrespect and doubt one another, since our independence in 1990, we have not yet managed to make a serious commitment to show respect for one another as people.
We know of many Namibian public figures in different political parties and ordinary citizens who enthusiastically peddle the ideology of name calling and public vilification of other Namibians who profess different political perspectives than them as “enemies, elements, devils, imperialists, and traitors.”
Given their track records, we don’t expect Geingob and Diescho to fall in that camp.
In a contradictory way, Diescho describes Geingob and Gurirab as “Noblemen” and leaders who are involved in “advanced opportunism” and silent about issues in SWAPO in order to curry favour with the powers that be. How can a person be a “Nobleman” and someone who engages in “advanced opportunism” at the same time?
Diescho’s focus on Geingob and Gurirab raises many questions. Diescho doesn’t explain what criteria he uses to identify among the top SWAPO leaders only Geingob and Gurirab as “Noblemen.”
In line with the comments of Hengari (Namibian, 11/10/2008), some of us are wondering why only these two leaders are singled out and who also happen to be Damara speakers, from one of the minority groups in SWAPO.
Are there no “Noblemen” from other ethnic groups in SWAPO? How does Diescho concoct and arrive at the theory of Geingob and Gurirab being “Noblemen”?
Unless Diescho provides further clarification, his theory about Geingob and Gurirab being “Noblemen” is flawed.
Why among all SWAPO leaders should Diescho accuse only Geingob and Gurirab of “advanced opportunism” and silence on issues in SWAPO?
Is it only Geingob and Gurirab who have acquitted themselves exceptionally well in their positions in the government?
Is it only Geingob and Gurirab who are capable of correcting what Diescho calls the deteriorating quality of debate in Parliament and Namibia’s under marketing and selling of itself continentally and globally?
In his comment on Geingob and Diescho, Hengari (The Namibian, 11/01/2008) refers to the Talented Tenth theory of W.E.B. Dubois which he correctly describes as elitist.
I would emphasize that I don’t believe in the elitist theory of the Talented Tenth that Du Bois used to describe highly educated intellectuals like him as the so-called exceptional men who should be given preference to lead others in society (Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 1961).
Although Du Bois was an intellectual giant of his time during his long and exemplary life of 95 years, he used his self-serving Talented Tenth theory against the less formerly educated and conservative Booker T. Washington to disparage him as a less informed or uneducated leader who didn’t deserve to become the most powerful African American leader between 1895 and 1915.
Booker T. Washington thoroughly discredited the Talented Tenth theory and succeeded in showing how elitist Du Bois’ conception of leadership was.
In later years, based on the feedback that he received from his colleagues and friends, Du Bois himself criticized his Talented Tenth theory as elitist and discarded it.
Ironically, today many educated intellectuals around the world still use the Talented Tenth theory uncritically although Du Bois abandoned it very early in his career as an academic and Civil Rights leader and long before his death in 1963 in Ghana where he was buried.
Educated elites are not perfect angels. It should be pointed out that Du Bois was one of those highly educated intellectuals who engaged in name-calling and used sarcastic and disparaging remarks against his opponents as he did when he wrote about the so-called “pigheadedness” of Marcus Garvey during the so-called Du Bois/Garvey debates.
Du Bois claimed that Garvey’s programme of “Africa for Africans” and “Return to Africa” was made impossible by Garvey’s problematic character and “pigheadedness”.
In his description of Garvey, Du Bois also resorted to the use of racial epithets and stereotyping, a problem that Garvey used effectively against him to argue that, as a light skinnned African American, Du Bois had a low regard for dark skinned Blacks and described him as a “useless Mulatto” who was “completely dependent on Whites”.
Therefore, the less formally educated Garvey also used the tactics of name calling and insults against Du Bois and others.
Again, later in his career, Du Bois regretted the fact that he used the tactic of name calling and racial stereotyping in his ideological battles with Washington, Garvey, and other leaders who he criticized severely in the NAACP paper that he edited.
These battles of insults and vilification did not take these leaders anywhere, and it was a waste of time.
Racial epithets and insults of a racist nature are also used in certain disputes in Namibian churches as was recently demonstrated by one of the losing candidates in the nomination and re-election of Bishop Kameeta of the Lutheran Church.
The disgruntled clergyman described Bishop Kameeta as a “White Herero” as if being White is a sin. This was an insult that was directed at Bishop Kameeta as a Herero church leader, and an indication of the racial attitudes that some clergymen have about albino Namibians, and this is unfortunate.
Let us note that what is happening between Geingob and Diescho is nothing new or surprising. It just shows that in Namibia it seems that we also don’t want to learn from our Black experience in Africa and the Diaspora, and to avoid making the mistakes that have already been made in the past.
In sum, given the fact that a large portion of our population has been and continues to be denied education, the few highly educated intellectuals, politicians, and analysts like Geingob and Diescho that we have are a great asset to Namibia and critical to the economic, civil, and political development of the country.
As such, the people expect Namibian intellectuals to engage in exemplary and high quality discourse that serves as a model for how we all can engage in the exchange of ideas in a respectful way without resort to slander, insults, and personal attacks for which there should be no room in a society that seeks to become tolerant and democratic.
– Dr Kustaa (B.A., M.A., Ed.S., Ph.D.) has been a Professor of Education and African and African American History in the United States, and he holds degrees in political science, history, education, and administration. Dr Kustaa is a Namibian, and now lives in Katutura, Windhoek.