By Citizen Nahas Angula
THE current political stalemate and associated violence in Kenya call for Africans everywhere to pause and reflect. This is what I tried to do in my previous opinion pieces. I posed the question: ‘Which way Africa?’ I further reflected on the state of democracy in Namibia.
All evidence available demonstrates that current African political systems are built on the quicksand of patrimonial rule and political patronage. Such systems are by and large buttressed by ethnic political entrepreneurship.
I have attempted to convincingly demonstrate that this African political malaise is slowly but surely infecting the Namibian political landscape. Many nationalists and patriots are retreating into the politics of ethnic solidarity.
As the saying goes: tribalism is the first refuge of a scoundrel! The retreat into tribal solidarity is the beginning of an end of political stability and peace in our society. Tribes will scramble for political power as a means of accessing national wealth and prestige.
By definition competition for resources is exclusive, discriminatory and divisive. Tribal political entrepreneurs will promise their tribesmen to build bridges where there are not even rivers once they get into power.
In a country like ours with already skewed income disparity, widespread poverty and unemployment, tribal political entrepreneurs will not only find fertile ground for their political propaganda, but at the same time will alienate sections of the population.
Tribal fault-lines will widen into open hostility. This is the prescription of the Kenya type of political conflict.
As Africa tackles the challenges of underdevelopment, Africa should at the same time explore opportunities of creating a political dispensation, which is inclusive, fair and just for all their citizens. African leaders should draw inspirations from the glorious history of anti-colonial struggle. Such experiences should serve as a compass to guide Africa’s political path. I shall illustrate this point with Namibia as a case study.
Namibia as a Case Study
The experience of the anti-colonial and liberation struggle in Namibia is still fresh in the minds of current Namibian leaders. One is indeed aware of the voices of revisionists calling for the discarding of the history of the liberation struggle. Such reactionary views should be rejected. The future of our country cannot be built in the vacuum but on the history of the people.
The nationalist campaigns and the liberation struggle in Namibia were waged on the basis of issues affecting the wellbeing and the welfare of the people. The issues that drove the nationalist campaigns and the liberation struggle were both additive and cumulative in shaping the struggle. They can be grouped as follows:
1. 1940s – Violation of terms of the Mandate of the League of Nations by South Africa.
2. 1950s – Exploitative labour conditions in the Territory.
3. 1960s – Bantustanisation of political processes and the impact of Bantu Education in the Territory.
4. 1970s – Colonial intransigency and international solidarity.
In the 1940s South Africa attempted to manipulate tribal chiefs, especially in Ovamboland, to agree to the incorporation of the territory into South Africa as a fifth province of that country. Chief Hosea Kutako mobilised other traditional leaders in central and southern Namibia to oppose this move.
The South African proposal was clearly against the terms of the mandate of the League of Nations. Protest petitions were sent to the United Nations opposing South Africa’s illegal moves. These petitions succeeded in convincing the international community to reject South Africa’s illegal proposals.
In the 1950s, the Contract Labour System of the South West African Labour Association (SWANLA) reached its highest form of exploitation and brutality. This affected mostly contract workers from Northern Territories of our country.
Harsh treatment of workers on farms; low pay; starvation food rations; mistreatment of labourers on their return journey to their villages; and physical assaults provoked “Nghuwo ye Pongo”, that is, Rev Theophelus Hamutumbangela and Andimba Herman ya Toivo, to send petitions to the United Nations in 1953 and 1957 respectively to draw the attention of the international community to this inhuman treatment. Such petitions eventually led to the formation of the Ovamboland People’s Congress whose political focus was the exploitative labour conditions experienced by the contract labourers.
The name “Ovamboland” was not meant to be a tribal designation but rather a counterpoint to the South African claim at the United Nations that the Owambo population of Northern Namibia was content with the South African rule. The implication was that the petitions by Chief Kutako and other traditional leaders did not represent the views of the majority of inhabitants of South West Africa. The designations “Owamboland People’s Congress” or “Ovamboland People’s Organisation”, were merely means of identifying an issue with those affected. Such names were not an attempt at creating some form of Owambo political hegemony. Ovamboland was a mere geographical designation.
In 1960s, the Odendaal Commission sought to institutionalise the Bantustanisation of Namibia.
The imposition of the so-called separate development on the territory was clearly another violation of the terms of mandate. For this reason, the nationalists convinced Liberia and Ethiopia to challenge the South African rule over Namibia at the International Court of Justice. Tragically, the court ruled that the two states did not have direct material interest in Namibia. This unfortunate ruling led to the escalation of the conflict and the launching of the armed liberation struggle in 1966.
The transformation of nationalist political campaigns into armed liberation struggle was met with brutal political repression; imprisonment of political leaders and activists; and the militarisation of Namibia by the colonial authorities. Swapo was now faced with the formidable challenge of executing the armed liberation struggle. Swapo adjusted its strategies to this situation by intensifying the mobilisation of international solidarity. Swapo opened office representations in Western Europe, the Socialist countries, Asia, Latin America and in many countries in Africa.
The international solidarity enabled Swapo to withstand South African political machinations and military onslaught until Namibia achieved its independence on March 21, 1990 after a protracted struggle.
Swapo was able to sustain the struggle because of its political acumen and pro-active response to challenges. This is the crucial lesson current political leaders should learn from the experiences of the struggle. The leaders of current generations should learn to identify the challenges facing the country and develop appropriate responses to turn such challenges into opportunities.
In order to counteract the current slide of political leaders into tribal solidarity as a political survival strategy, Swapo should draw from its glorious history to promote a culture of political inclusiveness, shared economic order, and social justice.
Towards Political Inclusiveness, Shared Economic Growth and Social Justice
Political competition by definition is a contested terrain. How could a politically inclusive culture be forged in such an environment? Economic growth comes about through risk taking and efforts of individuals. How could such growth be shared? Societies are unequal in their own organisation. How could social justice be promoted in an unequal social arrangement? These are the challenges of leadership everywhere.
Leadership should devise legitimate strategies to accept and manage differences at the same time. Leadership should devise strategies to level the economic playing field for the sake of fairness. Moreover, leadership should recognise social vulnerability and devise social safety nets to address such vulnerabilities.
In the Namibian context the political leadership could address these challenges along the social dimension of class, gender and generation. Throughout ancient history and due to colonial policies, a social under-class developed among our citizens. This social underclass has multiple layers.
At the bottom of this social underclass is the pauperism layer. The pauperism layer is made up of people without regular means of livelihood. Many of our San communities are trapped in the pauperism layer.
The next layer is that of the labour tenants and dispossessed rural settlement dwellers. The labour tenants are to be found on commercial farms. They have no fixed abode other than that of the farmer owner. Their tenancy is vulnerable to the whims of the farm owner.
Within this layer of underclass are resident of some of the rural settlements, especially in southern Namibia. These citizens have few productive assets. They sell their labour from time to time to commercial farmers. Their incomes are uncertain and at times irregular. The next layer of the underclass is peasants and subsistence farmers. These are to be found in Native Reservations and Communal Settlements.
Their production systems are rudimentary. They do not produce appreciable surplus. Due to the nature of their production systems, the peasants are forced to sell their labour as migrant labourers. As labourers, they are part of the Working Class. Their wages are meagre and they could not save enough to build up capital assets. The migrant labourers share the same social status with the lumpen proletariat of urban townships. The lumpen proletariat is the top of the layer of the underclass.
The upperclass on the other hand is made up of intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie. Progressive elements of the upperclass could enrich the political processes. However, the tendency of members of the upperclass toward accumulation should be guarded against. At the same time it should be recognised that the upperclass is the owner of production resources. It is imperative there to devise empowerment frameworks to ensure that the underclass acquires productive assets.
The layers of the underclass have a tendency of reproducing themselves socially. In fact, the underclass reproduces poverty and social deprivation. For a political system to be inclusive, it should take into consideration the various economic needs of different layers of the underclass.
The bottom layers may initially be served by social safety nets. The top layers of the underclass may be empowered by pro-poor investments in order to improve their production systems and strengthen their asset bases. Moreover, targeted programmes aimed at breaking the chains of poverty reproduction should be devised. These will include universal basic education, public works; and other economic empowerment strategies. The goal should be to ensure that all citizens enjoy minimum living standards.
The gender dimension should be addressed in its own right. Women throughout history suffered firstly, under the traditional system of patriarchy, then under the apartheid policies of curbing their mobility and by discriminating them in employment.
Any economic programme of inclusiveness and empowerment should take the gender dimension into consideration. Maternal health care; education and training; access to credit; equity participation; political participation and myriads of social policies should address gender in-equality in our society.
The youth are the majority in our population. Yet, the youth are faced with many social challenges. These include unemployment; poverty; lack of educational and training opportunities; the threat of HIV/Aids pandemic; and social exclusion. The youth should be central to political mobilisation; economic empowerment; and social inclusion programmes.
Programmes of career development; civic education; public works; economic participation; saving schemes; and access to credit should be promoted and well resourced. In this way, no youth should feel socially abandoned or economically left out.
There are designated groups within the broad categories of class, gender and generation. These include people affected by different types of disabilities. An inclusive political dispensation; shared economic order and social justice system, should equally address their needs.
All in all, Namibia should cultivate a political culture which is issue based. Namibia’s political culture should abhor tribalism, racism, sexism, social patronage, corruption, nepotism and similar negative social practices.
This will be the foundation, which will buttress peace and stability today, tomorrow and the day after. This is the best investment we can make for the future generations. If the political culture in Namibia could evolve on the ethics of inclusiveness, fairness and social justice, the future will be bright. Let Namibia emerge as a beacon of hope in this regard.