By Professor joseph diescho
LIKE with many issues in development and the changing dynamics in any society, successful management of diversity requires a leadership that understands the context of his/her people, where they come from, what their strengths and weaknesses are, the resources they have at their disposal with which to tackle the myriad of issues and challenges that come day in and day out, and appreciate and work with the strength there is in each and every community towards the betterment of the whole nation.
Namibians are as similar as they are dissimilar. To all intents and purposes, the unity that has evolved in the nation is thanks to colonialism and apartheid oppression that forced people who were otherwise dissimilar to unite against the common enemy. This is true to the rest of the Afrikan continent whose similarity as Afrikans is largely in the fact that we all fought against colonialism. In the absence of a common enemy, our unity remains elusive and slippery.
Today, there are many people, if the majority of us, in Namibia, even in high leadership positions who do not know the difference between a Nama and a Damara, between a Coloured and a Baster, between a Subia and Mbukushu, and/or cannot tell the difference of the languages that these people speak. Today, many of our ambassadors would not be able to market Namibia as a country with regions that have different strengths because they do not know. They only know the story of the liberation struggle, but NOT what the country has going for it.
This explains the flawed leadership Afrika often suffers from. Ignorance is one of the leading factors of underdevelopment and instability. A leader cannot steward his people well if he/she does not know how they are constituted, what assumptions they hold of other people, and even what aspirations they have for their children.
What are our diversity challenges? The Namibian nation, like most countries, comprises parts that would not have been together had it not been for the path of human migration from north, central, east and west Afrika, followed by colonialism and the development of a western style economy, which has taken over most of the subsistence economy that the Afrikans brought with them. This means that today’s Namibia is unlike what any ruler, leader or political party had in mind before independence. We have different Afrikan communities with their backgrounds and prejudices; we have Europeans who have their own issues; we have Christians with different orientations; and we have people who think their village is all there is for them in Namibia. There are those who believe that their political party membership is more important than their citizenship; there are those who believe that because of what they did or what their fathers/mothers did in the struggle, the world owes them everything; we have citizens who are half-here and half-somewhere else; and we have citizens who believe that unless they are in the leadership, the country is not safe.
The fundamentals of our diversity are as follows: Namibia is at the moment the most peaceful and most stable country on the Afrikan continent. Namibia is a small country sandwiched between two big and strong economies, Angola in the north and South Africa in the south, both which are unstable and where greed and corruption is more common a threat to peace and stability than here. Namibians remain very ignorant about one another, and this is even at the levels of top leadership.
Many Namibians are dishonest about their past and their history and they lie about where they have been in order to protect their bellies, so much so that we have citizens who served in the old ethnic or Bantustan administrations who lie that they were in the struggle, and there are those who have the gall to claim from the well-intended war veterans fund whereas they know they do not qualify as veterans.
Namibia is a dominant party state, and history shows that dominant party states are a breeding ground for opportunism and mediocrity such that there is very little room for meaningful opposition to the hegemony of the ruling party, which has developed great skills in co-opting possible dissenting perspectives to shut them up. In our case, opposition formations are dysfunctional because the opposition parties do not offer any alternative(s) by way of programmes that deal with fundamental policy issues of sustainable economic development, education, health care, safety and security, foreign policy, immigration and crime. In fact, the so-called opposition simply mimics the governing party.
Our governing party has vast experience and expertise in co-opting potential credible oppositional voices. The presence of church leaders in high government positions has to be understood in this context. In this way, the way, which ought to have remained a strong moral voice in the most Christian country in Afrika, has been silenced completely. In the absence of a moral and prophetic voice in today’s world, we are doomed to the pornography of wealth and political power. A good political party with a countervailing voice such as the church’s voice can only grow in arrogance and corruption as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, to paraphrase an old warning.
The Land of the Brave is infested with a psychosis of fear. Everybody is afraid of something and the benefits of this fear are that there is no movement forward. We are all stuck in the past. Innovative and creative ideas can easily be seen as lack of loyalty and therefore oppositional in the greater scheme of One Namibia One Nation under one rubric: the liberation struggle!
Namibia is a Land of Paradoxes. Political science teaches that as humans, we live in a paradoxical situation that resembles the prisoners’ dilemma theory. This theory explains that when we are in society, individual communities make what they consider rational choices, such that the outcomes of those choices are not as beneficial compared to the outcomes if they made collective choices. Whether we are acting as political parties, cultural groups, language groups or race groups, we continue to make choices that are harmful to the countries. Hence the need to heed the teachings of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, individuals who had thought it through and envisioned a better society for all, not actually went against the grain and rose above the rest to dream bigger. Namibia needs such dreamers, not of the past but about the future. The one country that manages its diversity better than any other in our world is the United States of America where citizens’ rights and duties proceed from their birth right — so much so that to a child whose father was not a citizen could aspire, be allowed to and indeed become the president. Nowhere else is this possible today! In Namibia, a candidate will have to embellish his/her story and even lie about his/her contribution to the liberation struggle. What we need is a common dream with selfless champions — a dream that is practical with policies and structures and around which we can all coalesce as equal citizens and each other’s keepers.
Land of Dilemmas. As a new and democratic nation, we have to face and manage dilemmas from time to time, and these dilemmas are situations that we have to manage deliberately and purposefully. A dilemma is a situation where there is no clear or easy choice or answer and which necessitates informed arguments to different but more enlightened choice between equally disagreeable or disfavourable alternatives; a situation which compels a choice between unpleasant alternatives. In other words, we live in a society, which has to make room for all, including those we would not have liked if they were not here. Our ethnic make-up needs to be managed more purposely because when left to chance, there might be eruptions in the future that can derail our march to Vision 2030.
Let me break this down for clarity’s sake: Namibians from the Zambezi Region are the most economically mobile in the country so much so that their presence in the national economy everywhere in the country would suggest that they are the second largest ethnic group in the country. Caprivians are in all the regions, all the banks, all the institutions and in senior positions, Kavangos remain the most unrepresented in the national economy. Kavangos prefer to stay at home, and those who venture out in the larger economy are in the security establishments as watchmen and bodyguards. A Kavango head of a national organisation will make sure he/she is the only one there as he/she does not trust other Kavangos who he/she wants to depend on him/her. The Hereros are more inclined than any other ethnic groups to bring other Hereros close to where they are. If a Herero is employed as a principal of a school, rest assured that there will be a few Herero teachers there in a matter of months. Damaras are not too eager to be identified as Damaras unless they are members of the UDF, and not all the time. Damaras do not want to be labelled as a minority with some certain unkind words, but would rather be part of other groups in the scheme of national politics. The Tswanas are grateful when they are acknowledged in national politics, and would take any position they are offered as an affirmation of the permanent status in the country. Tswanas are welcoming to the farmers, especially government top officials who want to do farming in the cattle country of Omaheke. Oshiwambo-speaking Namibians are conscious that they are in charge, and wish that other groups did not have to try too hard to be Aawambo. They encourage others to be confident in their own right, and that it is enough to sing all the freedom songs in Oshiwambo.
The German Namibians, a distinct European permanent tribe in the country, are not always sure whether they are coming or going. Germans are a very critical part of the success of our economy, yet they do not have the confidence to really belong here. They are proud of the country when things go well, but they miss Europe when things are not so good for them, even though they never lived in Germany and could never survive there either. The more reliable white Namibians are the Afrikaners, die Boere, who know this is their only place and they are part of the success or the failure. The Coloured Namibians have been the most afflicted by the history of white supremacy, which socialised them to internalise that they were almost white, “amper baas”. They were denied opportunities before because they were not white enough, and they feel they are denied opportunities because they are not black enough. The Basters’ altans the real Boorlinge of Rehoboth are more authentic in their self-understanding and self-definition as an Afrikan community who is at the epicentre of our evolution as a nation. The Baster does not only want to be in the construction business, but in essence represents the best and worst of the old Europe and the old Afrika. The San people, the more original people of our land, are neither here nor there but a ‘pet project’ of senior government officials whose job descriptions are not very clear.
Then there are Angolans, whose economic life is in Namibia but their emotions are in Angola. For some strange reason, they look down upon Namibians and sometimes insist that Namibians speak Portuguese to them because they have more buying power. Their children are more Namibian than Angolan and are likely to make Namibia their permanent home.
Oh, there is new tribe — the youth! Over 60 percent of the Namibian population is members of the youth who are between 13 and 35 years, yet the political leadership’s orientation is towards the have-beens, thus posing as threat to stability if the youth continues to grow in disenchantment and restlessness. Planners of economic development and builders of this nation who do not take these factors into consideration in their planning can only plan to fail.
Namibia has her challenges, and they are growing, starting this Year of Great Expectations. One feels for the leadership that will be ushered in in March when the expectations are so high that it will take a person or a team with unusual a commitment to the interests of the nation to deliver on them. It is unlikely that the top government bureaucracy will be smaller and will be one that will not take up more resources than required to propel development forward.
We know that Afrikan leaders are not ones who are very eager to do more with less. It is unlikely than we will see less motorcades pushing citizens off the roads; is unlikely than we will see more education reform for purposes of development; it is unlikely that we will see more executives appointed on merit and not political considerations to the peril of national development; we are likely to see the same recycled securocrats (government officials who care only about their job security and nothing else) in demanding positions which we and they know they cannot deliver in. We are likely to see more of the same as the more things change, the more they remain the same. Keith Richburg warned a few years ago that in Afrika, things stay the same until they fall apart.
In spite of the not so hopeful picture above, Namibia remains a Land of Opportunities. In the last twenty-five years, the country has done extraordinarily well under the circumstances when we started with virtually no system of governance and the leadership managed to build the foundations of a working democratic government system second to none in Afrika. What remains is how we build on these foundations and become better. The first challenge here is to read the times correctly. The affirmation towards this goal is encapsulated in the Government of the Republic of Namibia Grand Vision 2030, calling for a paradigm shift from sector development to integrated approaches through strategic partnerships of various stakeholders and a readiness for innovative thinking, such that we all begin to do things differently towards a better future for all. If we continue to do things the way we have been doing, we shall get the same results we have been getting.
What we focus on becomes our reality; what we feed grows.
Other countries that faced diversity challenges turned them into opportunities. Australia, Canada, Singapore, to mention but a few, had turnaround strategies to engineer diverse communities into one by giving incentives and having programmes to steer positive energies towards a collective vision from which all benefitted. We need to find the strengths in each community and work with them towards a common goal — a better One Namibia One Nation, where all have equal opportunity not because they belong to a particular political party, but because they are citizens. Out of our diversity we can build a Namibian personality with both rights and obligations. We need a mortgage a space for a common good. Our new common enemies are: poverty, greed, corruption, tribalism, ignorance, racism, diseases, nepotism, xenophobia, dishonesty, laziness, self-righteousness and the culture of entitlement. We ought to be united against these evils that eat away at our hard-won peace, unity and stability.
Duty is ours to make a contribution, however small, not because we are members of a political party, but because we are citizens, regardless of how and when we came here. Separately we are weak, as we have always been, but together we are strong, like we have never been! The opportunity to weave these parts together into one colourful quilt is now, by doing business unusual, and demanding from each according to our abilities!