THIS month Namibia celebrates her jubilee that is 25 years of self-rule, political independence and the ultimate collective expression of the nation’s right for self-determination. Shortly after midnight on 21 March 1990, the Founding President said these words: ‘As from today, we are the masters of the land of our ancestors. The destiny of this country is now fully in our hands. We should, therefore, look forward to the future with confidence and hope.’ Namibia’s age as a free nation is about half of the age of independence in Afrika if we start counting from 1957 when Ghana was the first to rise to the level of Afrikan nationhood in the free world. We should therefore look at our celebrations in the context of the Afrikan experience with self-rule, corrupt and self-serving leadership and gross mismanagement. The Great Dreams of the Afrikan people have been shortchanged by shortsightedness and small-mindedness of none but ourselves as Afrikans who have been and continue to be devoid of visions to steward resources to benefit the greatest numbers of our people.
Our momentous celebration of 25 years of nationhood is taking place against the backdrop that Afrika as a continent is nowhere near the dream that was punctuated on 25 May 1963 with the establishment of the Organization of African Unity, and later in July 2002 when the OAU was transformed into the African Union (AU).
The strongest proponent of the new Afrikan Union was South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki for whom the dignity of the Afrikan people in their diaspora was fundamental – so fundamental that South Africa was a site of operation whereas the Afrikan continent was his theatre of prosecuting the war against bad governance, corruption, underdevelopment and the self-aggrandizement that characterized Afrika’s rulers throughout the period of self-rule. Thabo Mbeki was so preoccupied with the upliftment of Afrika that he ran the risk of being accused by his fellow countrymen and women that he was in Afrika rather than South Africa, and he was using South Africa’s resources to tackle the continent’s problems.
Mbeki was Afrika’s post-Cold War Kwame Nkrumah who in his inaugural speech during the celebrations of Ghana’s independence on 6 March 1957 screamed for Afrika and the world to hear: ‘Ghana’s independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African Continent!’
Following that, the first crop of Afrikan leaders were seized with a vision and mission to liberate the continent from the last shackles of colonial and foreign rule. They were not driven by personal glory – that came later as the world twisted them into directions they never foresaw, especially the fight for control between the East and West.
In 2002, the AU took over the mantle of working towards Afrika’s Dream, of the New African Renaissance which, as Nelson Mandela put it in his first ever appearance at the OAU Summit of Afrika’s heads of state and government in Tunis, Tunisia, in June 1994, the efforts of Afrika would no longer be about political liberation, but freeing Afrika from oppression, diseases, poverty and want. Mandela wanted an Afrika where its people were at peace with themselves and their leaders became servants of the people. At the beginning of the AU, Mbeki was ably supported by three Presidents who were assigned by the AU Assembly of Heads of States and Government to spearhead the new initiatives towards real and durable development of the continent as a whole, namely, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade. This was the genesis of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which is now neither here nor there. NEPAD was driven by a few fundamental principles, chief amongst them the following: Afrikans to take responsibility and ownership of their own affairs and resources; make Afrika attractive to the markets domestic and foreign; unleash and sustain Afrika’s vast potential; achieve 15% economic growth in 15 years; strive to achieve the millennium development goals, increase investments in human and resource development and promote the role of women in society.
The goals of NEPAD were not achieved and the organization has been transformed into a few sectoral intervention projects. The main factors leading to NEPAD’s failure are: most of NEPAD’s programmes were funded by European countries and that foreign support came, as it usually does, with certain conditionalities by which Europe pushed her own agenda and to mitigate against selfish agendas of wayward Afrikan leaders; when the leadership changed, the next breed did not want to push forward the agendas of their predecessors, good or bad; Afrikan regions and linguistic groups did not pull together towards common agendas as they remain(ed) divided along the lines of their colonial identities; many of the suggested interventions were tied into regional integration reforms as preconditions for further investments, and nationalism as it often does, got in the way of common development dreams; donors realized that many Afrikan leaders were more eager to use the money they were receiving to celebrate their own independence achievements instead of spending it on development projects that would benefit their nations; and there were very little contributions from Afrikan governments themselves and as consequence, donor fatigue came and foreign funding dried up – leaving Afrika pretty much where she was before the AU in 2002, if not worse.
Ten years after the establishment of the AU Thabo Mbeki wrote a reflective essay on the decade’s existence of the AU under the rubric: A Dream Deferred! He wrote: ten years after the AU was formed, the question must be answered – has the dream been realized or has it been deferred? He went on to issue a serious indictment of the new crop of Afrikan leaders stomping the grounds today celebrating themselves instead of leading their people towards a better a better rendezvous with their self-determination. Equally, he admonished the western supports of these leaders for taking them for a ride with all manners of promises of foreign aid if they behaved in a certain manner rather than encouraging them to serve the interests of their people. Even before he became the President of South Africa in June 1999, Mbeki launched his African renaissance campaign with the call for Afrika’s people to rise up against corrupt, abusive and self-serving leaders, called upon workers and peasants, business people, artisans and intellectuals, religious groups, women and youth, sportspeople and workers in the fields of culture, writers and media workers, political organizations and government workers ‘to constitute a mass army for the renewal of the African Continent’.
In 2012 Thabo Mbeki spoke with a heavy heart about the Afrikan dream as articulated by the OAU and the AU, and concluded: All this is surely what we thought of our future as we engaged in countless struggles throughout our Continent, for many centuries, to reclaim our right to be ourselves, free to decide for ourselves, to exercise our right to determine our collective destiny, not relying on any permission from anybody. It is the sacred task of the African Union, acting within the context of the partnership of all motive forces within our Continent, to mobilise us to use our united strength to achieve this dream, not allowing petty conflicts to divide us. If this dream is deferred for much longer, surely, it will explode!
Historical records will likely prove that Mbeki was one of the most selfless Presidents and Heads of State Afrika has known. Like his mentor, Julius Nyerere who went to his mother’s hut after he stepped down as first President of Tanzania, Mbeki bought his own retirement home. As President he followed Mandela’s example by moving about in the least intrusive presidential motorcade. Citizens’ lives were hardly interrupted by his presence in the neighbourhood. His wife Sis’ Zanele continued to be part of the community activism. After Mbeki was rudely removed from power by what Reuell Khoza described as a strange breed of leaders in the ANC, Mbeki remained disciplined about and loyal to the cause of fighting corruption and is still actively engaged as a mature Afrikan intellectual voice on the affairs of the continent whose future remains on a rickety train moving very slowly.
President Pohamba will also be remembered for his unintrusive motorcades and his peaceful and humane way of handling state affairs. Even when people did not feel his intellect, his moral presence and soft power was there, and that was good for the nation. In this regard, Nipam feels vindicated for having championed without fail the story of Namibia’s unparalleled peace, stability and smooth transfer of power by the Mo Ibrahim award to outgoing President Pohamba. The Mo Ibrahim prize’s characteristics are: the winner must be a former African Executive Head of State or Government who was democratically elected, served his/her constitutional term, demonstrated exceptional leadership and who left office in the last three years. This coveted prize in leadership has gone without a winner in the last two years. All our congratulations go to President Pohamba. This recognition is a welcome feather in our cap as we move forward as a nation that is setting the tone of constitutional democratic governance in Afrika.
Mbeki is right that Afrika’s Dream is falling behind and apart as it is continuously being deferred and is likely to explode. This dream has been suffering under the heavy weight of greedy, self-serving, corrupt and feelingless and heartless Heads of State and their sycophants. The general malaise of the Afrikan story of self-rule has led most scholars on Afrikan affairs to conclude that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to what to do with power. We therefore need to ask serious questions about Namibia’s Dream which remains elusive and undefined. In other words, where is the Namibian Dream and is it going in the same direction as the Afrikan Dream that was deferred too long and could explode? The current signs are not very encouraging. It is not only the youth, but there are growing voices crying out for: frugal use of state resources, meritorious leadership, improved crime management, better and a more responsive education system, improved conditions for healthcare and security and defence workers, accountable officials in the regions and job creation. These are signals that trouble might be coming to Paradise – unless, as Vision 2030 advises, we begin to think about ourselves as a country differently, and place emphasis on the people and their lives, not just the leaders, their families and friends, as the Afrikan story goes. Those in leadership positions are there for the people, not the people for them. (To Be Continued)