By Professor joseph diescho
AS we celebrate the silver jubilee of our nation, it is important that we pause, take a deep breath in order to interrogate and necessarily contextualize the milestones of this period by moving closer to the definition of the Namibian Dream. The prolonged honeymoon with our political independence since 1990 has not given us an opportunity to do that sufficiently, and failure to define our dream will render the future generations without the necessary armory to defend the nation and withstand the challenges of democracy within and without.
In order to appreciate the Namibian Dream, it is important to return to the basics of our political story as a country with different communities. Like with the Organization of African Unity and later the African Union, things began to fall apart as circumstances and personalities changed and in that process the new cadres either did not know what buttressed the foundations for these cardinally important edifices, or they decided to take different directions which were not in tandem with the original intents. The same can be said about our own national dream, if there was one to start with, namely that as events change and political leaderships change, the dream gets forgotten. This is the one thing that Americans are good at – they always go back to the original intent of their unique republic when they evoke and invoke the words of their Founding Fathers: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, whenever they disagree and quarrel, that dream beckons them to regroup as one people under the same Star Spangled Banner, the American flag – not the flags or symbols of the different political parties that contest for government functions.
The foundations of Namibia’s dream are located in in the genesis and trajectory of the liberation struggle. First, what is known as Namibia was not the creation of the Namibian people themselves, but grew out of a collective experience of a people treated as a collective who were oppressed as such, a people who grew to know that by virtue of where they were located they had to suffer subjugation which they would not have suffered had they not been where they were, and that as a collective they stood up to defend their God-given rights to be humans with dignity, respect and honour. And that this struggle for humanity bestowed upon them a consciousness that they were one even though they would not have been that without their collective colonial experience. This argument is similar to Ali Mazrui’s assertion in 1963, that what constitutes an African identity is the collective of European colonialism and very little else. Till today, the African Union would barely exist outside of the common struggle to either guilt-trip Europe, or fundraise from Europe, as we saw with the NEPAD experience. The talk about Afrikan trade is as hollow as the commitment Afrikan Heads of State make to international treaties, such as the International Court of Justice, which collapses under the weight of Afrikan Heads of States and Governments’ solidarity to defend the indefensible. This solidarity without principles is what led President Nyerere to describe the OAU as a ‘Trade Union for Afrikan Heads of State where they assemble to protect their interests against those of their nations, and in defiance of their own national dreams.’
The Ovaherero anti-German resistance leader Samuel Maharero first articulated the Namibian Dream by writing an advisory to the Nama leader Hendrik Witbooi on 31 January 1904. This was at a time when these two founder Namibian communities faced a common threat emanating from the German imperial onslaught on whoever would have been in their way to acquire occupation of the country they were designated at the Berlin Conference of 1884/5. This was a real threat that was enveloped in the German Kolonialbund official ‘Vernichtungsbefehl’, the order of extermination. Maharero offered to Witbooi to put their differences aside and fight or die together in defence of their land.
Here begins to germinate the fundamentals of the Namibian Dream. First was the spirit of sacrifice over comfort and expediency, and for a higher ideal, this time the ideal of freedom from occupation, no matter what it took. The two leaders decided that the freedom and the safety of ALL the people were higher than whatever the German forces would have offered in return for surrender. The two fighting communities could have opted to collaborate with the enemy in exchange for some albeit short-lived comfort and safety, or even joined the enemy in exchange for material goods and German protection. After all, the Germans had better ammunition and had things with which to force acquiescence. Yet the two sides chose to fight for the good name of their people and ultimately the country. ‘Let us die fighting’, Maharero implored Witbooi.
Second, the principle of unity to cooperate towards a bigger goal was at the centre of the Namibian identity. Here begins the realization that tribe alone did not make One Namibia. This realisation, that our differences were used as a source of our own weakness made our leaders mature enough to go after the goal of freedom. Early on they knew that differences would only allow invaders of our land to take advantage of us as weak separate identities which, when united, could protect our land better.
Throughout the struggle for independence the spirit of unity and cooperation against the threats from outside of the country was a strong thread. When the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) became the vanguard of the independence of and for Namibia, the commitment to unity was like a lantern held by all the leaders on their march to the future.
Third is the critical component of successful unity and/or cooperation, namely the realization that self-sufficiency is perilous to any cause worth pursuing.
This mature consciousness of co-dependency was an essential component of the leadership amongst the Ovaherero, notably within the Herero Chief’s Council, which was the most critical political force in the country at the time. It was the Herero Chief’s Council that began to internationalize the Namibian cry for the right for self-determination. They sent Fanuel Jariretundu Kozonguizi and Mburumba Kerina to petition at the United Nations in New York. It was the Herero Chief’s Council that had the foresight and fortitude to smuggle Samuel Nujoma (the Founding President) out of the country to join the two petitioners to seek international solidarity for the Namibian cause. At this time already, the mature leadership in Namibia demonstrated an ability to look beyond tribe and ethnicity and cast eyes on the bigger picture.
This to all intents and purposes was an essential attribute of the real liberation struggle. Admittedly, there were moments when certain elements in the leadership reared off course and used tribe to advance their own agendas.
When one studies the leadership style of the Founding President, amongst the strongest qualities he possessed was his extraordinary commitment to the totality of Namibia and the sharp savvy to manage tribe and ethnicity in the furtherance of a One Namibia, One Nation. It is this commitment to the whole of Namibia that characterized the history of the liberation struggle.
It is this spirit that invaded and infected the minds of the youth in the 1970s and early 1980s to leave the safety of their homesteads and go into an unknown world to fight for the dignity of the Motherland.
As a country, we have not been able to appreciate the meaning of this time, not to mention that we have not been able to thank sufficiently those who truly dedicated their lives to the goals of freedom on our behalf and in our name.
As a matter of fact, many of those who are claiming to have been in the struggle are those who have not internalized the values of the liberation struggle and who use it for gain, either politically or materially. The struggle as such was never about positions or wealth!
Third is the spirit of international solidarity. Second to the ANC of South Africa, it is SWAPO of Namibia that mounted an unparalleled international solidarity campaign that in turn gave shape to international law generally and the United Nations as an Assembly of Nations specifically.
Beginning with nothing from nothing, SWAPO gave the United Nations a litmus test by which its own track record was to be chronicled amongst nations in the world still struggling for the right of self-determination. It is thus no surprise that Namibia’s peaceful celebrations of independence in March 1990 under the auspices of the United Nations Resolution 435 Plan was the most successful story in the history of the United Nations. It is against this background and in this context that in his first public announcement after his election as the third President of the Republic, President–Elect Hage Geingob said Namibia is a child of international solidarity and remains a friend to all and an enemy to none.
Fourth is Namibia’s commitment to national reconciliation. In the context of Namibia, reconciliation is not a mere crisis management tool as it was largely in South Africa, post-apartheid. Race relations in Namibia have always been more positive than in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe before the attainment of independence.
One of the factors for this helpful history is the fact that as the country evolved into a nation, a consensus grew amongst black and white Namibians that the occupation of South Africa was to be thwarted. It was a matter of methodology that created tension, but in the main, both blacks and whites felt oppressed by South Africa and needed their own space to be free.
For example, there were many Finnish and a growing number of German church leaders and community activists who joined forces with the oppressed black majority to find ways and means to stop apartheid colonialism and oppression. It is this context that gave rise to leaders such as Dirk Mudge and a few respected black leaders to team up and increase the heat on the South African government and its apparatuses in Namibia. The credit for our successful democratic governance over the last 25 years, with its peace and stability, is due to many people who contributed to it.