For a very long while Namibia, then South West Africa, was known to be Afrika’s Last Colony. We were last in gaining our national independence and political freedom. In the years following our liberation, Namibians have done exceptionally well as a small nation, thanks to the leaders who steered this small nation sandwiched between giant economies, Angola in the north and South Africa in the south, both which possess more resources and have larger populations, yet very unstable and where real peace is elusive. Namibia has done more than many people would like to admit. In addition, Namibians do not possess the vocabulary, the grammar and the syntax with which to speak about things that are good about themselves as we are all too busy trying to find fault with one another, especially our leaders, so we very often miss the bigger picture. This is not to say that all is well. Critical we must be but at the same time be honest to acknowledge the good things and have the courage to give credit when and where credit is due. Intellectual honour requires that one is balanced in one’s appraisal of things, as there are always two sides to the story, if not more.
The story of ‘our firsts’ begins with our internalization that, as President Geingob likes putting it, we are a child of international solidarity, which we must say with boldness. The Namibian leadership’s first ‘first’ is the acceptance of Namibia’s role in international law, and attendant protocols that informed the process of drafting and crafting a Republican Constitution in 1989 that was the first of its kind on the Afrikan continent. The Founding Fathers and Mothers who sat in the Constituent Assembly and concluded an arduous process of negotiating and writing a constitution within 80 days had a collective vision of enormous significance and for generations to come! We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
Namibia as a site of a very difficult international law challenge was the first real success story in the history of the United Nations. Namibia’s transition from a protracted war to a democracy with national reconciliation, and the extent to which the leadership, especially the Swapo leadership became magnanimous to let go to the extent that Swapo accepted a victory of only 57% in the first democratic election in the country, demonstrated the political maturity and discipline that escort wisdom and true leadership.
Then came the magnitudinous style of assembling the first A-team for the first cabinet. Accompanied and fired up by messages the first democratic government under the Founding President sent to the international community, Namibia made such an impression on the world scale that the forty-second American President, Bill Clinton, described President Sam Nujoma as an Afrikan George Washington. Former ‘terrorists’ became trendsetters of nation-building and democracy, and Namibia continues to hold this banner even today.
With the transition from the Founding President Samuel Shafiishuna to the second President, Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba, Namibia became the first Afrikan country that has fought a war for independence to practise what it promised—that Namibia belongs to all who live in it. There was the first real peaceful transfer of power Afrika has seen. Furthermore, the Founding President is still a respected father figure and lives in the country that he founded. In many cases elsewhere, there would not have been room for Nujoma as the next leader would have felt intimidated and or he would have undermined the new leaders to orchestrate his grand return to power. None of that happened. The two first Presidents are still comrades in arms, appearing and working together at all times. Doomsayers who were waiting for the two to collide are still waiting.
Namibia is the first country on the continent to adopt a very significant Pan-Afrikanist stance as a matter of principle and policy. In the Land of the Brave the national flag flies alongside the African Union flag wherever the Namibian flag appears officially.
The record will show that Namibia is the first Afrikan nation where a person from a minority ethnic group could emerge, through secret balloting at different stages, as the most popular leader, and could galvanize the biggest electoral victory margin in the country’s history hitherto. Mind you, the majority of the voters throughout these sacred exercises are from the majority ethnic groups, the Aawambo and VaKavango, citizens who have grown in maturity and confidence in the country’s rules and regulations such that they can look beyond the primordial enclaves that divide and hurt Afrika all the time.
Namibia was the first country in Afrika to deliberately choose as the official language a language that was neither the language of the colonial masters nor the language spoken by the majority ethnic group in the country. In its collective wisdom, the leadership deliberately chose for official national communication and interaction a language that would not disadvantage anyone and yet from which all would benefit in the medium and long terms as a nation.
Namibia was the first Afrikan country to introduce and use the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and those of us who were skeptical were put to shame when, despite the hiccups, believable results were produced which were accepted by all contending parties. Countries with more resources and that are supposedly more sophisticated could not do it, yet Namibia did.
President Hage Gottfried Geingob was the first Afrikan Head of State to use a teleprompter when addressing the National Assembly in his first State of the Nation appearance on 21 April 2015.
There come times when we have to blow our own trumpet for if we do not, nobody will. There are more firsts that Namibia has every reason to boast about as a foundation of our national pride and character:
• Since independence and when Namibia became a state, there has been exponential change and growth that the continent has not known; the Namibian Government has over the past twenty-five years acquitted itself beyond expectation in terms of citizens’ freedoms and unhindered movement to be and to become;
• In 2013 the World Economic Forum described Namibia as the most competitive economy in the SADC region by 2017;
• Namibia is the first country in the democratic world to declare, by way of its governing party, Swapo, the custodian of the fight for freedom, a 50/50 gender balance in all decision-making structures; a principle so profoundly progressive and noble, even if it has shortcomings in its implementation;
• Namibia has the fastest growing tourist industry in Afrika;
• Namibia has the youngest aeroplane fleet, which is more fuel-efficient and requiring less maintenance than others on the continent;
• Namibia has the best record of media freedom in Afrika, and even ahead of Canada and the United States of America;
• Namibia has the largest Digital Terrestrial Television coverage per population in the SADC region;
• Namibia has the cheapest mobile data rates in the SADC region;
• Namibia has the best roads in Afrika;
• Namibia is the first country to establish a community-based conservancies model for community-based natural resources management;
• Namibia was the first country to have an environmental protection clause in its first Constitution;
• Namibia is the first country in Afrika to try out the Basic Income Grant (BIG) system, in Omitara;
• Namibia is the home of Otavipithecus namibiensis, the first and most complete fossil ape (homo sapiens) in sub-equatorial Africa which represents a significant addition to the taxonomically sparse African middle Miocene hominoid fossil record;
• Namibia houses the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, where one finds the highest dunes that gallop back and forth;
• Namibia is the only non-European country with a German daily newspaper: the Allgemeine Zeitung;
• Namibia is first to create a full-fledged Ministry for Poverty Eradication;
• Namibia is the habitat of the largest canyon in Afrika, second in the world, the Fish River Canyon;
• Namibia is the cheetah capital of the world;
• Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, is the holder of the world’s first class successful water reclamation/recycling technology;
• Namibia is the only country in Afrika with an elected Head of State with a real and earned doctoral degree;
• Namibia is the country of choice to travel with family in the world today;
• The Canadian based Fraser Institute Report of 2014 ranked Namibia as the Most Attractive Destination in Afrika for Investment and Exploration.
Here is the clincher: world opinion has it that Namibia is the Greatest Afrikan Wildlife Recovery Story Ever Told. One would be remiss not to end with a repeat of what many historians and writers have alluded to before, namely that Namibia is a land of paradoxes. Not only was Namibia the site of the first genocide in twentieth century history, but occupies today the most peaceful and most stable country in Afrika! Omake vakwetu!