‘You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it’ warned Albert Einstein.
For any matter to be understood and any problem to be solved meaningfully, a proper diagnosis must be made that gets to the causes thereof. It is fair to say that the current problem, at least so identified by the various protagonists, is land.
Various role players now under the rubric of Affirmative Repositioning (AR) on the one hand and actors of the state on the other are at loggerheads on resolving the land issue. There is certainly more at stake than land hunger. At face value various state actors and ‘affirmative repositioners’ are at variance on what has been articulated by the youth as a land crisis.
The real causes of the apparent antagonism are still to be unraveled as there has been no calamity on either farms or urban land to cause an eruption. It is therefore important to deal with this development with dexterity and in the spirit of Namibia’s national interests, not the interests of a particular sector or group or individual, however well-meaning that entity might be. If the ‘land issue’ is not properly addressed timeously and properly, the emotions that emanate from it can spill onto matters that can cause a classic state-‘society struggle’ which Namibia does not need.
In the first place, is the language we are using here appropriate to characterize a reasonable dialogue that can take the nation forward? Second, should the state not have taken charge of this mater instead of showing indifference till the last minute such that it would appear that AR is setting the agenda? Is the timing of the expulsion of the protagonists of the land reform not unfortunate in that it appears to inflame the situation even further instead of contain it? Importantly, would we be in this situation if the leadership did not act in the manner that it did by suspending its youth leaders and in so doing set them free to regroup and become combative than they would have been if they were still inside?
Three illnesses our colonized minds continue to suffer from are (a) the use of wrong words and unhelpful terms to describe what we want to say and end up saying the wrong things, (b) knee-jerk reactions to things that we find uncomfortable, and (c) the art of vilifying and demonizing one another when we ought to be embracing one another in search of durable solutions. For instance, when American President Lyndon Johnson enforced the affirmative action measures in 1965 he was auctioning a procedure by which the white Anglo-Saxon Americans were to affirm the minority blacks and Hispanics in the mainstream life of white America by asking them to sacrifice some measure of the existing standards in their life. In essence it meant that for purposes of America’s good name and political stability in the country, white America needed to change its treatment of minority communities by affirming them as part of the mainstream America.
The use of affirmative action in our context is therefore not the right words because the minority cannot affirm the majority. With regard to land, it is not clear who is to affirm whom or what is to affirm what. Be that as it may, the AR movement has sparked something that was sleeping in waiting.
It would appear that the issue at hand here is NOT land per se, but something else. Land issues historically are manifested and tackled differently from what we are seeing in the current body politic of Namibia.
We have been at peace since independence and nothing really major happened to signify a land crisis as such. How did this come about? In his book, ‘The Tipping Point’, Malcolm Gladwell offers some thoughts that might assist us to get to the bottom of the current issue.
The first question is therefore what was the tipping point that brought this challenge to the fore in the 25th year of the nation’s independence? According to Gladwell, a tipping point is a moment in time when an idea or a trend or a social behaviour crosses a threshold (tips) and spreads like wild fire. This appears to be what happened with the Swapo Youth league leaders, thus causing great consternation within Swapo and rendering the governing party unlike what it was before. If political theory is anything to go by, Swapo will never be the same as before after this experience. Still the question is what happened, or what led to this? The answer to this seemingly particular question is complicated and must be put in its proper general and historical context.
Afrikologists, Basil Davidson, in his seminal book: ‘The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-state’ chronicled the skew planning trajectory of new Afrikan states after independence. He showed the unfairness of colonization of Afrika in the 19th century, and showed the bankruptcy of Afrikan leaders who ruled their countries after independence. He showed how after the attainment of political independence, a handful of the Afrikan elite rose to power over traditional African leaders and arrogated to themselves the sole right to govern, with pomp and circumstance, with fleets of motorcades to outperform their colonial masters in the display of power.
The new Afrikan elite suffer from a tendency to forget about the history that brought about the struggles, chief amongst which is the control and management of land. They see themselves as the new owners of the land and proceed to silence any opposition to their whims.
The new political elite, now in style, turned against their own traditions which they derided as `tribalism’ and anti-development.
The state which the European colonial masters imposed upon Afrikans was inherited by the former colonized Afrikan leaders who made no attempt to reform and adapt it to the realities of the Afrikan people. Instead the elites continued to use the state as an instrument with which to subjugate their own and amass wealth for themselves and their kin.
The state gobbled up the space for public participation of the ordinary and cannibalized life in Afrika. As a result, what the class of Afrikan leaders had to contend with was `a crisis of social disintegration’ from which followed a spiral of economic and social decay that has brought the continent to all manners of crises, including the crisis of identity and the crisis of meaning! The state in Afrika has not yet found its way, meaning and function, as many wars on the Afrikan continent after independence were between the new state and the people it was meant to serve. And it continues to limp from one crisis to another.
The new state in Afrika assumes the role of a machinery of the head of state to distribute largesse to family, friends and cronies, not as conceived in its original European entity comprising of chambers to make and change laws; a legitimate executive bureaucracy to carry out the laws and independent courts to interpret and explain the laws. Very few governments in Afrika, if any, have understood the real essence of the state. Opposition parties, in their desire to discredit the ruling party, do not contribute constructively to the real work of the state as they see everything that the government does as wrong and worthy of destroying, whereas they ought to be supportive of government in the interest of improving what the government does for the sake of the people. In this context, the state begins to describe some if its citizens as enemies of the state whereas citizens cannot be enemies of the state. Only outside forces can be enemies of the state.
It will do us well to do some reflection on a no prejudice basis on what went on in the management of the state in the last 25 years in order to appreciate the roots of the current conundrum and see where the tipping point occurred.
Namibia has enjoyed more peace and stability than most countries in the word in the first 25 years of their existence. At the same time Namibia appears not to have escaped the curse of the absence of real statesmanship and visionary leadership that would have assisted the nation to avert what is going on now.
There appears to be either a misunderstanding of the role of the state in the country, or the state simply choses to be elusive until there is a crisis. This misunderstanding starts with a misperception of the role of the ruling party and its leaders.
This is what the late Claude Ake meant with his seminal essay: ‘How Politics Underdevelops Africa!’ The irony is that where it was invented, in old Europe, the state did what it was meant to do, whereas in Afrika it does not.
Those in the leadership of the state continue to have a twisted sense of being politicians and political leaders; they are political entrepreneurs at best because their sense of politics is about serving themselves and their kin and cronies, not their nations, and when they act with benevolence, they do so without a sense of passion for social justice.
There has been Poor Strategic Development Planning on the part of the government in a Developmental State in Namibia since independence.
This fact has been acknowledged by various highly placed and senior government officials in the past – those who realized that the state’s central preoccupation to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor by pushing the frontiers of poverty and extending opportunities of better life to the greatest number of citizens has been left the goodwill of the people.
There has not been much serious development planning compared to what was inherited when the philosophy was to make life comfortable for the minority who lived in cities and ‘blanke dorpies’. It would appear that the post-independence planning is still based upon the old model that does not seek to distribute resources in the city itself, never mind the rest of the country. For instance, the heart of Namibia lies within a five kilometre radius of Kalahari Sands Hotel. If a high qualitative means of destruction hit Kalahari Sands, the nerve centre of the whole country would be destroyed – Kalahari Sands Hotel, the Hilton Hotel, the Municipality of the City of Windhoek, the Ministry of Defence, the Bank of Namibia, the Supreme Court and the High Court of Namibia, the National Assembly and National Council, the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Affairs Head Office, Christuskirche, the National Museum and Art Gallery, the National Theatre, Nedbank, the new FNB Head Office now at the entrance of the Hilton Hotel.