The Chinese sage, Lao Tsu, commonly known as Confucius, taught that: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them. That only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way.”
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions, they cease to be mind.”
The mother of black poetry Maya Angelou warned: “Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing…”
Then Albert Einstein said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
It is not an overstatement to say that at no time since Independence has there been so much anxiety about change as in the months following the elections of 2014. The national elections that ushered in Independence were accompanied by tremendous excitement and the conviction that Namibia would never be the same again.
It was unavoidable. It was the end of the war. It was the time of reuniting families that were torn apart by history, good and bad. It was the end of the past. Euphoria was everywhere in the air. People were ready to be told where to go and with whom. It was fine. No one knew the rules. There were no rules. No one was at fault. No one was greedy. We were all hungry.
As Chinua Achebe would have put it, we were in the rain together and now all scrambling to get inside into the shelters that our former colonial masters left behind. Those who were fast and lucky to get inside began to barricade themselves inside and spoke through numerous loudspeakers that all disagreement should stop and the whole people must now speak with one voice. Still nobody was wrong. It was the past that was wrong.
Following the successful elections of last year, many people on urban streets and rural footpaths developed huge and perhaps unrealistic expectations to follow the 2015 inauguration of the new administration. There were and are many challenges, that range from fixing the problems of land, housing, education, service delivery, ending corruption, to making the government smaller, leaner and more effective.
For the first time, most commentators in all these spheres have pinned their hopes on one person, President Hage Geingob. There were even ill and uninformed expectations in certain tribal quarters that it was now their time to eat!
Even to change their surnames to end with ‘seb’ or ‘rab’ or at least a b. The expectations were so high! Perhaps they still are. One can just imagine how many goodwill visits the president is receiving from people, many of whom did not harbour the best feelings about him when he was either an ordinary man or in the political desert that prepared him to be the strong political leader that he has become.
Then there are opportunistic expectations flowing from the career interests of tenderpreneurs, or political actors who are more than willing to forget where they were yesterday and can easily turn coats into most loyal appointees, just to survive and be relevant. Admittedly, these expectations are part of what politics is all about.
What are these expectations that will influence the political landscape in the next several years, at least leading up to the Extraordinary Elective Congress of the ruling Swapo Party in 2017?
In the main, the genuine expectations can be grouped under the following themes: First, are the changes that followed March 2015, which created in many quarters either a spirit of a New Beginning, or the disappointed sigh that the same old situation remained unchanged, or became even more expensive than before.
The real fear remains that in the nature of systems, it is harder to change things that need change than to start with nothing from nothing, as it was in 1990. In 1836 Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr warned that: ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’—the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The conversation keeps changing about what has changed and what remains the same in terms of priorities on the one hand and expectations on the other. The picture is that the officials to execute the policies and take forward the new president’s vision are the old recycled apparatchiks and securocrats.
Second, most political leaders, in the politics of democratic succession do not wish to rock the boat of their establishments and in doing so promise continuity with change in their campaigns. This is closer to our case here, especially in the context of the collective leadership ethos in the governing party SWAPO.
Understandable though the expectations are, the fact of the matter is that it is too much to expect of one person, let alone a person who comes through a democratic electoral process and who is not a dictator who is likely to rule by fiat.
President Geingob is a representative, now a vice and acting president at the same time, of the SWAPO collective, yet the expectation out there is that he is to fix all that was left unfixed, or the problems that developed over the last 25 years.
It will be interesting to see what one individual – who is not yet the president of the party can do – amidst all the expectations in the context of a long history of comradeship and collective ‘suffering’ for the cause.
On top of this is the Afrikan reality of patronage, whereby people are given positions not to make contribution, but as reward for something or to shut them up. In this reality, loyalty or silence or mindlessness and heartlessness get rewarded, rather than what the individuals can bring to serve the nation.
They are there to eat: La politique du ventre (the politics of the belly), to paraphrase Jean Francois Bayart.
Thirdly, there is a saying in America: If aint broke, don’t fix it! The elections demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that the electorate is content with the record of the governing party Swapo. This creates a challenge for the new administration to determine what must change after the voters gave it an overwhelming mandate to continue.
The manifesto upon which the governing party sought to have its tender to govern for another five years renewed is still the social contract between the incoming government and the Namibian citizenry.
To expect the new president to now suddenly change course and do the extraordinary is something outside of the mandate. We ought to be fair to him and appreciative of the system we have established.
Having said that, politics is about managing expectations, realistic and not-so-realistic, and effective leadership is about reframing the populace to re-examine their expectations in order to have them realigned with reality. This is embedded in the art of give and take.
Leadership is also about naming the new issues that influence new expectations and inform the direction to be followed. It is said that good leaders are those who define the issues, even if they do not succeed in solving such issues. This is where the biggest challenge is for the Namibian leadership in general and the new administration in particular: naming the new world for all Namibians, with the attendant new rules of the game.
Twenty-five years after the attainment of the noble goal of political independence, the language of liberation cannot sustain the movement going forward. The language and idioms of struggle or liberation are exhausted, stale, and jaundiced in so far as the youth, white citizens, faith-based leaderships, self-respecting professionals, and investment communities are concerned.
They want to hear messages that are relevant today and tomorrow. They want to be empowered about how to survive today, because the struggle is not theirs to survive. In fact the more the leadership speak of how they liberated the country, the more distant they become from the voters who are sick of feeling guilty that they were not born yet to participate in the struggle.
This is why the youth is getting more disaffected and restless, and are turning to issues that are not particularly the remit of youth politics. There is a void in naming the New World. There is a need for role models who can sacrifice for the common good.
One of the sad narratives of post-independence Afrikan politics that liberation movements colonise their own countries and turn them into political party countries. Afrikan ruling parties tend to usurp the country, cannibalise the political space and introduce a style of politics that is hostile towards citizens who are not their members, or who think independently or differently.
Politics thus assumes a pear-shaped form and the country has a climate where party loyalty overtakes the nationalism that fueled the struggle for freedom. So much so that professional people and those who can make valuable contributions to the development of their country opt to go and live where they are not harassed by the small minded ‘thought police’, who operate ostensibly as the ears and eyes of the political leadership.
These ‘listeners’ are the ones who get the jobs and the tenders in the game of patronage, wherein the big politicians dispense largesse to the loyal comrades who are influenced purely by their own parochial and business interests. National development, innovation and economic growth suffer on the altar of political expediency.
The agony that Namibia has to endure is to bring about change in the way we do things. If we continue to do business as usual, we shall get the results we have been getting thus far: an education system that does not work, a public service that is not responsive to the needs of the people, but wish to peddle influence among politicians to gain favour, an SOE sector that is geared towards self-enrichment of the lucky ones who have the fortuitous responsibility to steer the sector in line with the government’s commitment to fight poverty, unemployment and the wealth gap.
The pain that we must all endure is to refuse to go the route our older brothers and sisters on the continent have gone, namely that there are some of us who are more citizens than the others. The agony we must endure is that we must learn to do more with less, all of us.
We must all hurt when we see children learning under a tree, yet they are expected to perform culture to the political elites whose children are getting high class education outside the country. We forget to embrace the fact that Namibia belongs to all who live in it and we can all make a contribution with gratefulness for the climate of peace and stability that we have.
Change is painful, and not without casualties. The change we hope to see and experience in the Namibian House is neither about quick fixes nor a state of permanent transition from nothing to nothing. As the president continues to say, people cannot eat a good Constitution or nice sounding policies, they want to see change in their lives—change for the better.
Better education, less expenditure on the government bureaucracy, better service delivery, more efficient and effective officials to instill confidence in the people that the new administration will be faster and more responsive.
Afrika is hungry for a new way of managing the meagre resources we have. A few people cannot eat on behalf of the left out—all the time. We cannot expect others to sacrifice when we ourselves are not willing to. Like Mahatma Gandhi poignantly said: We must be the change we want to see!