The state of the nation is not as solid as President Hage Geingob attempted to assure us in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month.
First, whether we admit it or not, the national feeling is not positive at all, for that matter too soon after President Geingob assumed leadership. Secondly, laudable though, the thinking is around transforming Namibia’s economy into the most competitive economy in Afrika. This is totally unrealistic given our context of being a small population that is almost entirely dependent for its subsistence on South Africa and where the government cannot hold a workshop or conference on poverty reduction or family-based violence without the sponsorship of a European, American or Chinese organisation – with a poor customer-service culture, compounded by the dependency syndrome, exaggerated by the increased old pension payouts, the war veteran payouts, the child grant payouts and food bank food distribution, the stringent regulations restricting foreign land acquisition, all of which are most likely to be abused by people who now believe that they do not have to work to live well.
Against this tapestry, it is hard to see how Namibia can become the premier destination for investors who are customarily skeptical of Afrikan leaders. Thirdly, the Harambee plan is unlikely to galvanise national enthusiasm of the kind that it generated in Kenya during the struggle for independence there, where it was conceived organically with a very credible leadership that spoke the language of the masses.
Harambee as a slogan has very little relevance to the Namibian context and what the President wishes to achieve. We in Afrika, due to our deep insecurities, like to borrow things without interrogating their real essence and how they can or cannot enrich our own situations. Certainly, we could have a word in our indigenous languages that people could truly relate to and internalise. In Vision Studies, it is emphasized that the simpler the enunciation of the vision, the better it is for the people to follow. To make Harambee understood, one has to contextualise it within Kenyan history, otherwise the substance gets lost.
Be that as it may, we need to put on our patriotic caps and support government efforts by adding value to the agreed programmes. This we do by looking honestly and analytically at the state of the nation as it is seen by the wider public, not only by the top echelons of the government and the endless coteries of advisors, who have to sing for their supper.
Our silence to assist the President will lead to many regrets in the end, not because we will have done something wrong per se, but because we failed to assist when we knew the leader was taking us in an unhelpful direction for himself and all of us.
At the time when Geingob ascended to the presidency of the republic, we all rejoiced and Afrika’s eyes turned to Namibia as the moral story, after Zimbabwe and South Africa proved to be great disappointments.
Those who wish the best for our country and our continent saw Geingob as the new voice after Thabo Mbeki’s extraordinary pan-Africanist push and highly intelligent approach to Afrikan affairs were rudely interrupted by his own people, who did not see it and are now regretting their knee-jerk reaction to have thrown out the baby with the bath water.
Now they are dealing with all sorts of demons in an otherwise exemplary nation, South Africa, with the oldest liberation movement, the strongest modern economy in Afrika, and with four Nobel Peace laureates!
In the 1980s it was Zimbabwe that was the model country in Afrika. From 1994 till round about 2006 South Africa wore the crown, especially after Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance electrified the Afrikan continent with something extraordinarily positive and affirming of Afrika’s place in the world, and with which to debunk the myth that Afrikan leaders were megalomaniac buffoons, autocrats, greedy and cannibalistic with the manner in which they ran their countries into the ground.
There was a time when Zimbabweans never foresaw how their country is spoken about today. There was a time when travelling on a South African passport was a badge of honour. Today, good Zimbabweans and South Africans who were once the proud bearers of our Afrikanness speak the last about their countries because of the way things were allowed to develop.
Former liberation movements degenerated and made toxic the political public space such that the current generation is almost ashamed to be associated with them. It is a pity that liberation movements’ final chapters are almost always negative rather than positive.
It is therefore better to be on the side of justice, not on the side of powers that be. Hosea Kutako, Hendrik Witbooi, Clemence Kapuuo, and the like are remembered and valorized not because they once lived and ruled, but because they were on the side of justice, the side of dignity for all whose lives they touched. They were revered by those with whom they worked and they did not sow fear and anxiety around people with their presence as powerful men. Like the old adage goes: ‘Big or strong people do not pull others down, they help them up’.
It is important for us in our motherland to pause and hear what people are saying, whether true or not, before we one day will hide our faces and say we did not know. Namibians across the 14 regions (perhaps with the exception of the old pensioners who are understandably grateful for the increase) are murmuring that something is not right with our government. People in power are always dismissive of cries of pain from those at the receiving end of their power. Leaders always say that cries of pain are the work of the misguided and counter-revolutionaries who are seeing funny things, not the people themselves.
Namibia is a small place and people tend to share their experiences. So what is meant to be secrets, get to be known in the public and this becomes common knowledge, such as that people are being sent to listen to what they say or think about those in power.
In the process, the image that is created by this behaviour is that some leaders are vengeful and punitive with other citizens. This is what leads to growing fear in any system, as sycophancy becomes commonplace. This, unfortunately, is the feeling among some in the country today.
In this climate, it is clear, that unless the style of leadership changes, we shall witness the first resignation(s) of cabinet ministers in protest to the bruising they are subjected to when they meet their boss. There is surely a handful of ministers who are no longer poverty-stricken and who have sufficient self-respect to say enough is enough. And this is not good.
How do we make sense out of these uncertain times so that we can emerge still strong and united in our march towards Vision 2030? It is most unfortunate that the work shopping, communication and marketing of the Harambee plans were done so haphazardly that there is no congruency with the goals of Vision 2030 in general and National Development Plan (NDP) 4 particular.
The political leadership is either too scared or not honest enough to tell the President that the duplications that are all over the place are not helpful and can lead to disfunctionality in policy development, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Imagine how cumbersome it must be for these folks across the 14 regions to discern which is which in going forward. The presidential advisors were also not very helpful to inform the President that Harambee is the patented official motto of the state of Kenya and can therefore not be the signature agenda of another country
Namibia is still an artificial reality that still needs a lot of work before it becomes the nation we all wish it to be. The prejudices, assumptions and emotional judgments we all make about the nation on the one hand, and one another on the other, have been fashioned through our experience and mainly due to ignorance of the facts.
We are still tribes, ethnic groups, males and females, races, rich and poor, church members and young and old. These are as important markers of our diversity as our political party membership. The political leadership is disingenuous to deny tribal and ethnic differences while they promote political party loyalty, forgetting that in post-independence Afrika, the ruling party has become the new executive tribe, membership of which opens doors to wealth and security.
One notices this phenomenon at funerals of government officials who were supposedly serving the nation, yet during their funerals, one sees rallies of the ruling party at the expense of national symbols and an inclusive language of One Namibia One Nation – with state officials and members of parliament present.
We should never forget that political party membership is temporal and should be voluntary while tribal and ethnic membership are permanent and not influenced by victory or defeat in an election. When political parties lose elections, people go back to their tribal securities to regroup and denying this is a sign of ‘uneducatedness’. What is called for is an understanding of how to manage them, such that the leaders are not caught flat-footed as the case was in many Afrikan nations.
This is to say that part of the excitement we all had in 2015 was precisely due to the expectation that the President would show Afrika and the world that Afrika was truly transforming for the better. The first Afrikan experience that majority ethnic groups looked beyond their parochial tribe interests and cast their eyes on the bigger picture: The Namibian Dream that comes all the way from the days when the two founder communities of our nation, the Ovaherero and the Namas realised and lived out the principle of unity for the sake of greater good of all the people.
President Geingob is expected to affirm the dream of inclusivity based upon the principles of respect for human rights, equality, merit, good governance, quality service, strong institutions and accountability. These were the yardsticks that informed the expectations and euphoria with which he was received and against which he will be judged.
It is not too late to arrest the situation. It is in the best interest of all of us to give our best to the nation by speaking the truth with love to power. Speaking the truth to the leaders is not disrespectful to or hateful of our leaders. To offer constructive criticism ought to be seen as a sign of patriotism so that we do not stand by and see things deteriorate and claim later that we did not know. This is the sin that white South Africa continues to suffer from because when white South Africans knew that what was happening in their name was wrong, they chose to keep quiet to be safe. Small steps will influence the direction on the President’s road less travelled in Afrika!