The world has changed and keeps changing every day in front of our very eyes. The knowledge that we as humans often ascribe to ourselves before we make interventions to solve human problems, appears to be progressively limited. There was a time when the intelligence communities in the better democracies of the world, the USA and United Kingdom in particular, convinced themselves and their political captains in the White House and 10 Downing Street to move to make the world safer and freer of ‘Bad Regimes’. Instead, their actions, individually and collectively, made the world less safe, more dangerous, and more insecure. The countries they invaded in defense of peace and security are more dangerous places to live in than ever before.
In 2015, after 25 years of self-rule, many of us were excited that the next five years and beyond will take strengthen peace and stability and usher in real prosperity undergirded by values of equality, freedom, justice and true participation in the march towards Grand Vision 2030.
It would appear that our excitement was premature. There is overall acknowledgement that something is not right, though it is difficult to determine where the malignance is, but it is in the body politic of the Swapo party and by extension the nation. Many shake their heads in silent disbelief as they look at the skies for an answer. Something is wrong. Many observers point to a growing atmosphere of bogeyman politics — an era of Big Brother politics where everybody is afraid and is insecure. Even those in senior positions are afraid, even if they do not know what they are afraid of, but they are afraid. The hermeneutics of fear is such that the political space is becoming toxic and zoo-like. If not arrested in time, this atmosphere could lead to more intolerance on the part of the state and the inevitable criminalization of difference.
Much as these are dangerous times, there must be clarity that we as citizens still need to support the government of the day, for the following reasons: First, the Bible in Romans 13 implores us all to subject ourselves the Government authorities because all governments are ordained by God Himself and therefore we as Christians are required to respect what God has placed there to govern us.
Secondly, Namibia has a democratically elected government, presupposing all law-abiding citizens ought to support the government that has been elected by the people. If displeasure overtakes the choice made in the last elections, such displeasure should similarly be expressed through the ballot in the next elections and replace the leadership. Before that we are all subject to the legal and procedural rule by those elected.
Thirdly, in the absence of a credible opposition in the country, it is very difficult to withdraw support from the ruling party which, for better or for worse, is the only political party with substantive policies and programmes that make sense to the greatest number of the citizens in the country. The current political opposition parties offer very little by way of alternative ideas, ideologies or platforms on important issues like education, healthcare, safety and security, national sustainable development and foreign policy.
The market wherein voters compare and choose the best options for the future is very small. Substantive opposition in Namibia is near zero as opposition leaders in the main try to be mini-SWAPO by trying to outcompete SWAPO with SWAPO’s ideas, rules and style.
They want to be President while the rules of the game stay the same. There is need for alternative thinking. Even if the governing party is good, too much of a good thing is bad.
In this context, our duty as citizens is to support the government critically. It is in our national and collective interests to be truthful with both our support and our criticism of our government on matters of policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation and indeed programme implementation.
Following are some of the important areas where government is to be supported critically:
Governance of Regions: Constitutional Amendment Act No. 20 of 2010 was wrong as it is contrary to the Decentralization Policy of the Constitution. This amendment led to the change that regional governors are no longer elected by the regional councils as it was the case before, but appointed by the President. Here sympathy ought to be showed to the government in its frustration which led to this unfortunate reaction. The amendments was necessitated by the presence of a non-SWAPO governor in Kunene region at the time, and the feat that the Caprivi could one day have a governor with secessionist tendencies. The government saw potential instability on these bases and rushed to change the constitution. That change ought to be reversed if governors are to be respected by the people on the ground and have accountability.
International Airport: The President and cabinet’s sentiments to build a new airport is understandable and have sympathy. By all account the Hosea Kutak International Airport does not match the image of Namibia as a premiere international conference and investment destination. It is not up to scratch and needs serious face-lift. It is most unfortunate that the matter was not handled well from the beginning and the public saw the astronomical costs instead of what a better and modern airport would bring to the national economy.
New Parliament Building: The Government is well within its right to want to want to construct a new building for the National Assembly and the National Council. The reality is that a bigger parliament building is needed. The current space is not sufficient for the number of members of law makers in both houses. They need offices and infrastructure for staff to carry out the complicated tasks of law-making. The nation ought to have reacted at the time when the membership of parliamentarians was extended from 72 to 104 in the National Assembly, and from 26 to 42 in the National Council while the nation has not grown exponentially to warrant the need for more MPs.
Bloated bureaucracy and recycling of politicians: The top layer of the Government bureaucracy is way too big for the size of the nation. If Namibia had strong leaderships in civil society, religious communities, private sector and youth organizations, there would have been a proper dialogue about the right size of the state bureaucracy fit for the purpose of governing Namibia in a manner that resources spent on the officials and their life style are commensurate with what they do. At the start of President Geingob’s reign, he made the right noises about demanding the CVs of the pool from which he could appoint the executive. The nation did not support him enough to make sure that those appointed were suitable. What we have now flies in the face of gathering all those CVs as there are people in executive positions who are not fit for the positions they were given under the current ‘Jobs for Comrades Scheme.’ There are currently two Deputy Ministers who continue to receive their ministerial privileges while they are no longer MPs after they failed re-election in the last local elections. This is a disservice to the President and the nation.
Consultation with Affirmative Repositioning leadership: While the Government under President Geingob is to be commended for having a dialogue with the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) leadership at the eleventh hour las year, it must be pointed out that the methodology followed was not in the interest of good governance of a state. First, it will be remembered that the President acted under pressure and not out of a motive to lead with a vision and decorum. Second, it will be remembered that the youth had an agenda, and the state none, with the state responding flat-footed to that agenda. Third, uncomfortable though this may sound, it is not proper for the Head of State to negotiate and count plots with activists. The state has a hierarchy of officials who should tackle matters before they get to the attention and action of the Head of State. Members within the youth and labor activism have now reason not to want to speak to mayors of towns, governors, permanent secretaries, deputy ministers and even ministers who become redundant and marginalized if activists have direct access to the head of State. A system without channels and a template of doing things in an orderly and in a predictable fashion turns into a business of one-man show with dangerous populism and devoid of good governance. In the end it becomes chaotic, arbitrary and wholly unsustainable.
Pan-Africanism: President Sam Nujoma’s pan-African stance which led to the flying of two flags, the National flag and the African Union flag and the singing of the Namibian National Anthem and the AU Anthem was profoundly in principle. However, one wonders whether it adds any value to the life of the nation and/or the continent. It most certainly does not add any value to the continent, were that the case more nations would have emulated the model. The bigger nations with bigger economies and who play a bigger role in the execution of AU agendas, such as Nigeria, South Africa, do not waste their time on these symbolic things. At this year’s commemoration of the April 27 birthdate of the new South Africa, the master of ceremonies politely requested the audience not to sing the AU Anthem. Yet South Africa does more for the AU, such sponsoring many AU activities and as carrying the burden of hosting the Pan-African Parliament in Midrand. One has to seriously ask the question whether the singing of the AU Anthem at Namibian schools is either the best way to teach Pan-Africanism or adds any value when no one else on the continent does the same. Children and conference goers sing the AU Anthem without understanding what they are singing and the exercise does not strengthen their allegiance to the nation and its values. They just sing, because the President said so. This is the purpose of national anthems. How about including in our school curricula real teachings of and by great African minds, such as Haile Selassie, William Tubman, Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ahmed Ben Bella, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Leopold Senghor, Murtala Muhammed, Tom Mboya, Samora Machel, Thabo Mbeki, and Paul Kagame, to list but a few? If it was about influencing other Afrikan nations, why not do it in the realm of substantive foreign policy values, starting with the endemic official corruption in Angola and the abhorrent human rights situation in Zimbabwe?
It would appear that Namibia does a lot for symbolism rather than substance when other nations are going after real change, starting with what matters for the citizens who deliver the government. Let us build a strong nation with a strong identity, a national and different work ethic, with a new mindset to believe in themselves, respect all the members in the nation’s diversity, and to do things for themselves—and this is not in singing and hanging flags. It is in being and becoming.
It is important that we foreground and debate real issues that matter in the lives of the people, not what makes us look great. This is part of what is bedeviling the bodies politic in Europe and America today where the citizens feel that their issues have been relegated to what makes the politicians look good in international summits. The consequence is that good and disaffected citizens fall prey to demagogues who sound tough and promise that they will make the government theirs again. The era of ‘My leader, right or wrong’ is something of the past. It is bad politics at best. It is time to support the government with reason and informed critical minds and attitudes. We should not attack individual leaders but their conduct as occupants of public office in the name of the people. It is important to develop a culture of giving credit when and where is due so that in the end our little efforts by way of criticism of government will be remembered in the words of Shakespeare that we did not love Caesar less, but we loved Rome more.