When the masterminds of apartheid came to Namibia more than a century ago, they brought with them the principle of divide and rule.
They magnified differences amongst the various tribes, instigating clashes whereby each community distrusted and fought the other.
Colonial South Africa, in a clandestine bid to maintain a grip on Namibia as its cash cow, hammered out the so-called Odendaal Plan of 1964, whose ‘development’ was based on the ethnic division of Namibian society. With this, the creation of so-called homelands for each ethnic group was proposed, not because it was believed that it would provide a better way of promoting development, but because it was argued that a unitary Namibia would lead to constant conflict caused by ethnic rivalry.
It’s a white lie that had come to pass. It was, however, successfully implemented. This served as the breeding ground for negative tribal stereotypes, which then became embedded in popular belief. To the colonialist, this was victory.
And it remains victory to date in Namibia, where communities continue to display distrust based on ethnic identities.
While we hoped Namibia – by 2016 – would be battling new challenges brought upon us by the changing pace and methods of various development agendas, the country is spending more time putting down fires of ethnicity and tribalism.
To make matters worse, such fires are stoked by people in leadership positions. This is a great source of concern because leaders, by virtue of simply being leaders, command massive influence within their communities.
There are followers who swore their eternal allegiances to their leaders and are ready to die protecting the ideals and convictions of their leaders. They, in the true sense of the word, serve at the ‘pleasure’ of those leading them.
It is this reality that, therefore, requires that leaders exercise caution when addressing their communities. When leaders are deemed to be instigating hatred, or even violence, against other tribes, such leaders’ ever obedient followers will heed the call and, if necessary, take up arms.
This is no exaggeration. It is a culmination of what has been witnessed the world over time and again when armed tribesmen confronted their perceived ethnic enemies. They had their opponents’ kids for lunch.
What is empirically evident at the moment is that tribalism is in our midst. And we would be foolish to think it would simply regulate itself and fade away on its own. To the contrary, it would actually grow to proportions we would struggle to contain – unless we act now.
We need a national strategy on tribalism. This strategy must outline our approach on inclusiveness, cementing the belief that no Namibian or Namibian tribe is more Namibian than the other, and what punitive measures are to be pursued in dealing with advocates and instigators of tribalism.
If tribalism is allowed to take root, things will get messy. And it is Namibia – the nation – that would suffer the most.
From possibilities of civil wars to ‘jobs for the boys’, tribalism holds the potential to bring about destruction that would require decades of rebuilding.
Simply put, we have failed to shake off the legacy of apartheid’s divide and rule tactics such that – just like during the homeland era – we have clung onto our tribal identities and confinements to the extent that even those in leadership positions are urging their subjects to stare at others through negative tribal lenses.