Namibia, like all countries in Afrika and the world, has vowed to be ruled by the precepts of democracy.
Our founding fathers and mothers have guaranteed generations of citizens in this country that governing shall always be according to the wishes of the electorate, who go to the polls intermittently to either renew the tender of the ruling party to continue in office, or replace it with a new elite to govern until the next round of elections when the voters freely review the mandate previously given.
Many Afrikan leaders have a hard time internalising this fundamental contract with the people and often take for granted that because they won the previous elections they are rulers forever, or have unfettered power to walk over the electorate or treat the voting citizens as a collection of people who are supposed to be grateful to the leader, instead of seeing governance the other way around.
Afrikan leaders in the main even treat their cabinet ministers as personal subordinates, not as essential parts of the very system through which they themselves have come to be where they are. Afrikan presidents see themselves as the systems, and the rest owe it to them to be where they are.
This is an aberration of a collective governing system, where members of the executive are an extension of the political will of the people, not of one individual who can terrorise everybody with the fear of taking their livelihoods away if they do not dance to his or her whims.
It is, therefore, important that we re-orientate and induct ourselves in the meaning and practice of democracy, which is a non-traditional, non-biological form of governing a people under one system, and under rules that are accepted as binding by and on all—in good, in neutral and in bad times.
Democracy is the governance of mature and rational people in a republic, not a fiefdom, not a kingdom, and not a hereditary dynasty. It is in word and spirit the ‘government of the people, for the people and by the people’.
If we in Afrika want to belong to the new world that subscribes to the rules of democratic governance of states, in contradistinction with tribal fiefdoms, or occupied settlements, we must acquaint ourselves with the rules of the game and uphold them, so that the game is fair and the outcomes respectable.
In other words, if we participate in a tournament as football players, we must know and play football by football rules, not volleyball or stick-fighting rules, even when our background is more that of stick-fighting.
And we cannot want to change the rules, because we want to win or have lost, but in the interests of the game, its millions of players and its long-term stability for the people, most of who are not yet born. We can still play our stick fights in our village, but we cannot use stick-fighting rules while we play football with others, unless or until we change the rules of football in conversations with other stakeholders.
Democracy is the only game in town, called the republic, and it has rules. What are the essentials of a democratic system in a republic? In as much as many people argue that democracy means different things different people under different circumstances, it must be accepted that a system is either democratic or not, and not both or unsure, because of the uncertainty in the heads of the players in question.
The colour of a wall of a house is determined not by the vision of the observer, but by the mix of the paints used. The colour is either this or that, and is not dependent upon the attitude of the looker at any given time. It is either this colour or that, unless the wall’s original colour has deteriorated with time to the extent that it had lost its purity.
We can perhaps agree that many so-called democratic systems in the world have lost their purity.
Like most phenomena, democracy as a concept and/or ontologically has a history. While it has its roots in earlier medieval histories, its current form was ushered into our universe by the people of the United States of America. To all intents and purposes, the American dreamers are the forerunners of the desired system of democracy today.
In their almost spiritual struggle to redefine the world and the best form of government therein, they made their appointment with history in 1776, as they sought to be an independent and sovereign nation. The above is the doctrine of democracy and a precept on how nations ought to govern their resources –human, material, intellectual and technological.
It is a fundamental ‘post-tradition’ prescription that the consent of the people is the basis of governance, and when people feel otherwise and/or change their minds the governing group must vacate the space for the next that gets the nod of the people to govern on its behalf.
Before North America entered the scene of state governance, most societies and nations were governed by the whims of the ruler, who ascended to power either by hereditary right, or by force through some warfare, in which he distinguished himself to be more potent in subduing and subjugating others.
Rulers also landed their thrones of power by divine right. In these pre-democratic systems of governance the people were not equal to those in power, were not citizens, but subjects and had minimal say to assert themselves and their rights.
In fact their rights were predicated upon what was approved by the ruler, who had unlimited rights over the subjects, including life and death, to marry any woman he liked regardless of age, and arbitrarily banish anyone from ‘his’ land.
Cabinet ministers also think they are there for life and hate the thought of leaving office to become “ordinary” again. They wish to die as “honourable this” and “His Excellency that”. In Namibia, even former ministers want to be addressed as “honourable”. Once a king, always a king.
This is in part why our leaders are almost forced to recycle the same people in positions, even when they know that those recycled are no longer fit for purpose.
Namibia has a better chance at doing things right than most countries in Afrika. The fundamentals are in place. Strong foundations have been laid in the last 26 years, thanks to leaders who had the courage and foresight. Now we need to agree that the time has come to let the past go, to make peace with today and to welcome tomorrow.
To live in a free and independent Namibia means we are all equal and have a contribution to make to the best of our abilities. Our citizenship is paramount and defines who we are and prescribes how we relate with one another.
As the Constitution of the Republic protects us all equally, our loyalty must go to the Namibian State – not to individuals, not our tribes, not our language or cultural groups, not our gender, not our trade union, not the political party we belong to, not even our church denominations.
Namibia started well on this trajectory of fashioning a new nation, a new people with new attitudes towards one another, based upon our national interests and the common good – such as peace and stability, which are both necessary and sufficient conditions for sustainable national socio-economic development.
The Constitution, Vision 2030, all the national development plans thus far, as well as ongoing government strategies and interventions call on us to change the way we think about ourselves in relation to other people around us and how we manage what we are responsible for.
This calls for a paradigm shift, similar to the shift our leaders had to make at the time when the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia was being negotiated and crafted. The outcome of that process was unlike what any of the negotiating protagonists had intended: it was indeed a win-win outcome.
The Constitution is predicated on the unstated doctrine that there was no winner and no loser and the idea that Namibia belongs to all who live in it – black, white and even those who were not born here, but wish to make Namibia their permanent home – as long as they play by the rules and laws made by our elected representatives.
The starting point is that we all accept the importance of good governance and internalise the essential features of the ‘good’, so that we can apply them wherever we are and where we have some sphere of influence. We need some non-negotiable rules to govern ourselves and the resources at our disposal.
The conditions for good governance, as chronicled by the United Nations Development Programme and other international corporate governance studies are: accountability, efficiency and effectiveness, inclusiveness, responsiveness, transparency, and the rule of law.
In spite of our challenges as a young and small nation, Namibia has done very well in terms of these established guidelines. We only have to improve on what we have by beginning to name what we have done well and discourage ourselves from repeating what we should not have done in the past. When we are critical, we do not destroy other people or what we have.
Our criticalness ought to be about improving what we have and do, not break down what is working. Those in positions of influence and power ought to appreciate criticism – good or bad, and learn from it.
Criticism is like the other wing of the bird, without which the bird cannot fly. It is very important to recognise that development is about people, not people about development. Democracy and good governance are about people.
As Maya Angelou wrote: ‘I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.