The national conversation


‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy’, warned that great descendant of Afrikan thought and Christian faith, Martin Luther King.

There is currently national agreement that Namibia is facing her fair share of challenges – from top to bottom, and back. Even the outside world is blinking kindly to us to say that we are in bad shape.

Namibia does not yet have apparatuses to gauge the mood and judgement of the nation on how the resources of the country are being managed by its democratically elected leaders.

This major weakness in our democracy renders us unable to measure the temperature of the nation in ways that can inform us as leaders and citizens about the good, the bad and the ugly on our journey to becoming a better nation.

Opinion polls in more mature democracies are helpful mechanisms that offer elected leaders feedback on what is happening on their watch, so that those in decision and policy making and implementation can move with times and are not guided only by their own preferences and insecurities.

Political leaders, chosen or appointed, are stomping the ground as if they own it. Citizens who, with the best of intentions and lone voices, dare to point out the pitfalls and gross failures in our body politic are victimised with impunity.

Meaningful opposition is practically non-existent as opposition parties have become more pathetic than before such that the only game in town is the language of the governing party, which to its credit, is doing the best it can under the circumstances, though can do more.

Liberation movements are typically not adept at change. The governing party Swapo is the glue that kept Namibia together thus far, and is the center without which the country has a great deal more to lose.

The governing party under the current leadership deserves more support so that it is able to read the times, reinvent itself and respond organically to the dynamics of today and tomorrow’s socio-economic realities and escalating political expectations in a more enlightened and undoubtedly less ignorant society, much to the chagrin of political leaders who love to govern an ignorant electorate.

Ask the ANC of South Africa for an explanation of what this means! Namibia is at a crossroads – the old one is dying but the new one is not yet born. As one senior citizen once put it: In the old Namibia you paid with your life if you disagreed with the government, and in the new Namibia you pay with your livelihood if you disagree!

In the absence of reliable scientific instruments to help us decipher where we are at in the game of governing ourselves, we can nonetheless stick our hands out of the window and feel that the temperature has changed, and say that winter is over.

During this change of season, there are distinct conversations going on in the offices, restaurants, beerhouses, family homes, public buses and taxis, on campuses, in bank queues, in church gatherings and indeed in shebeens – so much so that even the blind can see the lips clapping and the deaf can hear the voices, however muted, of displeasure.

It is in times like these when we ought to turn and look at and hear ourselves address our challenges while we still have peace and stability. It is in times like these when speaking and hearing the truth become priceless. After all this is the only Motherland we have and it is incumbent upon us all to look at one another eyeball to eyeball and share what it is that we are hearing wherever we are and, because we do know, we can see and we do hear.

To admit that something is wrong is a critical step towards change and improvement. For instance, for the longest time, people either kept quiet about or defended apartheid wrongs. When apartheid finally ended, many white people were heard saying: ‘We knew something was not right, but we did not speak out, never mind stand up to state what we knew’.

Good citizens were turned into liars about their past, and in so doing proved themselves to be unreliable to their children and grandchildren, and indeed undermined the intelligence of black people who knew better. The system of white superiority would not have lasted as long as it did without the acquiescence of the people who knew yet did not raise their hands to say: Haikona, this is not right!

How will we be remembered by future generations? Do we want to be remembered as ones who came, ate up everything, got bloated and died? We might not be speaking but hearing we are, for certain. Without pointing fingers and/or casting judgement, we ought to ask ourselves some difficult, yet deliberate questions, such as: What are we hearing? Following are some of the loud conversations in the mouth of the nation that we can hear loud and clear. People are saying that:
We have developed an inability to self-correct on the things we know should not be going on and we have become lazy or unwilling to strengthen ourselves on things that have worked well so far, especially since independence.

Many of us, especially those who are fortunate to have three meals a day and enough change of clothes, have adopted ostrich politics whereby we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to see the harm that is being done to our economy and our people in the name of political correctness. We adopt the attitude of see no evil, hear no evil, ask no questions, offer no opinions!

Theologians would speak of the hermeneutics of fear, or the safety of fear, that is to say, it is safer to be fearful than to be brave. One is better off living in fear than in daring to speak the truth, or simply ask questions to the politicians, especially when it does not affect us directly.

We are often humbled when learning about the spirit that fueled the liberation struggle and the commitment men and women had to make sure that this country was liberated. Certainly that could not have been motivated by the desire to be rich and famous. We have lost the heart that drove our heroes and sheroes to give their best under the most trying circumstances. Now we want to give our worst to get the best from everybody else. Without a heart we cannot lead people, and without the people we cannot develop a nation.

We are victims of the danger of success. We all want to be successful at the expense of better relationships with others and we are failing to develop other people so that our success is not limited to today.

Our leaders are big on self-congratulation and triumphalism as they try to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every burial. In a land of just over two million people, we are unable to share skills where and when they are needed for the common good. Instead we recycle the same people so much so that great people who could be used better, are being over-laundered that they no longer know their passions.

The unchartered waters of political leadership beyond liberation are alluding us. Hence we remain stuck in the idioms of liberation when the world is passing by with politics of economic development and the importance of stakeholder engagement.

We have entered a very dangerous catchment area where most of us are unable to distinguish between the business of the state and that of political parties. It would appear that the party is more important than the government or the state, and this is the beginning of Banana Republicanism. This is what Jacob Zuma meant when he said in public that the ANC is more important than a free South Africa because the ANC was there before freedom.

Our leaders are strong democrats when they are outside of our country where they lecture on the greatness of Afrika, yet exhibit high intolerance back home towards fellow citizens who differ from them, so much so that there is no meaningful dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition parties as the essence of a multi-party system of Government.

The political elite has become predatory and they perfect the art of looting the state in search of more glory and they use political patronage as the licence to loot through land acquisition (for sale) and uncontrolled tenderpreneurship.

In as much as we have laid strong foundations for healthy race relations, we are now going backwards to reinvent racial stereotypes as political solutions to our development challenges, forgetting that in life one does not weaken the strong to strengthen the weak. There seems to be no central ideology to inform policies or change of policies. It is jazz politics.

Our political leadership is in denial in so far as managing our national diversity is concerned. The language of inclusivity is not supported by the practice of inclusivity as more and more people are feeling excluded. As long as Namibia shall live, there will always be racial, tribal, ethnic, linguistic, gender and religious comfort zones which need to be harmonised and managed deliberately and with sensitivity.

In sum, Namibia as a nation could do better, and leadership and management stratagems that are transactional and transformational are required very desperately, before it is too late.


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