One of the leading Southern African revolutionaries, Samora Machel, famously said: “For the nation to live, the tribe must die”. Machel, formerly a president of Mozambique, made the observation at a time when Africans butchered and burned each other alive – not for the commission of any crime, but because they differed in their ethnic afilliation.
Tribalism is one of the most disruptive influences confronting newly independent sub-Saharan African states and progressive leaders are hard at work to ensure the situation is arrested.
One such leader is President Hage Geingob, whose proverbial ‘Namibian House’ mantra was coined to help the country become one nation. As Geingob loves saying, once the wall of the Namibian House is plastered, its individual bricks would no longer be visible. What would be seen, he says, is one beautiful wall encompassing all its bricks that have now become a single unit.
The reason why Africa has for long struggled to build nations is partly because tribes were seen as more important than the nation itself. This way of thinking has seen leaders channelling national resources primarily to their tribesmen and women, their tribal kith and kin.
The ongoing debacle surrounding the fate of former deputy land reform minister Clinton Swartbooi is a result of President Geingob’s rich understanding of the dangers inherent in Swartbooi’s alleged remarks and particularly the platform and manner he chose to express them.
The Swartbooi saga has brought to the fore the true extent of tribalism in our country, judging from how communities, especially where he hails from, reacted to the current situation. Many did not care about the merits of the matter, but that he was one of their own.
It also brought to the fore the naivety of many a commentator who, whether by default or design, chose to ignore all facts and pursue a selective discourse to trivialise President Geingob’s attempt to diffuse what could turn into a full-blown crisis in the country.
To all intents and purposes, President Geingob did not violate the principle of free expression. In fact the apology he demanded from the deputy minister pertains more towards the manner, approach and platform that Swartbooi chose to vent his concerns, not the merits of his pronouncements.
Society must be orderly. The Ministry of Land Reform must be orderly and so too government in its entirety. The moment deputy ministers and their ministers start fighting and publicly brag about it as if it were an achievement, Namibians would start questioning whether these leaders are fit for public office.
The President, from our observation, was further disturbed by the fact that boardroom differences may have prompted the deputy minister to run to his own tribe to vent his supposed frustration, ignoring the established channels of communication.
Geingob was therefore justified in asking the deputy minister to apologise, given the avalanche of transgressions listed above. The President has been consistent on dealing with matters of tribalism, evidenced by his instruction a few months ago that the governor of Omahake should apologise for the remarks he made in reference to Ovaherero people in that region.
When a deputy minister brags publicly that he does not report to his senior in the ministry, it clearly shows that egos have been placed above the land question, which Swartbooi was appointed to help solve.
Geingob has a responsibility to ensure he presides over a functioning government. Those who disrupt this process must be excused and replaced with those that are willing to help the President execute his mandate successfully.
Geingob has been as fair as he could possibly have been. In recognition that human beings are prone to error and can say things in heats of the moment, the President gave Swartbooi an opportunity to reflect and redeem himself.
The Head of State’s instruction was blatantly ignored for over a week, but Geingob still availed the opportunity to meet Swartbooi in person to help him understand the instructions given to him.
As if ignoring the original instruction was not enough, we heard this week that Swartbooi behaved aggressively by slamming doors at State House as he stormed out of the meeting with the President, Prime Minister and others.
Presidential spokesperson Albertus Aochamub explained this week that Geingob’s stern action does not mean the President disagrees with Swartbooi on the need to sharpen the focus of the land resettlement programme. The problem was that Swartbooi said he does not report to his immediate senior, Utoni Nujoma, but to the President.
“Nobody disagreed or questioned what he said about the land resettlement issue since it was already under discussion in parliament, and it was set aside to seek public consultations.”
Readers will conclude that Geingob has been reasonable, fair and patient, but his fairness has been taken for granted, and his patience tested to the limit and Namibians of goodwill will no doubt respect the President’s judgment in this critical matter.