Lee Lockwood, an American photojournalist had untold access to the late leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro. His must view book, ‘Le Cuba de Castro: un journalist americain raconte Cuba de l’interieur – 1959-1969’ provides fascinating pictures of Fidel, his comrades, including a fascinating Ernesto Che Guevara letter of abdication from the Cuban command.
Guevara, in the letter, puts it poignantly that his work in Cuba was complete. It is after this point that he progressed to death in the battlefields of Bolivia. But what caught my attention was the term ‘Gusano’, invented by Castro to describe unsatisfied elements in the bourgeoisie who demonstrate counter-revolutionary tendencies. Can the term Gusano, as invented by Fidel, be application to our current moment? What opportunities do this moment offer?
Our country is going through a moment of increasing agitation with various sections of our populations correctly dissatisfied with the pace of socio-economic progress. These sections have upped the ante and are lobbying Molotov cocktails at government. In what appears like guerrilla warfare, once the preserve of Swapo during the war for independence, the Gusano of bomb-throwers and ideologues are subverting the formula that has been the hallmark of our democracy.
They are questioning, at times chaotically and recklessly, the currency of the consensus on peace and stability as a crucial precondition to deal with our challenges. In the process they are prepared to chaotically ridicule the consensus in advancing their propositions on questions of the genocide, succession, urban and agricultural landlessness.
To these issues, mobilising around ethnicity has become the counterintuitive default platform to advance positions. The emergence of the Landless People’s Movement, articulating policy propositions on ancestral land claims through Central-Southern (Herero/Nama) lens is the most recent case in point.
Affirmative Repositioning and its core leadership of three, being from the northern parts of our country, cannot be adequately divorced from the ethnic, even if their demands have sufficient young urban appeal and buy-in.
What is a common denominator is ideological capacity and occasional clarity, activism with conflict and chaos as potential assets in the advancement of goals. Moreover, the adaptability of these social movements and their deliberate single-issue emphasis have made government responses with their usual macro and micro constraints insufficient, if not wholly inadequate.
These insufficiencies have over time also been accentuated by bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption. Specifically, for the current administration options are limited in the absence of discretionary funds and spending at this exceptional economic conjuncture.
We, the Gusano, have also installed a certain permanent politics of succession in the ruling party. We discuss succession even when there is no vacancy. We do so, knowing or not knowing that the permanence of succession deviates attention from our developmental objectives.
Marcel Proust, a French writer, would say that when time is lost, it cannot be found. This is true for the lives of individuals. But it is also true for the life of our republic, which in a few days will celebrate 27 years of freedom. Without doubt, we have lost precious miles and time in realising a better life for the masses of our people. Opportunities have been lost and time wasted.
We did not initiate ambitious reforms during boom times when the economy was growing at appropriate levels. It would have allowed us to make Namibia more competitive, creating more jobs and promoting savings. It is not normal that Rwanda, a country that emerged from a ghastly genocide 22 years ago, is over 30 times more competitive than Namibia in global competitiveness indicators!
Still, even at this moment of times lost and many socio-economic fractures we should agree with President Hage Geingob when he emphasises the progress that we have made over the past 27 years. We should agree when he puts emphasis on peace and stability as preconditions for progress.
It is a credo we should adhere to. We should also agree with his promise that he would deliver on prosperity for Namibians through his Harambee Prosperity Plan. We can discuss robustly the details. But there is a crucial question of method. Policymakers and bureaucrats should engage and persuade those we might want to classify as ‘misfits’ and ‘disruptors’, including within our ranks. We should question their assumptions with well-researched propositions. In that endeavour, the reality should dawn upon us that we (misfits, Gusano and disruptors) could represent issue-based sections – but not the people.
The 87% overwhelming presidential mandate through the verdict of the polls two years ago is a core foundation of the social contract between the masses of our people and their President. Only the elected President can legitimately claim to embody the masses of our people. We, the unelected Gusano, can assume our differences and mark them on the wall – even in a superior fashion. We can be as mad as hell – but we cannot break that contract between the President and the people outside the electoral cycle. This is an explicit landmark in our constitutional democracy. Yet, this does not imply that the President should not listen carefully to the general commentary. He should. I think that the President has been big-hearted. And I worry that he has not been sufficiently hard-headed, including with his colleagues in the ruling party and government. But the promise of prosperity would demand that he is more hard-headed than big-hearted. Can it be done under the current republic?
It is worth noting that the exercise of power requires a lot of reflection and solitude. It is crucial at this moment for such reflections to lead to what the President had promised as the qualitatively new: prosperity for Namibians. It will be difficult if not impossible to realize our national aspirations with the current trajectory under our first republic.
I have laboured the point about the dangers of de-focalizing issues outside the realms of our political institutions with unelected Gusano leading policy. To deal with this danger might require more parliamentary activism, a societal aggiornamento, including deep reforms of our political system. Those of us who are on the streets can provide commentary – but it is not we who should govern. Government should. But to lead for the future might require that we reflect collectively about the opportunity of a second republic.
* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne.