Independence Day 2017 in context

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There is a sense of disaffection among many Namibians – for a variety of reasons. It matters not who it is that expresses an opinion, the feeling is that the nation is experiencing an acute feeling of indisposition. (Olikheid, Unwohl, omuinjo kauri naua, oomwenyo odhi li moshidhile, !Gai se ta ge tsa tama ha; Halu ikutwi hande; Kapi twa kulizuva nawa; Yitjato payipo; Gare ikutlwe monate) and there is an expectation that the government will be more caring and prudent than ever before.

President Geingob has given a directive that the 2017 independence celebrations must be held in Rundu. There is unhappiness about this issue and no amount of bribery, job offers or sending officials to arm-twist and cajole leader this and leader that will stop the chatter.

The conversations that are growing in volume and acrimony are informed by the following background factors: (a) The ruling party Swapo that held the glue of the nation’s peace and stability is getting unstuck from within and is likely to implode, as did the ANC of South Africa, by selecting to treat the youth as the new enemy and use state machinery to tackle the youth, instead of governing; (b) even the blind and the deaf are aware that since 2015 the government has been urging all government offices, ministries and agencies to cut their budgets, because there is no money in state coffers.

This week Finance Minister Schlettwein described in his budget speech that the nation’s economy is in the most precarious condition ever, and urged all stakeholders to be frugal in spending the little there is. Therefore, the manner in which the leadership handles the current and growing sentiments of dissatisfaction will determine how fast we move towards the end of what we have known hitherto.

There is unhappiness about staging fully-fledged independence celebrations this year, not only amongst identified critics of government, but citizens across the board, many of them in sensitive positions that they cannot express their dissatisfaction yet. Many people understand where we are at and care about how the nation’s meagre resources are managed.

The many people who are asking difficult questions about the heart of our government are not disgruntled or failed politicians, but citizens who mean well and wish that our government would exhibit sensitivity, care and compassion at the time when it is asking citizens and stakeholders to give it the benefit of the doubt in this climate of financial uncertainty and growing pains.

It would appear that at the centre of the dissatisfaction about whether or not to celebrate independence this year are concerns about the efficacy of this important event in the history of any nation.

There is no doubt that to celebrate the moment of our independence is important, considering the road that was travelled, particularly the sacrifices that were made by many Namibians from all walks of life – some more than others – to bring us to the national independence which we all enjoy today.

No one in his/her right mind can dispute that it is important to celebrate our independence. The growing consternation this year is neither oppositional to government or the President, nor is it about whether or not to celebrate. The uneasiness is about the ethics and morality of when, where and how to celebrate.

How we respond to these questions will help us deal better with ‘the what’ we are celebrating question, followed immediately by who is celebrating with whom. To take a stand at this point in respect of whether or not it is right to have independence celebrations requires ethical and moral consideration that we have to make individually out of our own convictions and sense of patriotism.

It is a position we need to take critical stock of the way in which we manage the resources that are meant to help those who need help and relative to the welfare of the nation. It cannot be just about our own self-interests or political party loyalty.

The worst we can do is support a position out of fear or favour, or in relation to our own stomachs, which are already full. This is not about winning or losing a debate, or offending someone, but about doing what is right, and standing on it, no matter the consequences.

Let us therefore reason the merits and demerits of having independence celebrations in 2017 in the following context:
* All government offices, ministries and agencies have been ordered to cut their budgets by at least 40 percent;
* Traveling for fact-finding, sharing knowledge and reskilling has been halted;
* Workshops and training of staff have been curtailed;
* S&T payments for staff performing services away from their offices have been stopped;
* Small and Medium Enterprises operations are severely hampered by a lack of funding from government and many Namibians are on the streets or back home without payment;
* The police are not allowed to buy new cars or recruit new officers to enforce the law;
* The education and training budget has been cut;
* UNAM and NUST budgets to recruit and re-skill staff were severely cut to the extent that our universities cannot educate and train the youth to take the nation forward;
* Free education is about to be rationed due to lack of funds in the government;
* Law enforcement agencies are told not to travel and train and prepare officers;
* There is no support for our sports codes and yet we expect our talented sportsmen and women to bring medals home.

Against this background, it is difficult to countenance on good conscience that millions of dollars are to be spent on a one-day celebration. In the context of what has been said about the financial shortfalls and the government’s call to tighten belts across the country, it must be argued that the government is not honest when on the one hand it says there is no money to spend on necessary development activities, yet on the other hand has the money to spend on a circus of meaningless speeches, dancing, eating and drinking – not to mention the costs of transporting thousands of people from all the regions, accommodate, feed and provide security for them for at least three nights.

Worse, Rundu is 700 km from the capital, whence all the speakers will come. To ferry so many people from the 13 plus 1 regions on busses will cost money and other resources. And many will have to be paid! It does not tally with the logic that the country is facing a serious financial challenge, which compels the government to ask all citizens to use whatever there is sparingly by doing more with less. With the independence celebrations we can only do less with more!

The true meaning of national independence
National independence is neither a once-off event nor a mindless celebration of a one-sided history that is becoming a hurtful narrative to a growing number of citizens. The real significance of national independence has three vital parts:

(a) It is a moment to declaration of formal detachment from a former ruler and a deliberate affirmation that from that moment onwards the new nation is its own master – to decide over and determine that it is responsible for all the decisions and actions within its borders and affecting the bona-fide inhabitants of the territory.

(b) It is a formal announcement to itself and the world that moment of this declaration the issues and interests of the nation (as a collective) take center stage and those of the parties, including the interests of the group that liberated the country, take back stages.

(c) It is a rational and legal commitment that from that moment onwards all parts of the country are treated the same and inhabitants of the different parts of the whole are given their fair share of the national cake such that all feel that life has changed for the better since the moment of independence. This is called the independence dividend.
As a nation we cannot today honestly make bold that the citizens of Namibia have much to show for independence, save for being obsequious and fearfully thankful towards the rulers who continue to rub into our faces that we are now free from foreign rule.
To stand opposed to the celebrations in 2017 as an uncaring gesture on the part of the government is not an anti-government or anti-Swapo position. Rather, it is an ethical position based upon a very calm assessment of the situation on the ground and in protection of government.

Further, it is an act of non-confrontational defiance of government behaviour that is at variance with the principles of a caring governing that empathises and sympathises with the majority of its citizens, who are in need of hope, not a reminder that they are an appendix of the good life of the ruling elite.

The factors to consider
We are living in an age of growing anger, especially for the youth for and to whom the narratives of struggle for independence have become guilt-tripping tales to render them irrelevant and impotent to participate, and in so doing increasingly alienating. The stories and claims of liberation are also alibis for old people to remain in power at the expense of innovation and future preparations.

With due respect to those who brought us thus far, there must be an end to celebrating the past at the expense of the present and the future. For the youth today their own life is the site and stage of the history of the present. Their history is now, and their absence from these celebrations cannot augur well for the future wherein they will want to celebrate their own past.

To build a democratic State is not only about agreeing with or opposing everything the government does. This is the only government we have and we need to support it as much as we criticise it when we are convinced that its policies or actions are not in the interest of the people in the medium and long run.

When we disagree, we express such disagreement with dignity and respect for others, even those we think are wrong. We need to speak truth to power, for the truth is in our national interest, but fear is not. The truth told with courage will make our leaders succeed, and then we all succeed.

Courage and truthfulness is in the national interest, opportunism and bootlicking is not. Our loyalty ought to be to the Namibian State, not individuals. At times such as now the government needs constructive criticism with the aim of improving on what we have.

It would help us in our patriotism if we could develop a political culture that allows us to offer both praise and criticism to our leaders with love, respect and boldness, not because we love them less, but because we love Namibia and Afrika more.

There must be another way to celebrate without showing indifference and dismissiveness towards those who are struggling to offer a meal to their children. There must be a time when we have the courage and vocabulary to tell the emperor that he is naked, rather than allow him to go into the public and be ridiculed for his clothless state.

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