There was a famous artist who captured life’s realities through his large paintings. His rich imaginations which he depicted through his large paintings earned him notice and great respect throughout his village and beyond as a surrealistic storyteller. He reminded all the kinsfolk of the ups and downs through the colours of his paint and his little brooms. One day he decided to paint a very long rectangular banner which he worked on for days, adding one dimension of life to another, day by day. He grew in confidence and pride as the images told more and more about life and its contours. More and more people wrote unflattering remarks on the painting, complaining about this, that or the other they did not like in the painting. The famous painter’s ego was eventually bruised by the unkind reactions to his hard work. However, instead of giving up in despondency, he changed his tact.
Early one morning, he went to the mural and instead of adding more figures to it, he wrote a visible note on one side with the following words: ‘Please use the paint in the buckets and the brushes to improve the painting. Thank you.’ He placed a few buckets with different colours of paint, a few clean brushes, and left. He only returned to the mural a week later. During the days he was away, not one person dared to write the negative criticism any longer. It would appear that no one knew how to improve on what they were unhappy about. They only knew how to criticize and break down the spirit of the poor painter.
As we celebrate 27 years of self-rule and nationhood, we are all very eloquent with our criticism and bickering about what is not going well with our nation, and what the government has done wrong. Very seldom do we pause, or stretch our imaginations to find, appreciate and indeed name the things that work in the Land of the Brave since independence. It would be both wrong and dishonest of us to say that everything is wrong or not to acknowledge that the young nation of Namibia has covered some good ground, thanks to the leadership we have been blessed with. Equally, it is disingenuous not to recognize the good work and achievements over the last twenty-seven years for which the Namibian people in general and the government in particular deserve credit. Life cannot be only about finding failures and faults, but recognizing good efforts of others and giving credit when and where credit is due – with confidence and grace.
We lose nothing by being grateful for what we have, what is good and noble and upon thereupon the future with confidence and hope, to paraphrase the Founding President. Ungrateful souls cannot build a hopeful future. Let us therefore try to name, to the best of our abilities, at least twenty-seven things that are positive in our life as a nation that we can discern to have been brought about in the last twenty-seven years:
1. As the world that was known after World War 2 came crushing down at the end of 1989, our Founding Fathers and Mothers – yes those 72 men and women from different political parties, were hard at work negotiating and crafting masterfully the identity of the new nation of Namibia. They executed that extraordinarily delicate task within 80 days – an experience unprecedented in the world of constitution making. The Constitution of the Republic stands out as one of the most inspirational shrines in the international community.
2. Memories of the illustriously festive ending of a protracted war in the early months of 1990 ought to be glimpsed and inscribed upon our hearts when we for the first time saw the world smile all around us and saw the relieved and beaming faces of Namibia’s political leaders from all sides of the war divide shaking hands and coalescing around one Head of State. Not only was the world in attendance to be grateful midwives of our birth, by bearing direct witness to what remains the best success story in the narratives of the United Nations, but also to see former enemies standing alongside one another as citizens with a common loyalty to the Namibian state under God and one national flag with one President for all.
3. By a masterpiece stroke, Namibia’s Founding Fathers and Mothers chose English as the only official language and as a nation-building instrument. Instead of choosing a language of the majority, or like other former colonies did, continue with the colonial language, in our case Afrikaans, the leaders opted for a harder road so that all of us would suffer while at the same time we would gain faster entry into the world. The second country in Afrika to do that was Rwanda, which dropped its colonial language French and went for English. Even though our English is not the best, we can communicate pretty satisfactorily with one another as one nation.
4. President Geingob is right on when he points out that we cannot get tired of peace. Many nations in their trajectories of building themselves went through civil wars and terrible bloodbaths after their freedom. Our northern neighbour Angola is a case in point. Namibia embraced the policy of national reconciliation, which has sustained our peace and stability thus far, even though there are challenges still along the path of becoming a united nation against the background of tribal, racial and linguistic differences. We have definitely managed our diversity much better than most cases in the world have taught. That we can and should never take for granted. Peace in this instance does not just mean the absence of war, but the presence of safety no matter where we are. So far we bear no memories of political assassinations due to disagreements, and we ought to continue this political culture for the sake of our children and theirs.
5. We inherited a very good foundation for our infrastructure, such as roads, banks, the harbours, railways and strong buildings compared to older Afrikan states upon the attainment of independence. Credit goes to the Swapo-led government for maintaining and continuing the development of the infrastructure in commendable ways thus far. One appreciates this aspect when one is outside of the country. In many ways, the battle for sustainable development is half won already.
6. The unity and stability we enjoy should neither be overemphasized nor taken for granted because it did not come without efforts or via email. It was hard work and sacrifice. It took other nations many years to live as one nation, and many still do not. In spite of our challenges, Namibians have embraced the idea of One Namibia One Nation, and sleep under a blanket of security that tomorrow will be fine. Even the democratic quarrels that we have happen in a climate of nationhood.
7. Namibia is a land of contrasts, one of which is the fact that one ethnic group, the Aawambo, enjoys a majority that in the context of Afrikan tribal majority rule, sharing could have been harder than what we have. Yet the Aawambo, as part of the Namibian political culture that started in 1904 with the Herero leader Samuel Maharero extending his hand to the Nama leader Hendrik Witbooi, punctuated in 1959 with the Herero Chief’s Council recognizing the need to anoint a non-OmuHerero, Tatekulu Sam Nujoma, as a legitimate voice for all inhabitants of the country, followed by the Kavangos, are able to look beyond themselves to the extent that today we have a democratically elected Head of State who is from a minority tribe. The majority of the people who voted for Hage Geingob are not Damaras and many of them not Swapo members. This shows exceptional political maturity of Namibians in all walks of life.
8. We have had two great moments of orderly peaceful transfer of power from one President to the other, and the three Presidents remain friends and comrades, and they live in one town, walking distances from one another. This is by any stretch of the imagination not a small fete in Afrika and a formerly divided country. Thanks to the leadership that emerged out of the liberation struggle. When we look around us, there are countries where the clock of leadership has stopped to tick.
9. Small is beautiful. Small a nation that we are, we have carved a niche narrative for ourselves in the family of nations, as a model nation for democracy and good governance. If we can maintain what we have and develop on the foundations we have, we could become even better and a model that other nations with diversities of race and language and ethnicity could emulate. At the moment, Namibia has the best race relations on the Afrikan continent. The reservoir of goodwill amongst all race groups offers such great potential to become a beacon of hope for all peace-loving peoples in the world.
10. Much as we remain encumbered by the preponderance of the executive branch of national government, Namibia has a healthy climate of the rule of law. There is a sound system of checks and balances between the three branches of a democratic government: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Considering our difficult background, we have an unusually free and capable judiciary that enjoys freedom and autonomy from the other organs – for which we ought to guard and be grateful.
11. Namibia is one of the rare post-colonial sites of freedom of speech on the continent and the greater world. Our mass media remains helpful in keeping our political leaders awake so that they do not abuse their official power. If we develop a professional, sophisticated and responsible journalism, the media could become essentially the fourth arm of government in the country.
12. The Swapo leadership has thus far exercised sufficient self-restraint, such that Namibia has a good image internationally so much so that we do not have huge scandals as yet to undermine the reputation that the nation has earned since the hard days of the liberation struggle. Even the levels of corruption within our political elite have not as yet reached the proportions that Afrikan leaders are known for, and we ought to cut the tentacles of corrupt fingers in our public sector.
13. The country has a relatively strong private sector with sufficient confidence in the governance system of the country. Where there are fault lines in the private-public sector partnership, it is the weakness of the private sector that is not confident enough to exercise its corporate citizenship in nation-building by way of its conduct as a pressure group. The private sector just like the church in Namibia, lacks self-confidence to have a strong voice in the affairs of the nation.
President Geingob always points out that it takes less effort to break than to build. We as a nation have come a very short long way and the potential we have is as great as the threats we face right now. Across the length and breadth of our country the questions and the chatter about things not going well are growing and drowning the muted conversations, whereas we should be looking at our positive experiences that should propel us all to take responsibility to support our leaders in government, the private sector and civil society formations to appreciate, maintain, sustain, and build upon the foundations of a potentially strong country – at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbours and at peace with the rest of the human family. It can be done when we turn to, instead of against, one another.