The task of nation-building is not a simple one and many young nations went to war to even start the process. Namibia did extremely well in this realm, considering the various scenarios that were possible before independence, and the fact that there was no winner to enforce particular position of the victor.
Ours was, in the main, a negotiated settlement not based on a zero-sum game. All the participants walked away with something in the hand, to the extent that one of the erstwhile resisters of black majority rule, the then Commissioner General (Kommissaris-Generaal) of the Indigenous Tribes of South West Africa, Jannie de Wet, admitted on various occasions that he was honoured to have been part of what evolved out of a war-torn country into a nation where national reconciliation was for real and white oppressors were made to feel at home.
We have covered some ground in becoming a nation. As much as we still have many mountains to climb, it is necessary that we look back at the road we have travelled and with humility appreciate the positive things we have done and have become in the last 27 years. In addition to the 13 that were named last week, here are 14 more:
14. There is no doubt that Namibia has been punching above its weight in terms of establishing a good name for itself in the international community as a torch bearer of an Afrikan state that can work. There is no argument that the world knows good things about Namibia so much so that it is a preferred international conference destination. A good number of international conferences and dialogues have taken place in this desert land and if we continue to build upon what we have we could only stand us in a better stead.
15. In 1993 in the first international conference by the new Clinton Administration in Virginia, the then Secretary of State, Warren Christopher described President Sam Nujoma as the Abraham Lincoln of the new shining beacon of statehood in Afrika when he heaped sincere accolades on what Namibia has meant already to Afrika and the world before the stage was captured by Nelson Mandela in 1994.
16. It is not always acknowledged that Namibia is one of two countries on the Afrikan continent with permanent citizenship for white Namibian who are as Afrikan as anyone else, and so far they continue to feel part and parcel of the nation, as they should. This could not have been possible without a clear understanding and appreciation by the political leadership that Namibia belongs to all who live in it. The challenge for all, black and white to bring their best to table to make life more meaningful for all.
17. In the course of 2013, the Swapo leadership took a very exemplary step in (re)defining gender relations by pronouncing and committing itself, unlike other liberation movement or ruling parties world-wide, to a gender balance practice to end the historical and customary discrimination and marginalization of women in leadership in society, starting with its own structures. Whether it is adhered to successfully is neither here nor there, but the fact that a commitment was made and call was made to the nation to recognize the importance of being deliberate about equal empowerment, is very significant in itself.
18. Our body politic had its fair share of hiccups in the last two and a half decades, chief amongst them the Caprivi secessionist disturbance, the terrible Unita skirmishes that were masterfully handled by the Nujoma Administration at the time, the two break-aways from the governing party in the forms of the formation of the Congress of Democrats (COD) in 1998 and the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) in 2004.
Here mention must be made of the late Hidipo Hamutenya without whose self-discipline the country would have seen the start of a civil war as was witnessed in other parts of Afrika after independence. Through these growing pains the country has learned to understand itself better and hopefully jolt us all to a higher consciousness about anticipating strife and develop mechanisms to obviate them.
19. President Hifikepunye Pohamba was the winner of the 2014 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Namibia produced the Mo Ibrahim laureate for the country’s efforts to forge national cohesion and reconciliation in consolidating democracy and socio-economic development that the founding president so consistently focused on. It is important to acknowledge, as did the Ibrahim Prize Committee, that during the decade of his presidency Pohamba demonstrated a leadership of inclusiveness and humility.
20. Much as there were challenges to our national elections over the years we have conducted five parliamentary and presidential elections, there was no major strife that resulted in violence of ethnic strife as it well known in post-independence Afrika. The challenges that were there were in courts of law and conducted in a democratic manner whereby the rule of law was respected by both the loser and the winner, and we have peace.
21. Namibia has handled the land question very well for 25 years. It began to flare up in recent months mainly as a result of lackadaisical implementation of good policies on land reform, exacerbated by the greed of the political elite that has cannibalized the political space through greed to acquire land and wealth. It is normal in a democratic setting for localities to assert their rights, especially when provoked by government delay, lack of slow implantation of fair processes, and corruption of those who have political office and power.
22. There is undoubtedly ample freedom of movement and religion to the extent that this freedom is being abused by fly-by night evangelists who use the Word of God bogusly and dubiously for wealth acquisition by preying on poor people who are duped that by laying the pastor’s hands on their purses and handbags there will be sudden change of their contents to undeserved dollars. Yet, the state has been more than tolerant to this definitely abusive religious practice, mainly due to the fact that Namibia is a Christian nation that cherishes national reconciliation.
23. The banking sector has acquitted itself exceptionally well, thanks to the professional and scandal-free leadership of the national reserve bank (Bank of Namibia), which developed a rare competency to hone in indigenous personalities at its helm. Both Tom Alweendo and Ipumbu Shiimi have done the nation proud by managing an enterprise sandwiched between two bigger economies, South Africa in the south and Angola in the north, both rather unstable. In the last three decades, the country witnessed the creation of a very successful homegrown bank, Bank Windhoek, which has a rare organic sensitivity to the needs of local and previously disadvantaged communities.
24. Namibia’s agricultural sector remains a pillar of growth, thanks to the previously white farming communities, such as the Otjiwarongo Boerevereniging which is over 82 years old, the Karakul industry, the small jewellery companies, such as Boeck, Herrle and Herna, and Namib Jewellers, still going and willing to serve the new nation. There are other indigenous business entities such as Pupkewitz, Indongo, Otto Mohr, Leather Connection, and several hospitality operators that need stronger encouragement and support from government and all of us to remain essential parts of a functional national economy.
We must also never underestimate the importance of the role of young entrepreneurs, especially from previously disadvantaged communities who taught themselves to swim as businessmen and women. The current misperception that all black business people are self-serving tenderpreneurs is not helpful in the medium and long terms. National economies are a sum-total of these small, often extremely talented, yet unheralded business people who create employment and feed into the bigger economy.
The fact that they get tenders from the state is not a bad thing at all, especially in our context where the government is the biggest operator in the enterprise of national development. We need an interventionist state that works in partnership with other stakeholders to execute its war against poverty and inequalities.
That is how Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and W.K. Kellogg and many others started—small in partnership with the state, which had a wider reach to the population. Hence the label ‘Made in America’! While the state is the engine of development in our case, the private sector is the locomotive thereof.
Certainly, there are many reasons to be positive in the midst of the pain and suffering that accompany nation-building. There ae indeed many, even those buried under the heaps of frustration in our education and health ministries where more young Namibians have access to education and more people can access healthcare.
It is a tale of a half-full-half-empty glass. There are times when we need to raise our eyes and look at the fuller half instead of looking always at the empty half. A half-full glass is easier to fill up than a totally empty one. There is suffering and torment in this arduous task of nation-building, and not all will be happy. But history will absolve those who are focused on the fundamental values of freedom and who are willing to serve beyond the size of their stomachs.
Like in all history, this is not easy. Some must suffer and be willing to sacrifice for the true construction of the Namibia that is yet to come.