Namibia’s shifting frontiers of the ideology battle

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Some relics of the Cold War era, claiming that independent Namibia is in the grip of an ideology paralysis due to a lack of an identifiable revolutionary ideology and forcefulness around which to mobilise the masses, most evidently suffer from romanticized cold war philosophical after-effects, and a zero understanding of the core rationale of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), as well as the globally shifting ideology battle.

Had these Cold War remnants, armchair “revolutionaries,” wannabe revolutionaries, utopian socialists, and individual/egoist anarchists, cogently comprehended the motivations of historical political luminaries such as Jawaharlal Nehru of India or Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, their  baying for ideology for its puritanical sake would have long ago evaporated in Namibia.

Therefore, the assertion in the question by SWANU MP Usutuaije Maamberua during the recent SONA 2017, to President Hage Geingob as to what ideology he is espousing, and the follow-up rejection of the President’s response by a weekly newspaper columnist, with a volley of verbiage as a mere mystification of the question: implicitly submit that Namibia has no ideological credentials and operates in an ideological vacuum.

At this point it may suffice to define ideology as a collection of ideas or more broadly as a “certain set of ethical ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class and or large group that explains how society should work, and offers some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order”.

Within this broad ideological spectrum a person can to varying degrees be a leftist, centrist or rightist.

The Essence of Namibian Ideology
Since its establishment in the 1950s, the ruling SWAPO Party, unlike the SWANU opposition party, which expressly defined its raison d’etre as to effect a socialist society, never claimed this laurel. Although its main support was derived from the Soviet Union, Cuba, China and others, most being socialist countries, SWAPO remained a vanguard movement of progressive patriotic nationalism under whom Namibians from all political and cultural persuasions united for the single goal of achieving Namibia’s independence.

In fact, the first Congress of SWAPO in an independent Namibia on December 6-12, 1991, and as amended by the SWAPO Party Extraordinary Congress of August 27-28, 1998, reinforced the democratic, nationalist, and developmentalist orientations of the ruling Party.

As per its aims and objectives the Party’s main ideologies are eclectic: nationalism (patriotism) and social democracy, and its economic system, although not in a classical sense is developmentalism (a cross-disciplinary school of thought having development as the key strategy towards economic prosperity). It seeks sustained economic growth and promotion of citizens’ welfare through government interventionists, blunting of most negative effects of capitalist development, and advancement of national interests.

Like any other conceptual construct developmentalism has its critics both from the left and the right, e.g. it’s viewed as eurocentric, and denying the free market autonomy, etc.

Articles 95 and 98 of the Namibian Constitution further underscore the ruling Party’s ideological orientations by adding to the developmentalist record (reflected in the mixed economy), a welfarist dimension, to complete the ideological profile of the modern, post-independent Namibia.

The Welfare State (L’Etat-providence-the providing State) concept implies a key role for government institutions to protect and promote the economic and social well-being of its citizens, through equal opportunity and distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life.

The Welfare State is an antithesis of the passive Laissez-Faire State, while developmentalism is an opposite of the more radical and Laissez-Faire capitalist set of ideas, or market fundamentalism, of the Washington Consensus mould, namely neo-liberalism, which seeks a minimalist role for the State and unfettered market freedom across the world.

Neo-liberalism includes extensive economic liberalization e.g. privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.

Neo-liberalism critics have decried its overemphasis on the importance of economic efficiency, or monetization of time at the costs of other social goods such as strong workers’ rights, public health, education, indigenous wealth redistributive policies and so forth. It is associated with the emergence of the “precariat,” a new class of the acute socio-economically insecure and alienated, and the consumerization of populations. Other negatives associated with neo-liberalism are the subverting of countries’ self-determination capacity (e.g. recent downgrade of the South African economy towards junk status by Standards & Poors following a Cabinet reshuffle).

Namibia having learnt valuable lessons from the NAM movement on the need for an appropriate middle way to secure its own preservation, adopted democracy, patriotic nationalism (as opposed to right-wing nationalism, National Bolshevism or Socialism), and developmentalism as the economic delivery vehicle for prosperity, as its guiding ideologies, complemented by a welfarist State model.

This does not mean that the country has in anyway become historically and politically revisionist and is negating and repudiating both the manifold support and political friendship it had (and continue to have post- independence) during the darkest days of its national liberation struggle, from tried and tested all-weather friends such as Russia, Cuba, China and others with strong socialist ideologies. These bonds of friendship and solidarity were forged in the crucibles of the liberation struggle fire with blood and will continue indefinitely.

As the President regularly points out, the country remains a “friend to all and an enemy to none” a principle also applied from the valuable political experiences of NAM. No doubt as Namibia progresses along the development path its politicians and bureaucrats will become more adept at state craft to ensure that the ideological battle does not get lost (through unsolicited neo-liberal orthodox consultative advice of IMF and WB emissaries) to the pernicious path-breaking influence of neo-liberalism.

The backlash against this emerging tyranny of the markets and the business elites are visible in the “shock” Brexit vote and the equally “shock” victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the recent USA presidential elections. Both these events signalled the growing global impatience and strong rejection by the downtrodden of the divisive neo-liberal economic model of societies into the criminalized poor, state influencing corporate rich and the indebted middle classes.

* This commentary is written strictly in my personal capacity as a citizen of the Republic of Namibia.

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