History is a strange bedfellow. It is mostly the story of what happened in the past about human beings in the center of events that they hardly planned themselves, but are depicted as either good or bad, winners or losers, vanguards or villains.
Very seldom, if ever, are people the planners of their own history. It is how they manage human relations with other people and emerge as custodians of the commonly held and aspired to values that are held to be good, meaningful and helpful not only for the doers at the time.
One of the saddest parts of history is that more often than not, political leaders and rulers are unable to think beyond their own present and personal and parochial interests. Those who do are very few and far between.
Compare the choices that Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and Nelson Mandela to those of Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko and P.W. Botha made, all of them in the lives of the people they professed to love.
Here are some of what the winners did in their life time:
Jesus Christ: He lived like and with his students every day, and washed their feet. He died a humble man.
Mahatma Gandhi: He went on hunger strike when he felt that people were not following his lessons of non-violence and non-revenge. He took off his barrister suit and donned a handwoven loincloth and leather sandals. He died a humble man.
Martin Luther King: With reluctance, he accepted the invitation by his people to lead the civil rights movement, which he in turn greatly influenced with his call to replace violent force with moral force, and became the clearest voice for change in the world. He died a humble man.
Julius Nyerere: The equality of human beings was paramount to him. He destroyed tribalism in his country by making differences as blunt as possible and fostering one national identity. After he stepped down as president of Tanzania, he went back to his mother’s homestead. It was then that the military built a house for him in appreciation. He died a humble man.
Thomas Sankara: He was the first Afrikan head of state to appoint women into senior cabinet positions. He cut the salaries of the ministers and his own to inspire people to do more with less. He insisted that national leaders patronised local produce, such as food and clothes.
He and his government officials used simple cars to channel resources to economic development. Within four years of his rule, Burkina Faso became food self-sufficient and corrupt officials were prosecuted in public without lawyers.
In no time his countrymen and women embraced a new self-definition as “the land of the upright people”, Burkina Faso, where intellectuals and businesspeople were included in the economic planning. Through official assassination, he died a humble man.
Nelson Mandela: After inheriting a totally divided country, Mandela used humanity and simplicity in interacting with all South Africans. Friends and foes were treated with equal regard and dignity, and he urged all to be part of the new nation. He never used his superlative power to inflict suffering on those who held different views from his. In his time, every South African belonged!
This is not to say that our leaders must be Mandela or Mother Theresa. It is, however, important and necessary that we reflect on our times and what we will represent when we are the subjects of historical interrogation.
Here is the question: What shall be spoken of us when we are history? The backdrop of our narrative is like this. For many years after the attainment of political independence, Namibians across the board and regardless of their political, tribal, racial, and linguistic affiliation felt comfortable with what the country has become.
The majority of Namibians felt proud to be here. One of the hallmarks of the narrative that made Namibians feel positive about themselves was the generation (not by age but ideological disposition) of the governing party SWAPO, which they associated with greatness, honour and exemplary leadership that the liberation movement – now a political party – was portraying on a continent associated with scandals, greed, nepotism and cruelty to citizens.
Here are some of the markers of what will determine memories about our time:
During the period while the nation was memorialising Tatekulu Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, speaker after speaker authored the chapter when they asked, directly or indirectly, whether we as a nation were on course with the goals for which so many have sacrificed so much for. The overwhelming response was: NO, we are NOT.
There are admissions all around that we have lost the moral compass that assisted us thus far. The cohort of our 2017 political leadership is about self-congratulation, greed and glee that power is to fix others at the slightest provocation. Our current top political leaders care more about their financial and political wellbeing than they worry about the nation.
Historians and informed commentators 27 years after independence have begun to liken our politics to the experiences in former Zaire, where everything was about this or that vision of Mobutu Sese Seko; in Malawi where Kamuzu Banda would take the whole cabinet shopping in London with him, and ministers and judges were required to show loyalty by being at every event he graced; in Romania where Nicolae Ceauscescu had a wrist watch that connected him at all times to the state security apparatus; or in East Germany where Erich Honecker ruled by lying to his nation about history.
We shall be spoken of as the most self-serving generation which never cared about principles, such that the elders know that their own rules were being violated, and people were getting hurt, not because they violated the law but because they differed with someone at the top. These good men and women never raised their hands to object to the abuse, because it was inconvenient.
We shall be remembered as the generation that failed to build institutions that could function beyond human faces, and that would not be motivated by fear and the likes and dislikes of other citizens, but by a common commitment to building a better society than the one we found.
To be continued…