Fifty-four years ago, on 28 August 1963, when racial tension in America was at its worst, the moral voice of a black preacher, the late Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, spoke these words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the contents of their character.”In the year 2000, this statement was selected as the best statement a leader has made on the vision for the new world.
Diversity is a reference to the differences that do and will exist wherever species of creation coexist. Be it in plants, animals or humans, there are differences that must be understood, appreciated and managed to obviate and mitigate potential conflict that can arise due to ill will or miscommunication and misperception in the coexistence and flow of life and its vicissitudes.
Diversity management has always been a challenge to leaders. Diversity can be hazardous when considered only for short-term goals and not tackled with care and sensitivity for medium and long-term considerations.
What is diversity in the context of Namibia today? To start with, the country we live in is unlike what our traditional rulers, our colonial masters and even our freedom fighters had imagined at the time when they thought they were building a country. The first part about diversity is to accept that we all come from different backgrounds and experiences, and as humans we continue to make assumptions and indeed judgements about our daily life on the basis of those backgrounds. We all harbour prejudice – good, bad and often innocently.
In the context of our political correctness, we all fall vulnerable to tell lies to be safe, and in so doing, we are not authentic to ourselves. It is important to be aware of our prejudice as long as we do not execute them at the expense of others. When we lie that we do not see race or colour is very dangerous. How would you describe me to the police after I have robbed you if you cannot recognise my colour?
The second part is for us to recognise that the world wherein we live is not our own making, no matter how powerful we might think we are. This is why we live in a constitutional democracy, which by definition means that we live in a social contract where no one is above the law, no one has the traditional right to leadership, and no one is free from scrutiny. We are equal and must be judged not by the colour of our skins, but by the contents of our character—by that which we bring to make our coexistence more peaceful, more meaningful and more enjoyable.
The third is for us all to learn more and more about how to live meaningfully in our own societies and beyond. To this end, any country needs a leadership that can assist to mortgage a better future for all who live in it. This is important because the paths that delivered us where we are today did not equip us to deal with diversity well. On the one hand, our apartheid colonial path taught us to be scared of one another because of our cultural differences. Our racist past prepared us to be indifferent to one another because it was dangerous to mix for fear that one of us would lose out one way or the other.
The fourth and perhaps most important thing about diversity is the acceptance that we live in the here and now with the realities as they present themselves on an ongoing and dynamic basis. The reality of our world is that we live in a Namibia, 27 years after the attainment of independence and we are not what we were before. What is our reality? Our reality is that living in small country, which enjoys more peace and stability than any other on the Afrikan continent today, has rendered us unable to question ourselves and work with the best and discard the worst.
This has led us to accept the reality of a dominant party state with all the signs of a one party state; we live in the Land of the Brave where everyone is afraid of something, at least as a healthy sign of loyalty to ‘something’; we have dilemmas and paradoxes that we have left unchallenged and are now threatening our peace and stability; we are not purposeful with our resource expenditure; we live in a country where greed and avarice is overtaking the values of the liberation struggle and what our parents taught us about living in a community of relatives, close and distant.
Most leaders, never mind the common man and woman, have not transcended cultural stereotyping from which proceed prejudicial assumptions, fear, mistrust and manners of self-protection that in the end inhibit interactions that can in turn obviate conflict and strife. In short we have great challenges managing our diversity even though we wish to take pride in it.
Very often people think of diversity only in terms of differences along race, gender, ethnicity, language, religion and culture. Diversity is more than that.
The starting point is for us to become informed citizens who understand who we are, where we came from, and how we got here. Second, the discernment will assist us to appreciate what we have both as risks as well as opportunities to get where we wish to be based upon our own context as an evolving society with new dynamics all the time and in a rapidly changing world. Thirdly, a positive consciousness about beginning at a micro-level of our identities, be they tribe, race, language group, and in our republican life how to manage our political party perspectives in a manner that we do not become enemies, but parts of the same towards a common greatness.
This year will go down in history as one of the most turbulent years in our republican life. Our differences are emerging to be much more difficult than we thought or pretended, reducing the language of our debate about future of our children to Us versus Them, and sheer hostility. It is most perilous to see Swapo imploding from within mainly because of a lack of succession planning to navigate the difficult and deliberate politics of succession and generational change. When the Namibian child witnesses Swapo leaders calling one another names, insulting and belittling other comrades as if they have leprosy, and when a Namibian child experiences at the hands of the leaders the unfettered trampling upon other citizens’ rights and dignity, we must brace ourselves for a different Namibia come 2018 and beyond.
Unless the trend of intolerance is arrested deliberately, Namibia will witness for the first time starting in 2019 comrades being imprisoned and caused to disappear because of political differences, and Namibia will never be the same again. The signs are there, the practice of othering and dismembering other citizens has begun. It is now a matter of time before we see what other nations never prepared for but went through: Uganda, Zaire, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and now South Africa where leaders kill to settle scores. Let us hope there are enough men and women of good conscience to halt this descent, and time is not on our side.