The monkey on our shoulders
A recent Pew Research Centre study on corruption and discontent in three sub-Saharan countries with the strongest economies – Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa – brought out interesting indicators as monkeys on those countries’ shoulders.
South Africa’s big monkey is race relations, showing that black people have more optimism about the future than their white counterparts, and that little progress has made on this front. Nigeria is beleaguered by religious absolutist positions whereby citizens harbour great animosities and fears along religious lines, namely Christians on the one hand and Islamists on the other.
In Kenya, it remains the spectre of tribe and ethnicity that are at the centre of political identity and state loyalty. The monkeys of race, religion and tribe seem to be embedded in politics of nations and continue to rear their ugly heads from time to time, and when they do, they can frustrate the national cohesion that every nation needs. They are even part of globalisation which makes the world all but one big global village. Brexit and the political triumph of Donald Trump are these monkeys notwithstanding.
Can we, against this background, say what Namibia’s monkey is? Perhaps we have different monkeys emerging at different times, depending on the season, the context of the discussion, the official positions of the participants, the political party affiliation of the audience and the location where the conversation takes place. Thank God religion is not one of our monkeys.
Namibia is blessed with a tradition of being one of the most Christian countries in the world, and we need not be apologetic about this fact when positioning ourselves and/or interacting with other nations of the globe. In as much as we are a secular state wherein religious tolerance is upheld, we remain a confident Christian nation. It is a strength that assisted us to fashion national reconciliation unlike any other post-war Afrikan country. We should leverage this strength and demand of others to respect these traditions as long as their right to practise their religion is not proscribed.
Namibia’s monkeys are varied according to all these factors. Our monkeys also vary in shape, body mass and levels of frustration which in turn influence the pitches of their noises and depths of their scratches. We still have a monkey problem all the same. Here is a list of some of our monkeys: Like South Africa, race is one of our monkeys, albeit not as big as the one in South Africa. Our race monkey is somewhat backwardly wired: it screams sounds of entitlement instead of managing diversity.
Instead of celebrating the richness that comes out of the kaleidoscope of our different shades and cultural strengths, we want to use it to punish those who are not in power in the same manner that race was used before. We have learned from the worst how to treat those who differ from us in form and ideas. ‘Monkey see, monkey do’ is upon us, when we should know better, that domination, whether white or black, is bad. It is inhumane. It is evil. Two wrongs do not make a right.
Our first big monkey is our history. Like any country in the family of nations, Namibia has a history of histories. These histories are footpaths along which we have travelled before we became a nation in the manner we wish to see ourselves today. In order for us to appreciate who we are we need to engage in some form of deconstructing these paths so that we can see the parts which constitute the whole that we are.
First, the Namibian nation did not come about naturally. Namibia’s borders and memories are a consequence of European adventurism under the watches of political potentates who once occupied centre stage and who took it upon themselves to recreate the world in their image. Namibia is the outcome of the numerous conversations between the then superpowers, Great Britain, the German Reich and Portugal who in a context of their rivalry for spheres of influence, used ink and paper to name and shape us.
Namibia is a real estate agreement between and by these powers which determined the management of the land and the lives of its inhabitants. It was a real estate compromise in the sense that the lives of the people living there were not the main consideration. The inhabitants were treated as movable property so much so that as late as 1916 all manners of census-taking in the country were about farmland distribution, native employment, epidemic control, and hunting rights.
Our second monkey is lack of seriousness with the task of building a nation with a distinct personality to work and function effectively. This means that any consideration about taking this country forward needs a better understanding of what the country is constituted of, so that we do not perpetuate the falsehood that OUR BEING and OUR POLITICS are all about wealth and power. Politics is about people. Leadership is about people.
Moral leadership is about managing resources so that people can have a better life than yesterday. If we do not go back to understanding the basics of who we are, where we come from, how we got here and what we have to mount the new struggles for meaning and happiness, we shall continue to quarrel in our new scramble for wealth at the expense of the Gemeinwohl, the common good. After all the struggle for liberation could not have been about how a few can gain riches from the land whilst the majority of people languish in dehumanizing conditions like they did when political power was in foreign hands.
In other words, it takes more to build a nation than pompous celebrations of official titles and conferences. Nation-building is the art and the business of creating something new out of what exists –the land resources and people. The only thing that does not grow on land is land. Yet everything we eat, wear, burn to cook and drive, sleep in, fight for and with, comes from land. People come and go. The land stays. We cannot change land to suit us – we can use it but we can change the way we conduct our affairs to enjoy the land which is meant for all of us in equal measure.
Building a nation is constructing a cathedral or making a durable sculpture. A good sculptor (standbeeldmaker) starts with nothing but his tools, the chunk of earth and water, and his idea. From and with that he works with the chisel and water, piece by piece until something aesthetically appeasing to the eye comes into view. The earth with which he started is just earth, but he saw in that earth something which through his labour is made manifest for the others to behold, adore and cherish. Nation-building is like chipping away at marble to create a near perfect sculpture.
It meant that the best actions or laws are those that produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and over the least amount of pain. Building a nation should entail efforts that lead toward happiness of the majority as opposed to the suffering of the majority for the happiness of the few, as is the case in most Afrikan nations today.
Tribalism or ethnicity is a chief monkey on our back. This monkey appears in three distinct ways. First is the reality that well-informed and well-placed office holders in the affairs of the state appoint only persons from their tribe or who speak their language in significant jobs, at the exclusion of the rest. Second is the fact that most Namibians, even high officials, are too afraid to raise the red flag when they see tribalism in government institutions.
The fear is that those who speak out against tribalism will be accused of being too tribally sensitive. Third is the official reluctance, laziness or sheer indifference to the frustration of national groups that are excluded from the national economic life. This reluctance or indifference manifests itself in the absence of a clear national policy that pushes the envelope of affirmative action beyond black-white equations to include the demand that the national demographics be reflected in all government diversity management policies and practices, just as gender imbalances are being addressed.
It or not, we remain members of tribes or ethnicities, and ought not to be ashamed to be members of the traditional communities into which we were born. Unlike political party membership, tribe and ethnicity is not a choice that we can control. It is also not the business of the members that are included to dismiss the pain of those who are excluded. Whenever and whenever this happened in history, the consequences are too ghastly to contemplate. Afrika has seen and will see many disturbances caused by the neglect of certain people from the mainstream economies of the nations. Once people feel that they are excluded or overlooked and replaced by those whose numbers do not tally to be in positions of power, trouble is inevitable.
Our next big monkey is the clamour to be seen as members of the inner groups of the SWAPO Party, not because of the adherence to the fundamental values that fueled the long struggle of the liberation movement, but because people are succumbing to the greed and self-congratulation of the predatory political elite stomping the ground in search of tenders, positions and job security. This disservice to the governing party that has done so much for the country and Afrika is perpetrated mainly by the ‘mafikizolos’, the johnnies-come-lately who joined the party at quarter past twelve, when it was not as risky as before independence when it was a statement of true sacrifice. These born-again-Swapoists are so fake, loud and self-congratulatory that they do not know what SWAPO went through. In their opportunism they convinced themselves that SWAPO is bigger than the government of the republic and greater than the state. These folks wear SWAPO scarfs to church, weddings, funerals and baptisms, not because they are genuine, but because they want to be noticed in order to get ‘the call’ from State House. They have a marvelous militancy to boast shamelessly: ‘We fought for this country, we liberated this country, and we died for this country!’
Yet they are still alive! These guys are more SWAPO than SWAPO. It is like saying that one is more Catholic than the Pope!
Ignorance is a monkey on our backs that is refusing to die. It would not be unusual to find a Namibian ambassador who does not know how many languages are spoken in the Zambezi or Kavango regions, never mind what the individual strengths are of our 13 Plus One regions so that when we present the Namibian narrative, we leverage these strengths for purposes of strategic investments. It would not be shocking to find a Namibian MP or cabinet minister who cannot tell the difference between Oshikwanyama and Subia.
Finally, our most frightening monkey is fear to speak the truth or be different. The lack of courage to be and to speak the truth to power and one another leads to a trust deficit. The absence of trust breeds lack of confidence to make a meaningful contribution. This state of affairs makes it impossible for us to develop a durable common understanding and appreciation of the values that constitute the threads and the glue to bind us as a nation so that when we quarrel, as we do and perhaps must, at times, we return to those self-evident and non-negotiable precepts that guide and illuminate our paths towards a One Namibia One Nation – not just a statement but a way of life. What a monkey-free legacy that would be for those yet to come!