Where there are No Rules, Personalities Rule, and Nations Perish
History is about the good and bad consequences of decisions that human beings made in their lifetimes. History is also about systems that were built by decisions, be it in the public or private sector. History is therefore about contexts, which rules influence decision-makers’ behaviour and the shapes that systems take. Our behaviour, our assumptions and judgements are informed by the rules that were set long before we came along. Religion and science are based on rules of the past.
Yet as human beings we ignore this fundamental truth only to repeat the mistakes that were made by others at their peril. Leaders ignore history and the signs of the time; we arrogate to ourselves the right not to err because we want to be better than we really are even when we know better; we forget that people need rules and guidelines to live a decent and harmonious life, otherwise the worst in us takes over and society cannot cohere. In so doing, we are unable to learn from other people’s experiences to do better because we assume we are unique when we are not.
Maybe it is true that people do not learn from others’ experiences and must make their own mistakes. Yet human nature is perilous without rules and institutions to monitor our interactions and guarantee certainty and consistency.
The ancient Chinese teacher and authority of warfare, Sun Tsu, who wrote the ever seminal book ‘The Art of War’, wrote: ‘To win a war without fighting it is best.’ This insightful instruction was as true when he wrote it as it is now.
Human civilization is transmitted and sustained by norms, values, morals and ethics based upon a set of precepts accepted by the greatest number of inhabitants of any given territory on planet earth. These rules are translated into codes, laws and institutions by which collections of human beings live in harmony and predictable peace and stability, and transmitted over generations. Without these commonly accepted rules to guide the knowledge and discernment of the ‘dos’ and the ‘don’ts’, society becomes rudderless and survival of the fittest takes over.
In such rule-less society the sense of the common good is exchanged for the whims of the individuals who, however well-meaning they start off to be, can degenerate into hurtful and greedy beings. In this state of the law of the jungle, human beings become, as philosophers put it, mean and brutish beasts preoccupied not with the common good but their parochial self-interests, leading to a world wherein a few, especially the most cunning, the richest, the most manipulative – those who can generate more fear, make better promises, conceal the truth better, intimidate and manipulate more effectively to get their way in the face of resistance, survive better as rules setters at the expense of the finest and all.
The absence of deliberate, clear and purposeful rules and strong institutions that do not see faces causes a civilization to suffer inherent inabilities to sustain itself over time, never mind pass onto the next generations meaningful relationships that are monitored by a sense of self-worth, pride and forearmed with a glue to hold together its parts when they go asunder. It then becomes inevitable that people quarrel over symptoms of dis-eases because they have failed to mortgage a better future based upon an agreeable life-supporting social contract. The absence of a social compact to guide and mold positive human behaviour leads to an expansion of collections of people without a history, without a memory, and devoid of a culture to illuminate their past as well their future.
Clear guidelines assist all to interpret events and predict consequences, good and bad, so that members are in a position to engage in meaningful interactions with one another in ways that nurture the foundation of a better life for all.
The past is a cumulative account of events that happened before and which ought to serve our souls as mortal beings in desperate need of a compass to navigate our way into an unknown future. Great leaders with deep souls, such as Nelson Mandela, understood this well and tried to build the foundation for a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa and the world.
Tata Mandela was a great respecter of laws and institutions. One great edifice he laid was to rearrange the behaviours of institutions of state and the officials working therein to appreciate that South Africa belonged to all who lived in it. As much as South Africa is in terrible shape right now, the nation has a rectitude base to return to, regroup and rebrand itself, and that base is in the definitions that Mandela gave of the New South Africa. The Mandela dictum of a country wherein all lived in harmony and with equal opportunity for all race groups and creeds offers armoury to that nation to reclaim its place as a respected country with a proud history in shaping the new world order.
The signs are already there in the strong voices of the civil society, the religious communities, the private sector and the media that are refusing to allow the mendacities of the predatory political elite to define the character of the nation. These voices do not exist in most Afrikan nations, including Namibia. Mandela’s call and work remain the reference points for self-correction in South Africa. In the five short years that he was President, he redefined South Africa and made each person, friend and foe, qua citizens, feel that they had a place to live free of domination and harassment by one of them. Mandela set the bar for being a political leader and restored the dignity not only of South Africans but the entire black world for that matter.
Here are some of the benchmarks Mandela bequeathed his nation and the world. Simplistic though they may appear, they set the tone for cost-saving measures in the conduct of the state and government. Mandela refused to copy the typical African pompous so-called protocol of treating the President as the Country or some super king to be feared and celebrated above all and at all times.
Mandela established a human political protocol that he never required his cabinet ministers to see him off at the airport when travelling and receive him upon his return. He knew and understood that it was too costly to yank ministers out of their offices just because he was at the airport.
His administration never required resident ambassadors to be at the airport for him either as he understood that the time that it would take for all these esteemed servants of their nations to travel to the airport and wait for him would be wastage of meagre resources needed for development projects.
Out of self-respect and to cut costs, Mandela never went to the airport to receive a visiting head of state, including the Queen of Great Britain and Pope John Paul ll when they visited South Africa in 1995. The Foreign Minister and relevant cabinet ministers went to receive the guests and deliver them to the proper official reception at the Presidential Guest House.
Mandela refused to duplicate the expensive practice of hanging photos of visiting leaders on lamp posts along the streets of Pretoria, as Mandela understood that the money the state had was better spent on assisting the vulnerable members of society and made the statement that South Africa was not a banana republic where funny things were done that are not seen in countries with more resources and higher levels of development.
It was during Mandela’s rule that South Africa developed most of the institutional rules that can save that country. Importantly, South Africa managed to establish early enough one thing clearly enough – how to handle funerals of important individuals in its body politic of the country.
The new state clarified what types of funerals were to be accorded to individuals who either contributed immensely to the liberation struggle or are serving the nation exceptionally in their life time. State funerals were reserved only for persons who served as Head of State and Commander in Chief. South Arica had only one state funeral thus far, in December 2013, when the world buried Nelson Mandela. Interestingly before Mandela, former President P.W. Botha qualified to get a state funeral, but refused to lay under the new non-racial South African flag and preferred to be left alone. This clarity on who gets what, when and why makes it easier for all people to understand, accept and predict what to expect from the state and the government when death strikes their families. A state funeral is a very rare and costly affair. It can neither be routine nor left at the whim of the serving President to decide, depending on the relationship that exists at the time of death, when and who to bury with tax money.
In this way South Africa obviated misunderstandings and ill feelings when no state funerals were given to many deserving citizens: Walter Sisulu, the man who discovered and recruited Mandela into politics, his wife Albertina, Adelaide Tambo, the wife of long-time ANC President Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, President Thabo Mbeki’s father and Mandela’s comrade in the underground movement and on Robben Island, ANC Youth League President Peter Mokaba, the first Foreign Affairs Minister Alfred Nzo, the first Defence Minister Joe Modise, the first Sports Minister Steve Tshwete, the first Justice Minister Dulla Omar, the first two Constitutional Court Justices Arthur Chaskalson and Pius Langa, Mandela and Mbeki’s presidential spokesman Parks Mankahlana, the longest white liberal voice in the apartheid parliament Helen Suzman, the Dutch Reformed anti-apartheid voice Beyers Naude, Allister Sparks, a veteran anti-apartheid journalist – to mention a few. None of them got a state funeral because none of them was Head of State. They all received either a Government Funeral or an Official Funeral. The serving President is free from pressures from any family to grant this or that funeral because the rules are clear.
Namibia had over five state funerals in the last five years without the death of a President. Brenda Fassie would have received a state funeral in Namibia. In Namibia any person who is in good standing of the President at a given time is accorded a state funeral. Sad as it is, we have to ask the question how we as a nation would have handled the funeral and burial politics around the late Hidipo Hamutenya (RIP) if he passed on while he was still the leader of the opposition. Our answer to this important question gives us a very sad picture of ourselves today. The Namibian model of state funerals cannot be sustained because it is not based upon a set of rules that can be countenanced by the common man. In addition, the trend that has been set creates undue expectations that the state cannot meet, such as families either expecting or lobbying that their family member be given a state funeral. This is likely to get worse until the rules are clear, blind and fair!
People are getting on in age and we have to brace ourselves for awkward times. The point, however, is that the nation cannot afford to bury every freedom fighter with taxpayers’ money!
Our current financial crisis has been coming and the lack of rules on how to govern national resources notwithstanding. Much is left to individuals to decide without set rules. For instance, in 2014 it ought to have been foreseen that to increase the number of MPs and cabinet would cost money.
If it is true that presidential advisors were appointed and given exorbitant perks without the vetting of parliament, if it is true that presidential travels with huge entourages are outside of the business of the legislature, then it is too late for us to discuss it. The new development that presidential advisors represent and make public pronouncements on state matters cannot be countenanced as appropriate. That function belongs to the executive branch and elected officials of government. Namibians are too laid back to ask questions about how their money is spent by those in public office.
For some unfortunate reason, Namibians surrender the space to their leaders to do whatever they wish with their resources. The current money crisis is due to this lack of proper accounting systems exacerbated by external factors, some of which ought to have been foreseen.
The fact that everything depends on who/what the President likes or dislikes is not how to run a state. The state is about having rules that are blind and where those who are privileged to hold official status do not use their office power to fix the other citizens that they do not like.
There are three vexing issues that will be part of the leadership debate leading up to the 2017 Elective Congress of the governing party SWAPO. First is the urgent need to reduce the state bureaucracy and make it commensurate with the size of the population. There are way too many officials and advisors and this practice cannot be sustained in the medium and long terms.
Second is the 50/50 gender balance and zebra debacle generates unrealistic expectations and pits comrades against one another in spite of whether they have merit to hold public office.
It would be unfortunate to prescribe that every decision the ruling party or the country makes for leadership must be based upon man-woman, man-woman equations. This is already hamstringing our political system and weakens the President’s hand as he cannot appoint citizens on merit, but on other strange criteria. There is more to leadership than gender. Democracy cannot be genderised at the expense of establishing an environment that creates opportunities for people to run for and be selected for leadership positions.
The third is the race for the top leadership positions in the governing party.
One of the most powerful contributions SWAPO brought to Afrikan politics is the democratization of the party in 2014 when three candidates emerged within the party to contest the same top position. One hopes that this trend of having more than one candidate for all the top positions will continue in 2017 to show the world that Namibia is serious about multi-candidate and multi-party democracy, for three reasons: (a) to give proper expression that it is indeed an elective congress and not just a carnival of who is in the zoo of the party; (b) to show that SWAPO is capable of reinventing itself in accordance with the new reality and allow the best man or woman to lead the necessary process of self-improvement and self-correction; (c) to facilitate that the old guard exits gracefully and passes on the baton to the younger generation before relations between the old and the young become too antagonistic and perilous to our much cherished peace and stability.
Sole-mandate elections are by their very nature stale, dangerous and prohibitive of transparent free and fair elections which is the lifeblood of sustainable and believable systems. Let there be rules in our planning that protect everybody alike. Relying on individuals is dangerous and not sustainable. As they say, failure to plan is planning to fail.