When you scratch the surface in search of clues for such a destructive past, the ugly beast of intolerance becomes the basis of understanding why Mozambicans sought untold obliteration during one of the bloodiest civil wars in Southern African history. Their experiences provide important lessons.
Namibia has not known violent conflict for the past 22 years. As such, we seem to be extremely reckless with the country’s future. A few conundrums about our country’s experience over the past two decades immediately came to mind. Most of these dilemmas have to do with our lack of a robust, but civilised debate about succession in Swapo and potentially the leadership of the country. This is worrying in light of a fragile future that we are about to cast through this callous conversation that we have constructed monstrously in the lead to Swapo’s succession. Recently someone defined the conversation around succession as a ‘primitive debate’. To be primitive here implies that those who don’t think like us must be hunted down and called names in order to generate fear and suspicion towards them.
Fear itself has become in many ways the lowest-common denominator and a tool of mobilisation against individuals who have committed the best parts of their lives to an inclusive, competent and forward-looking Namibia. When you observe these perverse conversations closely, tribalism, greed, ignorance and incompetence are and have been all along been the Vaseline through which these individuals interact with others. How do we counter these nefarious tendencies that seek to construct a shallow and callous political conversation around the future of this country? Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane, the late President of Frelimo spoke about freeing the land being a meaningless process if you did not free the minds of citizens. You may philosophically anchor society around what the Batswana people refer to as humane behaviour. John Stuart Mill for his part wrote extensively about liberty and the role of the state and the ethical flourishing of the individual in that interaction. Still, these cultural and philosophical conversations do not go far enough in countering the dark forces of greed, incompetence and tribalism. A three-point plan can be instructive as a counterweight against the emerging beast.
First, to manage the future of Namibia, you need individuals who are able to nurture and lead an informed and respectful debate that speaks about the issues that are crucial to our success as a nation. To have a responsible conversation would imply politicians, academics, business leaders and journalists who are driven by the ethics of their professions and not the vices of tribalism, greed and indifference. Thus, to argue respectfully that certain candidates do not have the necessary armour of a future of head of state based on an assessment of the issues and challenges facing Namibia does not amount to a disrespectful conversation – it is the stuff of a robust democratic debate. Similarly, to argue that our public institutions must be governed in a sustainable manner is part of the responsible conversation we should have. Such commentary should not invite malice on the part of competent individuals.
Second, we should consciously look at placing merit at the heart of the republic and what we do as Namibians. The most salient feature of a successful society is the manner in which competent individuals are deployed in positions of authority, creating the necessary dynamics that take a country forward. Competence leads to excellence. Individuals who live their professions with competence are less likely to compromise the ethics of their professions. Importantly, competent leaders are less likely to invoke fear of the other on the basis of the excesses of tribalism that currently dominate the non-philosophical view of our state. This implies emphasis on the principles and practices that promote a social and political culture based on competence, rather than identity and tribe.
Third, and perhaps more important, we should seek consensus about the kind of country that is inherently good. We have not started the debate with regard to the type of morality that should dominate our political life. We have been speaking superficially about unity. But we have not translated this loose conversation into what the philosopher T.M Scanlon refers to as ‘rump morality’ – morality in the sense of what we owe to each other. When we speak about political succession in Swapo or in any other political party for that matter, the dominant identities should also start asking themselves moral questions with regard to what it is that they owe to other Namibians. This should be framed in terms of a broader conversation about the country we collectively seek to fashion on the basis of what is just for all Namibians.
When we take the issues raised here into account and place them in a broader philosophical conversation, we would become conscious that the advent of freedom started with many possibilities. As the years have worn on, we have been retreating to a wanton and crude conversation about Namibia. Through fear informed by greed and tribalism, we have been systematically evading a conversation that should inform a civilised and confident Namibian future.
* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is Head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.