To be sure, governments have no higher calling than that of welfare and human security of its citizens.
And in the execution of this mandate, governments can draw lessons from the ‘dismal science’ of economics whose core principle is one of choice. That is to say, that the demands and claims by competing groups and needs to national resources will invariably exceed the available resources. It is, therefore, the selection and prioritisation made by the authorities which will determine whether and how soon the goals of progress and equity will be realised. In this scheme of things, citizens are as much actors as the government. As a matter of fact, the citizens are the primary actors. Such is the logic of democracy. Some of the quirks and limitations of democracy are the impracticability of citizens having a direct daily voice in the actions of governments as these powers are held by elected officials in trust until the next elections when voters have the opportunity again to express themselves both on the record of the government and renew or alternatively, entrust a new administration the mandate to govern in their name. It is the modus operandi of how to influence the practice of power between elections, which, at times, presents a quandary.
The type of system we have elected requires of citizens to be active role-players who do not sit around forlornly and idly and accept their fate as predetermined. On the contrary, it empowers us with immense responsibility to make our voices heard and to act, individually and collectively, in the face of non-delivery by government and its myriad agencies, or official indifference and/or apparent and appalling mis-governance.
The system we opted for in March 1900 empowers the citizens to speak loudly and clearly or inarticulately, as the case may be, by means of strikes and demonstrations, letters and sms messages to newspapers, through social media and inter-active radio programmes, etc. And the citizens communicate these as when teachers, in frustration, went on a strike in the dying days of 2012; or when citizens express outrage at proposed 31 percent increase for salaries and benefits of the political class and when citizens express outrage and bewilderment, when reports come through from Berseba that Deputy Minister Willem Isaack launched a tribal tornado against the police or that his counterpart, Tjekero Tweya, illegally encamps vast tracts of communal land at the expense of the poor and already marginalised ad nausem.
Ultimately, the sovereign power is vested in the citizens to make and un-make their government. But having said all, there appears to be romantic expectations, in quite large sections of our communities about government’s remit toward its citizens. The most extreme are situations where communities expect government to play Father Christmas (or am I still trapped in my holiday mood?) who, by a magic wand, should provide jobs for the parents and new clothes and meals for our beloved children.
And this relationship between the state and the citizen is one we must continue to interrogate as the authorities in Windhoek cannot and will never provide everything.
There are, however, the basics which any government should provide. And this bare minimum is defined both by convention and constitutional injunction, which require the provision of welfare and security of the person. This is part of its job description for which taxpayers pay them a monthly cheque. The constitutional niceties need to be translated into legislation and policies in order to impact the lives of Namibians.
One of the greatest ills stalking our nation continues to be poverty in the face of multiple resources providence has endowed us with. This abysmal record must continue to be a blemish those who have stewarded the nation’s fortunes to date. Yet evidence is now almost conclusive from welfare discourse – including that provided by our own old age pension scheme – that, indeed, cash transfers uplift the poor from conditions of wretchedness.
So whilst we do not advocate an approach of giving a fish to a man every day we need to engage on making poverty history in our country. We know it is possible and for this reason we must continue to engage Windhoek – loudly and in numbers!