The lowering of the South African flag and the hoisting of what would become the national flag of the new nation is still vivid in my mind. I can still remember some of the faces of the dignitaries who came to witness and share in our moment of joy.
Prominent among those was the old man of South African politics, Nelson Mandela, and also in attendance was Yasser Arafat, the symbol of Palestinian nationalism. I’m sure both Mandela and Arafat were each quietly saying to themselves: “My people shall also be free.”
Mandela’s dream has been fulfilled but Arafat must still be turning in his grave wondering when his people will get what they have been fighting for: an independent Palestinian nation-state. As it is now, there is a Palestinian nation but not a Palestinian nation-state. And I’m afraid that we Namibians and South Africans are not doing enough to support the Palestinian cause but instead we are celebrating Israeli apartheid in Palestine.
That slight digression will form part of what I want to take up in this column. It is now almost a tradition during our independence celebrations for people to take stock of our achievements and failures. This I’m not going to do this time. Thus if you were expecting the usual ‘attack-dog approach’ of looking at what the Swapo government did or didn’t do for the past 22 years then you had better turn to others.
Here, perhaps for a lack of a better term, I would like to speak to the African condition. One of the issues is the question of our moral and philosophical justification for launching the armed struggle, broadly defined, of course. The second, and perhaps, the most important one, is whether Namibia, like a good part of Africa, is condemned to the Davidsonian curse of the nation state.
Political philosophers have always asked the question: when are revolutions justified? The answers as you would expect have varied in time and place. In the context of colonial Africa, it was cast in the language of a ‘just cause’. We had to liberate ourselves from the heavy yoke of colonialism and that’s why we agitated and eventually launched the armed struggle against the colonisers.
But do we as Africans apply the same moral principle of a ‘just cause’ to other situations and places? That’s why I brought up the issue of apartheid in Palestine and in an earlier column I also addressed the issue of injustices (basically crimes) being committed by the Chinese government against the people of Tibet.
As it is now, both Namibia and South Africa have economic and diplomatic relations with both Israel and China. South Africa is basically a puppet of China. On two occasions the SA government denied the Dalai Lama, the Nelson Mandela of Tibet, a visiting visa, citing cordial economic ties with China. Namibia would do the same – China is ‘our super-friend’, we are told. Thus philosophical and political principles and issues of justice have been jettisoned on the high seas by our respective governments in favour of the beastly politics of the belly.
The point is that one cannot run a modern nation-state without anchoring it on some moral and political principles. I’m talking about issues of justice, liberty, fraternity and equality. Those are the values that have made certain nations succeed, and those that have followed different political trajectory, to fail. Africa seems to be in the mix of nations that followed values and principles which don’t strengthen their nations or develop human capacity. That’s why most African states today are fragmented, a good 50 years after the coloniser had departed.
In his controversial book, ‘The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State’, Basil Davidson argues that Africans imported European institutions uncritically without redefining and deconstructing them, which was tantamount to denying Africa’s own legacy. Namibia is following the same political trajectory because after a good 23 years we are still trying to come to terms with those inherited institutions. So, in that sense our country still a ‘struggling kid’. (This is not a vindication for the ‘struggle kids’ though).Alex 20Mar13