Namibia’s Foreign Policy Software Is Analogue And DefectiveBy: Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari
WITH the exception of our first foreign minister, Theo-Ben Gurirab, who was a high politics diplomat par excellence, adroit and able to refine with sophisticated gravitas of the most difficult positions we took, we have been struggling to exist and articulate coherent and logical positions on the high politics of foreign policy.
For his part, Hidipo Hamutenya shifted emphasis to the low politics of trade in line with the pressing demands of a small developing country. Even if one would disagree with that emphasis, there was a consistent line of action and prioritisation of our foreign policy goals. Foreign policy analysts could read a pragmatic vision of what we wanted to do. Unfortunately, we have been in a no-man’s land ever since – no visibility or flair, and no substantive anchors and defined objectives.
In the foreign policy life of a state, cataclysmic events and circumstances ought to modify by their very nature the content and priorities of a state. One such of many recent events is the brutal death of our friend and ally, Muammar Gaddafi. The events leading up to his death, including the wider changing dynamics or that region, ought to provide a key moment for pause and reflection in the governance of our foreign policy.
We have to reset the button around foreign policy. This may entail a complete overhaul of the outdated and incompatible software that guides the actions and priorities of this country abroad. Judging from the comments from the autarchic foreign minister, Utoni Nujoma, the status quo in tone and thinking remains - even in the face of changing norms and circumstances, both in Africa and elsewhere. The crude reality is that our foreign policy, which in its present form does not inspire confidence, may not shift an inch. Yet, the cumulative blunders and inability of our foreign policy to adapt to changes have meant that we have missed out on the only opportunity available to a small country to play a meaningful role. Namibia is too small to matter in any area of international affairs. It is less likely to shape key outcomes in Africa or the international arena.
As a consequence, it is pretty naive to try to punch above our weight on high issues that we cannot back up with any credible foreign policy tools. We don’t have the diplomatic depth or military posture to sway the tide against the penetration of democratic norms and values, which in some instances, including Libya, may include the use of force and foreign intervention by Western powers – at times with the implicit and tacit approval or indifference of emerging powers such as China, Brazil, Nigeria and Russia. The indifference of these powers to these issues are in some instances informed by domestic considerations, which in our case are undoubtedly absent. Their change in tone and their evolving positions on global issues, including what is happening in Syria, does attest to the complexity and sophistication that should guide foreign policy conduct. Unfortunately, public opinion in Namibia about what government says or does abroad is unlikely to cost politicians elections, nor are they under any civil society pressure to respect the civilian norms of Namibia’s domestic order when they engage Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Gaddafi's Libya. The content of our positions suggest that such domestic considerations and determinants of foreign policy are absent.
In the main, there is perhaps no need to repeat the meaning of the transformations of the late 1980s and 1990s and how these impacted on the sovereignty norm that we seek to argue as the firewall of our ‘anti-colonial’ or ‘anti-imperialist’ foreign policy doctrine. Such thinking, now fossilized and archaic, might have been fashionable during the fight for liberation. It was the right thing to do and the solidarity for that movement was global in scope, including in the West. But the world has moved on. Our liberal democratic constitution, drafted in the image of the West is clear testimony to those penetrating transformations and the victory of certain norms and values. Internalising the values of our constitution ought to provide a sound basis for how we engage with the world, including Africa. The fall of dictatorial and undemocratic regimes in Africa should be welcomed – perhaps not the means. Even so, it is silly to camp on positions that are plainly unsustainable in the medium to long-term as they also compromise our interests in the low politics of foreign policy. In light of this argument, our positioning as a small country should be that of a norm-entrepreneur in the mould of the Scandinavian countries. Sweden in particular has been exceedingly effective in the role of a norm-entrepreneur. We can learn from them.
* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is a PhD-fellow in political science and researcher at the Centre for Political Research at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, France. He is currently a guest lecturer in European Studies at Rouen Business School, France.