Can Windhoek’s Urban Development Discourse Resolve Tribalism?

Morna Ikosa

Consider the tribal tensions which surfaced at the soccer games on 18 November, or the fact that certain tribes cannot be found walking around certain areas at Katutura.

Are places like Herero Mall, Dolam and Owambo location not possible hotspots for tribalism?

Can tribalism be resolved without addressing the cruel, calculating and intentional spatial architectural design by the apartheid government to divide and rule Namibians?

The City of Windhoek could become a catalyst to address tribalism by adopting an urban resilience framework.

The city could incorporate ‘village’ urban designs in suburbs to promote interconnectedness, unity, diversity, inclusivity, and interdependency.

It has been done in Portland, in the United States.

I am sure it can be done in Windhoek.

More and more countries are moving towards adapting urban resilience frameworks in their urban designs.


Firstly, because countries (like Namibia) which have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are required, according to goal 11 of the SDGs, to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

Secondly, it has become imperative for cities to learn, adapt, and develop mitigating strategies to deal with the stress and shocks caused by natural and man-made pressures.

Cities need to build resilience systems, process, and structures in an uncertain, unstable, and volatile world.

Thus, cross-sectoral, integrated, and interdependent systems, which are inclusive of all stakeholder groups, are essential to the success of a sustainable and resilient city.

Medellín, in Colombia, is a good example of a city whose resilience framework has yielded remarkable results for the city.

Over 30 years ago, Medellín was rated as one of the criminal-infested cities.

It was a haven for drug lords and traffickers.

The city was mired in unemployment, murders, and violence.

Now the city has reduced inequality among the residents by increasing productive economic activities.

There is also a huge reduction in crime and violence.

The city has better air quality.

Residents, especially those who live on the outskirts of the city, experienced a reduction in commuting time due to the improved transportation system.

What was the magic formula?

Well, Medellín’s authorities and urban developers put the needs of its residences at the forefront of their urban planning process.

They inculcated a culture of dialogue and collaboration between the public and private sectors, universities, civil societies, and the marginalised communities.

They further allowed the residents to participate in the city’s budget meetings, where they were allowed to give input on the city’s expenditure.

No challenge is insurmountable.

If Medellín, a city once known for crime and a high unemployment rate, can be revered for being a good example of a resilient city, Windhoek will also be able to tackle not just the tribalism issue, but also a range of other challenges, such as, veld fires, heatwaves, floods, crime, racism, high inflation and waste pollution.

Resilient cities, according to the Rockefeller Foundation (which supported the development of the City Resilience Index by Arup, used by over 100 cities in the world), are defined as “cities with the capacity to function, so that the people living and working there, particularly the poor and vulnerable, survive and thrive no matter what stresses or shocks they encounter”.

These cities require the following conditions to thrive: inclusive governance and strong institutional capacity, sufficient capital, technology and innovation, lifestyle and behavioural change, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and attention to culture and heritage.

Namibia can provide this environment.

It only requires sufficient political will, finances and cross-sectoral collaboration and participation.

  • Morna Ikosa is a communications and stakeholder engagement consultant with an affinity for sustainable development matters.y

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