Developmental States, Meritocracy and Minimum Requirements

Job Amupanda

In May 2019, Saima Mushimba was arrested at the Oshakati Intermediate Hospital for impersonating a medical intern who had studied in Russia.

She was stationed at the hospital’s casualty ward. 

Mushimba was reportedly identified by a man who visited the hospital and from whom she allegedly stole a laptop in Windhoek.

She was subsequently charged with fraud and contravening the Medical and Dental Act. 

How Mushimba ended up at the hospital treating many people was lost in translation.

An important question is this: What drove Mushimba to do what she did?

If we had access to her mind and consciousness, what would it reveal about her impression of our society?

At independence, a man returned from exile and was stationed at the Katima Mulilo State Hospital as a doctor.

He was popular and walked around wearing a white gown, even outside the hospital premises.

When it was discovered that he prescribed incorrect medication to a patient, his background was investigated.

It emerged that he was not a doctor, but had been responsible for cleaning the wounds of injured soldiers in exile.

Because of solidarity politics, his impersonation was condoned, resulting in a transfer to the laundry room where he worked until retirement.

This begs another question: What if Saima Mushimba at Oshakati casualty was aware of this Katima Mulilo case? 


A few weeks ago, the Cabinet decided to amend a section of the Electoral Act previously interpreted as requiring candidates employed in the public service, parastatals, regional and local governments to first resign before their nominations on parliamentary lists were accepted. 

The amendment will clarify that they are only required to resign once elected.

Why this absurdity was allowed in the first place is indicative of the crisis at hand. 

With more than 20 registered political parties, it might mean that more than 2 000 Namibians are required to resign to gamble their future on 100 positions every five years.

Experience shows that only a few resign to “apply” for this position.

As a result, the unemployed (some semi-literate) and those in the private sector fill the vacuum, ending up in our parliament and Cabinet.
Given that there is no minimum requirement for members of parliament, one can only imagine the calibre of MPs we end up with.  

Some years ago, the Cabinet decided that the offspring of exiled Namibians, known as Children of the Liberation Struggle (CLS), be employed in the public service, in reserved positions, without going through public service recruitment procedures.
Volunteer cleaners at the health ministry raised the issue with the ombudsman who took the matter to court. 
In March 2021, the High Court set aside the Cabinet decision on CLS.

That more than 30 years after independence, even after implementing free primary and secondary education, there are decisions to employ individuals solely on the basis of the geography of their birth, and not criteria involving merit, is indicative of a tragedy of mind.  

These four cases clearly demonstrate how our country has subordinated meritocracy to irrational and irrelevant considerations.
Ordinary Namibians are aware that our society and its leaders do not value meritocracy.

Our country is effectively a ‘zula to survive’ as one artist once sang, and you can ‘zula’ anywhere.

For Mushimba, the place she found to ‘zula’, in our society that doesn’t value meritocracy, was the casualty ward of the said Oshakati hospital.

Is there really a difference between Mushimba’s impersonation at Oshakati casualty and someone demanding a job in the national budget office because they were born in exile? 


Countries that have succeeded economically, even in the developing world, are those with serious and decisive leadership that values and champions meritocracy.

Indeed, meritocracy is a key characteristic of a developmental state.

State hospitals in developmental states do not host Mushimbas, nor do central banks employ people on the basis of birth geography.

In prioritising meritocracy, the political leadership in developmental states, have understood that a society’s culture is shaped by the worst behaviour a leader is willing to tolerate, to borrow a phrase from authors Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker. 

Enlightened members of society need to stand up to demand the best of and for our country.

Leaving state and public affairs in the hands of the semi-literate and desperate adventurists is fatal.

The enlightened in our country must heed the advice of the philosopher Aristotle: “The wise who refused to rule should prepare to suffer the rule of idiots.”

Next year, the National Human Resources Plan (2010-2025) comes to an end. This plan does not refer to meritocracy even as a principle. We need to change this. 

For our public sector in general and public representatives in particular, the need for meritocracy and minimum requirements is urgent.

We must require candidates for local authorities, regional councils and the National Assembly to at least meet minimum educational requirements. Next time you hear statements that “education is not everything”, ask about the academic background of the person making the statement.

These questions must be asked: Can the uneducated support education when it’s used as a criterion?

There’s no basis, 34 years after independence, to have school drop-outs seated at the head of a table taking decisions on behalf of all of us.

“Leaders are born,” some will retort.

Wouldn’t a ‘born leader’ excel more with education? Even in traditional African society, meritocracy was always central.

Our traditional societies were led by those skilled and knowledgeable in traditional affairs.

Those at cattle posts are equally skilled and knowledgeable in caring for the animals.

A headman not knowledgeable in customary law and practices will find it hard to remain as headman.

We will never develop without meritocracy in general and minimum requirements and criteria for public representatives in particular. 

  • *Job Shipululo Amupanda is activist in chief of the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement and former mayor of Windhoek. He holds a PhD in political studies from the University of Namibia where he is a senior lecturer.

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