Diescho’s Dictum – the Agony of Change [opinion]

THE premier British naturalist, Charles Darwin, that one who gave us the theory of superiority versus inferiority types of human races, is quoted often to have said: “It is not the gest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent it is the one most responsive to change.” Another philosopher said that the only condition in life that is constant is change.

The Chinese sage, Lao Tsu, commonly known as Confucius taught: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way.” The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions they cease to be mind.”

The Mother of Black Poetry Maya Angelou warned: “Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing … .” Then Albert Einstein says: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

It is not an overstatement to say that at no time since independence has there been so much anxiety about change as it is now in Namibia. The national elections that ushered in independence were accompanied by tremendous excitement and the conviction that Namibia would never be the same again. It was unavoidable. It was the end of the war. It was the time of reuniting families that were torn apart by history, good and bad. It was the end of the past. Euphoria was everywhere in the air.

People were ready to be told where to go and with whom. It was fine. No one knew the rules. There were no rules. No one was at fault. No one was greedy. We were all hungry. As Chinua Achebe would have put it, we were in the rain together and now all scrambling to get inside into the shelters that our former colonial masters left behind. Those who were fast and lucky to get inside began to barricade themselves inside and spoke through numerous loudspeakers that all disagreement should stop and the whole people must now speak with one voice. Still nobody was wrong. It was the past that was wrong.

Following the successful elections of last year, many people on urban streets and rural footpaths have a myriad of expectations for 2015. There are many, and range from fixing the problems of land, housing, education, service delivery, ending corruption, to making the government smaller, leaner and more effective. For the first time, most commentators in all these spheres are pinning their hopes on one person, the President-Elect, Hage Geingob.

The expectations are so high that I received a request from an optimistic young woman in the village who wanted the President-Elect’s email address so that she could write to him about a kindergarten project she has in mind. She is so frustrated with the local authorities and she wants the President-Elect to go fix her problem. There are many such stories, big and small, and they are all waiting for a direct reaction from their new President.

One can just imagine how many goodwill visits the President-to-be is receiving from people, many of whom did not harbour the best feelings about him when he was either an ordinary man or in the political desert that prepared him to be the g political leader that he has become. Admittedly, their expectations are vastly different from those of the village woman with kindergarten aspirations.

This lot has no expectations all they have is opportunistic career interests either as tenderpreneurs or cabinet this or that. Still, they all look to him to do something. It is just not fair for one person.

In the main, the genuine expectations can be grouped under the following themes: First, are the changes that are to come in March this year about bringing about a real New Beginning or is the same old situation going to remain, perhaps a bit more expensive than before? The real fear is that in the nature of systems it is harder to change things that need change than start with nothing from nothing as it was in 1990. In 1836 Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr warned that ‘plus ccedila change, plus c’est la mecircme chose’–the more things change, the more they stay the same. It will be interesting to see what changes and what remains the same in terms of priorities, whether the officials to execute the policies and take forward the new President’s vision will be the old recycled people.

Second, most political leaders, in the politics of democratic succession do not wish to rock the boat of their establishments and in so doing promise continuity with change in their campaigns. This is closer to our case here, especially in the context of the collective leadership ethos in the governing party Swapo. Understandable though the expectations are, the fact of the matter is that it is too much to expect of one person, let alone a person who comes through a democratic electoral process and who is not a dictator who is likely to rule by fiat.

President-Elect Geingob is a representative of the Swapo collective, yet the expectations out there are that he is to fix all that was left unfixed, or the problems that developed over the last twenty-five years. It will be interesting to see what one individual who is not yet the President of the party can do, amidst all the expectations in the context of a long history of comradeship and collective ‘suffering’ for the cause.

Third, there is saying in America: If aint broke, don’t fix it! The elections demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that the electorate is content with the record of the governing party Swapo. This creates a challenge for the new administration to determine what must change after the voters gave it an overwhelming mandate to continue. The manifesto upon which the governing party sought to have its tender to govern for another five years renewed is still the social contract between the incoming government and the Namibian citizenry. To expect the new President to now suddenly change course and do the extraordinary is something outside of the mandate. We ought to be fair to him and appreciative of the system we have established.

Having said that, politics is about managing expectations, realistic and not-so-realistic and effective leadership is about reframing the populace to re-examine their expectations in order to have them realigned with the reality. This is embedded in the art of give and take. Leadership is also about naming the new issues that influence new expectations and inform the direction to be followed.

It is said that good leaders are those who define the issues, even if they do not succeed in solving such issues. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. This is where the biggest challenge is for the Swapo leadership in general and the new administration in particular: naming the new world for Namibia, with attendant new rules of the game. Twenty-five years after the attainment of the noble goal of political independence, the language of liberation cannot sustain the movement going forward. The language and idioms of struggle or liberation are exhausted, stale, and jaundiced in so far as the youth, white citizens, faith-based leaderships, self-respecting professionals, and investment communities are concerned.

They want to hear messages that are relevant today and tomorrow. They want to be empowered about how to survive today and tomorrow, because the struggle is not theirs to survive. In fact the more the leadership speak of how they liberated the country, the more distant they become from the voters who are sick of feeling guilty that they were not born yet to participate in the struggle. This is why the youth are getting more and more disaffected, and are turning to issues that are not particularly the remit of youth politics.

One of the sad realities of Afrikan liberation movements invariably is that they tend to colonise their own countries and turn them into political party countries. Afrikan ruling parties (not governing parties because these are two different animals altogether) tend to usurp the country and introduce a style of politics that is hostile towards citizens who are not their members. In this climate, political party loyalty goes awry and overtakes the nationalism that fueled the struggle for freedom so much so that professional people and those who can make valuable contributions to the development of their country opt to go and live elsewhere where they are not harassed by the small minded ‘thought police’, the securocrats and apparatchiks who operate ostensibly as the ears and eyes of the political leadership. These ‘listeners’ are the ones who get the jobs and the tenders in the game of patronage wherein the big politicians dispense largesse to the loyal comrades who are influenced purely by the politics of the belly while the national interests suffer on the altar of political expediency.

The agony that Namibia has to endure is to bring about change in the way we do things. If we continue to do business as usual, we shall get the results we have been getting thus far: an education system that does not work, a public service that is not responsive to the needs of the people but wish to peddle influence among politicians to gain favour, an SOE sector that is geared towards self-enrichment of the lucky ones who have the fortuitous responsibility to steer the sector in line with the government’s commitment to fight poverty, unemployment and the wealth gap.

The agony that we must all endure is to refuse to go the route our older brothers and sisters on the continent have gone, namely, that there are some of us who are more citizens than others. The agony we must endure is that we must learn to do more with less, all of us. We must all hurt when we see children learning under a tree, yet they are expected to perform culture to the political elites whose children are getting high class education outside the country. The agony we need to embrace is that Namibia belongs to all who live in it and we can all make a contribution with gratefulness for the climate of peace and stability that we have.

Change is painful. Change is not without casualties. Change is not about who gets what big job from the President-Elect. The change we hope for with this New Beginning is neither about quick fixes that we can enjoy directly, nor a state of permanent transition from nothing to nothing. Like the President-Elect has said many times, people cannot eat a good constitution or nice sounding policies, they want to see change in their lives – change for the better.

Better education, less expenditure on the government bureaucracy, better service delivery, more efficient and effective officials to instill confidence in the people that the new administration will be faster and more responsive. The one fair expectation from President-to-be Hage Geingob is that he is today’s hope for all of Afrika: After Thabo Mbeki, Afrika’s eyes are on Hage Geingob as the one leader with the right credentials: the education, the experience, the maturity, the exposure, intellect and the presence. He has the rare chance to do something right and restore pride to Namibia and Afrika – to take us away from being the laughing stock of others in the world.

Afrika is hungry for a new leader(ship) that we can all refer to without shame. Finally, we cannot expect change to come only from the President-Elect and or his administration, but from all of us – to support where we can and serve where we must with a new ethic to the people. Like Mahatma Gandhi poignantly said: We must be the change we want to see. Duty is ours in God’s Events, and the time to stop blaming the past and everybody but ourselves is Now!

Source : New Era