Namibia – a Momentous Year Ahead? [opinion]

AS WE enter 2015 and the 25th birthday of the nation on 21 March, it is difficult not to quote the classic chronicler of the Victorian era’s polarities when describing the state of our political and socioeconomic system: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens famously pointed to a moment in time that was both the best and the worst of times, but today we quit equivocating and ask ourselves once and for all: are we now living in the best or the worst of times? This is not such a difficult question to answer. It all depends on one’s position and standing in the broader political and economic configuration of our country since independence in 1990.

Let me, as a point of departure, say that given the type of economic system that we have been following since 1990 – the free market economy – there are bound to be winners and losers. The ‘good times’ are concentrated among a very small clique of people from corporate executives in both the private and public sectors (the banks, insurance companies and the parastatals sector). Others include the various middlemenwomen and tenderpreneurs, some who became overnight millionaires.

The good times are also concentrated among those few Namibians who have been getting fishing quotas, government tenders and EPLs (with my friend Kazenambo saying he owns an EPL for status). Here the ‘Swapo-Party government’, as some, like minister Albert Kawana, would prefer to call it, has failed to address the ‘public-resource-private profit dilemma. And here enters the so-called ‘public-private partnership’ arrangements.

Again the public is the loser in this type of partnership because it is government that puts up the necessary resources whether in the form of land or money. Just as an example, Tipeeg has gone that way with each of the middlemen wanting to put their fingers in the pie too deeply and I’m sure the mass housing programme will go the same way – here you should expect a good deal of sub-standard workmanship. This, of course, is explained by the fact that those who get the tenders to build houses or roads usually opt for the cheapest materials and then ‘chop’ the rest of the money or simply divert the materials so bought to some other uses. Instances regarding the installation of public toilets, building of houses or construction of roads which are sub-standard, are widespread.

Last year President Pohamba told the NHE’s boss Vinson Hailulu in no uncertain terms that he was not happy with the quality of some of the houses being built. In all these economic and political arrangements, it is the majority of our people – those who are on the margins – who take the brunt of a cruel system. Our comrades need to be reminded that peace is not just the absence of war. A homeless, landless and hungry person is not at peace at all – and we have many such people in our country. These are the people that were being urged last year to turn out in their thousands to vote for new members of parliament (‘parliament of hope’ as The Namibian recently put it).

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 distributive justice, liberty, fraternity and equality. Those are the values that have made certain nations succeed, and those that have followed a different political trajectory, to fail.

Any African leader will tell you hisher country is democratic because there are regular elections, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and freedom of the press. That’s formalistic democracy where the masses are required to say ‘this is the person I want to rule over me’, but after the elections, the masses are told to take a back seat and thus become mere spectators until the next elections.

That’s different from substantive democracy which contains the above elements but goes beyond in the sense that there is great leeway for citizen participation in the political process – that’s ‘participatory democracy’. The elements of this type of democracy include: a well-informed, alert citizenry that exercises and exerts its influence over political events or can even change their course. It also calls for greater political involvement and participation in the affairs of the country through broader civil society organisations.

Thus many progressive scholars argue that ‘participatory democracy’ should logically usher in a ‘participatory economy’. This is not so in our current blinkered definition of democracy. During last year’s budget debate our finance minister, for example, said that: “Through this budget we are supporting the people in need, protecting the vulnerable and honouring our elderly”.

That’s far from the truth – the elderly and other vulnerable groups don’t decide on the budget. Instead, we are on a spending spree, an envisaged new parliament, new military bases, PM office, renovating the old state-house and the list of edifices goes on. Thus the majority are praying for the end of independence and for true liberation to start in which they, hopefully, can share the pie.

Source : The Namibian