The Absence of the State in Namibia – Part 1 [analysis]

In 1992, one of the most renowned Afrikologists, Basil Davidson authored the book: ‘The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-state’ wherein he chronicles the trajectory new Afrikan states have followed after independence to show the unfairness to Afrika in the 19th century world politics.

Instead of only lamenting the failure of Afrikan leaders, of which there is plentiful, Davidson took pains to illustrate how colonialism was a foreign domination that took root and imposed European-style national governments on Afrikan nations after independence. With the attainment of political independence, a handful of educated Afrikan elite rose to power over traditional African leaders. This new elite had internalized a falsehood that Afrika had no indigenous models for ruling the people, andor had no states from which they could have learned the act of governance. Based upon substantial historical evidence, Davidson demonstrated that before colonialism in the late 19th century, Afrika was well along in the process of evolving and developing its own models for what could have become the nation-state. Examples of the Ashanti kingdom in today’s Ghana, Mapungubwe and Zimbabwe Ruins in Southern Afrika, were manifest edifices of national states on their way to becoming modern ones.

The good professor is correct in his conclusion that historians were unaware or simply ignored Afrika’s rich political history and in their attempts to justify the imposition of their world order, stripped Afrika of her tradition of self-development and distorted narratives of civilization in defence of foreign rule and at the expense of Afrikan peoples’ own path to change and survival.

In the process of elaborating colonial rule, Afrikans were told that in order to be civilized, they had to cease to be Afrikans – while at the same time they were warned that they could never be European. What is also true is that this view did not change after independence! The new political elite, now in style, turned against their own traditions which they derided as “tribalism” and anti-development. The state which the European colonial masters imposed upon Afrikans was inherited by the former colonized Afrikan leaders who made no attempt to reform and adapt it to the realities of the Afrikan people. Instead the elites continued to use the state as an instrument with which to subjugate their own and amass wealth for themselves and their kin.

The state gobbled up the space for public participation of the ordinary and cannibalized life in Afrika. As a result, what the class of Afrikan leaders had to contend with was ‘a crisis of social disintegration’ from which followed a spiral of economic and social decay that has brought the continent to all manners of crises, including the crisis of identity and the crisis of meaning!

The state in Afrika has not yet found its way, meaning and function, as many wars on the Afrikan continent after independence were between the new state and the people it was meant to serve. And it continues to limp from one crisis to another.

What is the state? The concept of a state or ‘Rechtstaat’ in its Germanic historico-political formulation is a juridical entity that describes a universe of existences of many features and phenomena. It encompasses the territorial integrity of a country with an existent rule of law, citizenship rights, and broad political, social, religious and economic responsibilities.

The state is more and bigger than the government or political party in government. Political parties and governments that are elected or not elected, come and go, but the state endures. The state subsumes all formations of operators and stakeholders. The state is the existence of a sovereign territory with the means and instruments to rule and conduct relations with other states in the pursuit of its interests. As an entity it is comprised of chambers to make and change laws a legitimate executive bureaucracy to carry out the laws, and independent courts to interpret and explain the laws.

The state also has institutions through which it exercises its authority and influence within and without the borders of the state, such as the military, the police constabulary, foreign missions in countries with which it has relations, hospitals, universities and institutions of learning as well as economic development agencies such as parastatals with which it brings about infrastructural developments that extend beyond change of government or administration. In this sense, opposition political parties and interests groups, non-governmental organizations, farms and mines, the fauna and flora within the internationally recognized territorial boundaries are part of the state.

The state levies taxes and directs military and police forces to carry out operations in the defence and protection of the citizens regardless of their political party affiliations, religion, race, language — as long as they are part of the state. The state distributes and redistributes resources. When political parties vie for the control of the government, they seek to influence and take hold of the levers of state power such as the police and army which serve under the command of the government of the day and are apolitical. In other words, the government serves the state, not the other way around as we seem to have it in Afrika where memberships of ruling parties think that it is the party in power that is higher than the government and the state.

Very few governments in Afrika, if any, have understood the real essence of the state. Opposition parties, in their desire to discredit the ruling party, do not contribute constructively to the real work of the state as they see everything that the government does as wrong and worthy of destroying, whereas they ought to be supportive of government in the interest of improving what the government does for the sake of the people. In this context, the state begins to define some if its citizens as enemies of the state whereas citizens cannot be enemies of the state. Only outside forces can be enemies of the state.

Namibia has not escaped the curse of the absence of the real state. Development suffers under the yoke of the misunderstanding of a state in the country. At the time of independence in 1989-1990, there was a higher appreciation of the role of the state in the country than now. This misunderstanding starts with a misperception of what politics is all about. This is what the late Claude Ake meant with his seminal essay: ‘How Politics Underdevelops Africa!’

The irony is that where it was invented, in old Europe, the state did what it was meant to do. In Afrika it does other things and the people at the helm of the state never seem to understand their role. They continue to have a twisted sense of being politicians and political leaders they are political entrepreneurs at best because politics is about serving the community with a sense of passion for social justice,

The State in Namibia is missing in action in the following areas:

Unity of the Nation: Before independence, the white system of administering the territory enforced tribalism and ethnicity in its efforts of ‘Divide and Rule’. Since independence in 1990, and especially from 2003 onwards, there has been a steady erosion of state power in relation to building unity in the country. Political party life took center stage and the National Symbols have been receding to the background. Loyalty shifted from the business of the state and One Namibia One Nation to sectoral fights amongst political parties over turfs, so much so that Namibia twenty-four years after independence has become a battle ground for political power at the peril of the dear values for which the liberation struggle was fought.

The relegation of nation symbols is dangerous in the medium and long run. In fact, it flies against the spirit of the Constitution of the Republic which prescribes in its Preamble the following: ‘We the people of Namibia will strive to achieve national reconciliation and to foster peace, unity and a common loyalty to a single [Namibian] state’.

Furthermore, when the President is sworn in to take up office or members of parliament or cabinet, all take an oath which says: I so and so … do hereby swear that I shall endeavour to the best of my abilities to ensure justice for all inhabitants of the Republic of Namibia’.

That is a state oath, not a political party oath. Yet most of our national leaders have forgotten this, when they operate as political party officials rather than officials of the state. This has been one reason for so much turmoil on the continent when those entrusted with the responsibility of protecting all the citizens become so partisan in their conduct. Instability becomes unavoidable when there is a void of champions of the values of the state.

Peace and Security: It would not be too far-fetched to say that Namibia today lacks credible leaders who champion unity beyond party and party interests. All parties are guilty of promoting their own interests instead of national interests, that if they understand national interests in the first place. It is very sad to see respected leaders undervaluing national symbols and not admonishing their followers to relegate those in favour of divisive party interests. History shows that Swapo has been the centre of peace and stability in the country and without this g centre, things would have fallen apart.

The nation can ill afford this option, especially because we are sandwiched between two g economies, Angola in the north and South Africa in the south, both of which are unstable.

Poor Development Planning and Lack of Strategies for Poverty Reduction: Part of a state’s central preoccupation is to alleviate poverty by pushing the frontiers of poverty and extending opportunities of a better life to the greatest number of its inhabitants.

Namibia has not yet done serious development planning, which is different from what was inherited when the philosophy was to make life comfortable for the minority who lived in cities and ‘blanke dorpies’.

It would appear that the post-independence planning is still based upon the old model that does not seek to distribute resources in the city itself, never mind the rest of the country. For instance, the heart of Namibia lies within a five kilometer radius of Kalahari Sands Hotel. If a high qualitative means of destruction hits Kalahari Sands, the nerve centre of the whole country would be destroyed – Kalahari Sands Hotel, the Hilton Hotel, the Municipality of Windhoek, the Ministry of Defence, the Bank of Namibia, the Supreme Court and the High Court of Namibia, the National Assembly and National Council, the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Affairs Head Office, Christuskirche, the National Museum and Art Gallery, the National Theatre, Nedbank, FNB Bank (whose head office is now moving to the ‘entrance’ of the Hilton Hotel).

This is disastrous development planning. There is so much space in the city and in the country that one would have expected the planners to consider taking some of these things to other sites. When South Africa under white rule became a Union in 1910, the first thing the leaders thought about was how to stimulate development in all the four Republics at the time, so that each of them was given a development responsibility. Natal was given the business of running postal services and the harbours Orange Free State was given the judicial seat, the Appellate Division.

Transvaal became the administrative centre and the Cape Province the legislature. That is why parliament is still in Cape Town, while the capital is in Pretoria! This is how development was stimulated so much so that all these centers have major airports, schools and universities where people have employment. If we thought through seriously what we can do to combat poverty, we would have developed some ideas about how to allow people to come and settle here to increase the size of the population by adding more citizens through a deliberate programme that would allow certain categories of immigrants to come and operate in the country. For instance, a policy on Afrikans, African-Americans and Germans who wish to make Namibia their home and grow the economy through carefully designed immigration initiatives with incentives for economic growth.

Foreign Policy: Namibia has legitimacy to spearhead a foreign policy with Germany and South Africa geared towards growth and sustainable development. Both these countries have an understanding that a special relationship is necessary to maintain old relationships as well as channel them to more meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships. A good number of jobs could be created through these strategic partnerships. The historical and familial relationships Namibia has with Angola and Botswana can be harnessed into economic and financial partnerships in much more deliberate ways.

Property Prices: The one area where the state in Namibia is too shy is regulating prices of houses in the country generally and in Windhoek specifically. It cannot be correct that prices of houses in Windhoek compare only to Dubai in the oil rich Saudi Arabia. It cannot be correct that houses in Windhoek cost more than in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

It cannot be correct that developers and real estate entrepreneurs charge poor Namibians an arm, and leg for houses in the manner that they do. Then what is the state there for if it cannot regulate prices in accord with the markets and best practices elsewhere?

The background to this unacceptable state of affairs is understandable but it must be corrected for the sake of peace and stability. The greed amongst house owners started with UNTAG in 1989 when the United Nations came to supervise the first democratic elections in the country. Understandably, prices of accommodation went up aomically and these foreign missions could afford it. Every one made a killing with rent and house sales.

That situation was never corrected when the country became free and a state. The state failed to intervene and normalize the property market. The abnormal situation became the norm and greed overtook a passion for development.

Municipal controllers began to sell plots and encouraged the buyers to build upon these plots properties that had to be four times the value of the plots. Human greed climbed even further as more people bought plots and rented ruthlessly. Banks also joined in to make huge profits through property bonds and borrowings.

Then came the Angolans who moved in to buy houses with cash in US Dollars. Some of these monies were ill-gotten wealth and the house owners smelled blood and went for the jugular, all this at the expense of poor Namibians who could not compete with the Angolans who came, bought, rented, and vandalized and continued to live in two places.

Education and Training: The Namibian state has yet to find its way philosophically and ideologically in so far as education and training are concerned. There is universal acceptance that our education system leaves much to be desired. This is mainly because we have not as a nation asked the fundamental questions that must precede the establishment of an education that is suitable for the New Namibia in the New World. Education is a function of the state, not a particular government. Education is about the whole character of the nation and what it wishes to become and do and define strategic partnerships and methodologies to go about it. To be angry about the past is not good enough a motivation to design an education system. It is more important to be passionate about the future to figure out how best to there. This is so because we cannot change the past but we can influence the future.

Leadership: Nations that endure and sustain themselves are those with g leadership legacies of individuals who said and did things that generations after generations return to for counsel. India always goes back to Mahatma Gandhi who preached unity between Hindus and Muslims such he died in the quest for unity America returns to Abraham Lincoln who took on Congress on the question of the abolition of slavery by arguing for equality of all citizens Germany finds comfort in Konrad Adenauer who championed the unification after World war 2 Tanzania remembers Julius Nyerere’s tireless effort to destroy tribalism and to build one nation Singapore still celebrates Lee Kuan Yew who still serves, despite his age, as Minister of Mentoring Turkey venerates Mustafa Kemal Atatuumlrk after whom the country was named for his leadership in creating a new united country with a new civilization that is rapidly becoming a world player South Africa’s Nelson Mandela will stay the reference point for a very long time to come for his dictum that he lived for the ideal of a society wherein all had equal opportunity, which made him rise above party politics and became a Father Figure for all and how he gave the world a new vocabulary on how to be human.

We have come a long way. We have what it takes to build a better Motherland. Namibians of all race and language groups mean well. Namibians are grateful for the good leadership that took us out of bondage to and brought us where we are today. Leaders from all political parties all did their little bits to bring us thus far. They want to belong to the future. A better future. All they lack and need is a direction to get there. All we need is a better map, a more reliable compass, and yes, we yearn for leaders as statesmen and stateswomen who see beyond political party interests, we hanker for leaders with transformational leadership skills to beckon us all to move in one direction towards a better Namibia that will be better than the Namibia, the Afrika, and the world that we found.

Source : New Era