The Elite Is Toppling Democracy [opinion]

IT MIGHT not be illegal, but the scale of the problem is clear: The past few months, amaBungane (the investigations unit of the Mail amp Guardian newspaper in South Africa) revealed sketchy activities involving some politicians, their children, relatives, friends and prominent businessmen connected to the ruling Swapo Party, who overwhelmingly have been benefiting from the lucrative fishing, diamond and oil industries through questionable means.

Paralleling this revelation are also stories in the local media that children of some top politicians are getting state tenders, from left to right, worth billions of dollars. I agree that being a child of an eminent government person or politician should not disqualify anyone from engaging as part of hisher democratic right to tender and win a public or private tender.

Overlooked, however, is the reality that we are living in a meritocratic society. Aantage, the elite. This is “elite capture,” defined in the online Wikipedia entry as “a situation where public resources (and private resources too) meant for the larger population end up benefiting “a few individuals of superior status – be it economic, political, educational, ethnic, or otherwise.”

Another way of looking at what Shinovene Immanuel and the amaBungane investigation have discovered is by noticing who – in terms of ethnic diversity, class, gender and geographical setting – is not featuring in this powerful web of elite-connection.

Only then would you appreciate that the absence of marginalised groups, such as the San people, the ovaHimba, people living in informal settlements, and the majority of rural people, in benefiting from the so-called empowerment schemes is not by accident, but by design. Well, one reason perhaps has to do with moneyresources. The other is social status and privilege.

People at the periphery of our politics have no name recognition and are, therefore, hardly visible in our political and economic set-ups. They also hardly have insiders in government and corporate structures like most of the elite.

In this age in which merit is supposed to count, the privileged elite rule the world. I am, by virtue of me being a college-educated lecturer at the nation’s national university, part of the elite, and am surrounded by others in academia, government and the corporate world, who benefit from this meritocratic system. Everywhere we go we are recipients of all kinds of societal status, sometimes unwarranted and unnecessary.

In the villages, we are served first (indoor treatment) before everybody else. We are also reserved the most luxuries while other folks (of lower status) have to settle for the ordinary or leftovers. The same applies in stores, banks, government or company offices and other institutions of our society. Society treats us according to our titles and names.

Elite capture is not always criminal, but what makes it more harmful is the unequal access to power in the sense that some, by virtue of their lineage, gender, education, or economic wealth, have greater access to power and consequently the ability to influence decisions in the distribution and allocation of societal resources to their own aantage.

The phenomenon of elite capture happens because some people have access to inside information, the problem of information asymmetry in which relevant information is known to some but not all parties involved, therefore resulting in an imbalance of power.

The absence of efficient regulationslaws or inefficient allocation of resources also makes the phenomenon of elite capture thrives easily. Other contributing factors are class, asset-ownership, political affiliations, political power, the unequal power relationship between men and women, racialethnic affiliation, and marginalisation.

The elite-driven approach in awarding public tenders, miningfishing and oil licences in this country is astounding. From the look of things, it seems that the elite – educated and well-connected – undoubtedly succeeds in capturing our public and private decision-making institutions, thereby further minimising what’s left of the Namibian democracy.

Step by step people in public strategic decision-making structures and in the corporate world are more inclined towards the elite and the haves, therefore, rewriting the rules of our democracy in ways that only benefit a few.

What’s clear, however, is that while the elite’s grip on the Namibian resources is getting tighter, the housing is getting more expensive, the plots smaller and smaller, and the education and health care systems less effective.

Therefore, it is time that we should question what appears like meritocratic bias, oligarch politics, collusion, inside information trading, and pure capitalist greed in order to avoid creating a country of the elite, by the elite and for the elite.

The author is a lecturer at Unam in the Department of Human Sciences-Social Work.

Source : The Namibian