Youth Against Elite Constitutional Amendments

TO A NATION, a Constitution is what a heart is to the body. Because of its centrality in the life of a nation, it is termed a supreme law.

It is also called an enabling legislation to which all other legislation, termed subordinate legislation, must conform. Anything that antagonises it cannot stand.

It is, therefore, understandable that when it was made known that our parliament was called from recess to discuss the third constitutional amendments, the mainstream public discourse quickly shifted to the proposed amendments.

As matters stand, the country is polarised. There are those in support and those against. What we have seen, on both divides, is that unsuspecting parrots are mobilised by manipulating stewards to support or oppose. We have seen very little compelling and informed positions. Both sides thus far, especially mobilised rowdy crowds, can best be characterised as cheerleaders.

It is incumbent upon public intellectuals to rise to the pedestal and provide sober input on this matter. It is their role to speak truth and expose lies.

As a discipline, law is inadequate in explaining constitutions and constitutionalism for it is often concerned with “what is” not “what ought to be”. It would seem that those spearheading these amendments seek personal glory of penetrating history books, so that their families can say ‘our own authored the amendments of the sacred document guiding society’.

Political philosophy, therefore, provides the best constitutionalism narrative. It starts with the ‘State of Nature’, which is explained by Thomas Hobbes who wrote “that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war and such a war is of every man against every man.” Hobbes argued that if each individual decides personally the best means of preservation then conflict is inevitable. The only way, Hobbes submits, is for everyone to renounce their rights and support some ‘higher authority’ or a ‘sovereign’, who will govern in the interest of all.

In his book ‘The Social Contract’ published in 1762, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau contends that individuals consent to submit to this ‘higher authority’ in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. This ‘higher authority’ referred to is the State. The Constitution, therefore, stipulates the ‘what’ and ‘how’ this ‘higher authority’ operates and exercises power.

If a Constitution is an embodiment of how the ‘higher authority’ (the State), to whom we have all submitted, acts and operates, then anything and everything about the Constitution is the business of all – not an exclusive arena for a select aenturous few. Close study of proposed amendments will lead to one characterisation: 95% of amendments relate to power alignment, realignment and consolidation. They have nothing to do with liberating people from the current socioeconomic chaos.

Instead, the proposals further remove power from the people. That there wasn’t wider consultation is an acknowledged fact. The recently published motivations change nothing, for they failed to answer questions of legitimacy. The afterthought urbanised ‘consultations’ are nothing but attempts to legitimise a morally illegitimate process. With the bill already before parliament, only those without classroom experience will see this exercise as consultation.

Yes, our Constitution needs amending. Our supreme law, written with the influence of foreigners, surely needs changing. Just not by a select aenturous few. We need amendments to deal with the land question. Amendments are needed to deal with current unenforceable principles of state policy, an outdated foreign policy outlook, the inhibiting property clause and a neo-liberal falsehood economic model of ‘mixed economy’.

Indeed, amendments are needed to bring about direct representation (constituency-based representation as opposed to the current list system to end current inferred representation. Unfortunately, all these are not contained in more than 40 elite proposals. To be sure, the current proposals are exclusively confined to power alignment, realignment and consolidation.

We have seen similar amendments to Constitutions elsewhere in history, obviously with disastrous results. Julius Caesar aanced similar constitutional amendments in the Roman Republic between 49 and 44 BC. Studying the consequences of his amendments may result in hospitalisation for shivering. In 2003, general Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan presided over similar amendments. Listen to voices coming from Pakistan, Egypt and Hungary today – reports from these countries aren’t encouraging.

How sad is the silence of men and women of principle. One mischievous youth attributed this to bread-and-butter self-preservation. The youth got no reason to remain silent. Posterity will not accept as justification the silence because everything one said was labelled wrong and disrespectful.

From the look of things, these amendments will be passed. It is for this reason that documenting that one neither agreed nor was consulted, is paramount. The voice from the youth, those not driven by positions and those with an appointment with the future, is that these elite proposals, if effected, will be corrected in future. Namibia is for us all to build. To do that we need to hear and be heard!

Job Shipululo Amupanda is a leftist youth from Omaalala village in northern Namibia.

Source : The Namibian