We welcome the recent comments by Home Affairs Minister Frans Kapofi against tribalism and challenging the perception that all benefits from independence until now has gone only to the Aawambo.
Reasonable people can agree that the improvements and development of Namibia since independence are for the benefit of all. But, if we say Namibia is a unified state, then we must mean it.
While staunchly supporting the oft-stated mantra, “One Namibia; One Nation”, we hasten to remind decision-makers that the long-standing perception of a pro-Aawambo Namibia comes from somewhere. To dispel that negative view, there must be a permanent pattern of tangible inclusiveness to show otherwise.
We depart from our agreement with the Minister’s comments by asserting that there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the Aawambo alone liberated Namibia and therefore are entitled to the lion’s share of the benefits generated by the nation. While many can (and do) disagree with this statement, that doesn’t mean it is not a corrosive opinion quietly lurking in many quarters.
This ‘winner-takes-all’ attitude that seems to manifest in many Oshiwambo speaking people, tends to leave mere morsels of opportunity for others. The sense of entitlement in the majority ethnic group must be identified, acknowledged and then debunked.
History teaches us that people from all ethnic groups fought as members of PLAN, continue to serve as members of the ruling party, helped in the beginning days when SWAPO was still the Ovamboland People’s Party, presented Namibia’s case to the United Nations and other heroic efforts to liberate this country. While lauding the above, we must also note that the struggle to liberate Namibia did not start in 1966, but stretches back to the Nama/Herero Wars against the brutal and violent German colonialists.
In addition, it is a distasteful fact that there were some Aawambo people who worked for and accepted posts in the apartheid ‘government’ in Namibia, informed on their neighbours, and did not support the war for liberation. The successful struggle for freedom has many facets.
To be fair to Minister Kapofi, we concede that it may be difficult for a recipient of the largesse that may come from tribal bias to see an Aawambo imbalance from the perspective of someone who is not a part of that group. Ask a white beneficiary of apartheid and colonialism if there was debilitating, dehumanizing racism in Namibia and they will deny it and rather claim that blacks are lazy, immoral, and corrupt and caused their own poverty.
To put the post-independence word ‘reconciliation’ in action, means that Namibia must be inclusive of all who can contribute to the nation and uplift themselves. The founders of SWAPO actively and sincerely reached out to all ethnic groups in Namibia during the independence struggle; success would not have been possible otherwise. The United Nations and those who fought for independence inside and outside of the country, did not do so to the benefit of one particular ethnic group in Namibia, but for a unified state that serves the needs of all.
The Minister’s mention of the tribally-fuelled genocide in Rwanda is poignant. Namibia must NEVER lose its goal of national unity. To support this goal, there should be an open discussion of perceptions of unbalanced ethnic policies including more local use of a portion of national revenues earned in particular areas where profitable natural resources are found. For example, mineral resources found in specific areas of the country, should have some portion of those revenues set aside for the tangible benefit of the people living in those regions.
Equally, we agree wholeheartedly with the minister’s comments that any Namibian has the right to live and work in any part of the country; this land belongs to us all. The ‘Bantustan’ policies of the apartheid regime must be flatly rejected in all forms. We contend that less ethnic tension can result when those traditionally linked to particular areas, have discernible policies and programs in place that visibly affirm their cultural relationship in positive ways.
Tribalism is a poison. When we fight each other, we weaken ourselves. Those who never wanted an independent Namibia, cheer at every outbreak of ethnic spats and arguments. The weapon of apartheid and colonialism was divide-and-rule. By stoking the fires between ethnic groupings, it kept those suffering under repression fighting each other, rather than focusing on power and resource redistribution.
Still, when people complain that the Namibian military and police is primarily staffed by one ethnic group or that most ambassadors, ministers, special advisors, high-ranked officials, SOE executives and board members are from that same group (beyond what is demographically understandable), there is a reality that requires explanation.
While the Minister declared that there was never a policy from government that favoured one region over another, it is recorded that some Namibian development assistance programs, such as the successful Millennium Challenge Account, were deliberately designed to finance projects primarily in the North of the country. At the same time, donor programs for wildlife/conservation, tourism development and communal conservancies mostly benefit regions other than the North.
More communication and transparency about government policy decisions that appear to favour one region or another can help to dispel the notions about tribal bias.
We contend that the responsibility for changing the perception about an Aawambo bias in Namibia lies not only with government, but with the people. Those who stubbornly believe that the Aawambo are favoured in Namibia must try to shake-off their sense of perpetual victimhood and expose (with evidence) incidents where (and how) they believe ethnic prejudice has disadvantaged them. People cannot only whisper about a problem and expect it to disappear.
Government must attack the perception of Aawambo bias by ensuring that inclusion of all Namibians at every level remains a demonstrative priority. Aggressively and loudly seeking a diverse Namibian face for all programs, boards, commissions, tenders, appointments to high office and policies should become a normal standard.
A people united, can never be defeated. If we say this, we must mean it.