Tribalist labels can backfire

17 November 2017
In the political search for finger holds for criticism against the vibrant Team SWAPO juxtaposed against Team Hage, the next issue rearing its ugly head is an unfounded accusation of tribalism. 
In their zealot-like fervour to show allegiance to Team Hage, light weight political enthusiasts have missed the point when they use the ‘tribe’ card to attempt to denigrate those running against the acting president of the party and his preferred list of candidates.
Much ado has been made of the fact that those running for various offices on Team SWAPO are from the majority Ovambo ethnic group, whereas the candidate slate for Team Hage boasts of a Damara at the top of the roster, with a Kavango at the bottom. 
We feel that people who take the time to identify these ethnic labels for the candidates running for offices, are themselves, operating from a myopic tribal perspective. 
It gets even trickier when one operates from the wrong belief that all Ovambos are the same, disregarding the ‘blocks’ within the Oshiwambo-speaking community that may have different priorities and policy goals. 
We wonder if those seeking to create divisions within the SWAPO Party are self-serving by levelling this ‘tribal’ moniker as a difference between the two ‘teams.’ 
The question at hand in considering this point is this: what do those of varying ethnicities bring to the table when they hold high office? Is Hage Geingob an advocate for Damara priorities as he serves as the acting SWAPO president?  We think not.
In fact, we note with some levity, that the acting party president has taken great pains, since becoming State president, to disassociate himself from any ethnic labelling (i.e., the vociferous rejection of being called the ‘Damara’ president, not attending Damara cultural events and not speaking his mother tongue at public events, etc…).
And yet, his supporters are now using his Damara surname as a tool to show how Team Hage is supposedly more comprehensive and inclusive of different tribes in the formulation of their candidates’ roster.  This is a contradiction; Team Hage cannot have it both ways.
For a long time, leaders vying for prestigious jobs have used the ‘tribal’ card as a bargaining tool as they maneuverer themselves in line for various posts.  Once in place, these people from varying backgrounds have never been advocates for their supposed constituencies (which they used to get the appointment), but joined the ‘flow’ of power and looked out for themselves.  In the end, whose interests do they serve?  We think they embrace the tokenism and serve their own interests.
At the end of the day, it has been all about the optics; cosmetics…a roster with a certain number of non-Ovambo last names was the window dressing needed to claim diversity without substantively including those different ethnic groups’ priorities in policy formulation.  Team Hage has embraced that routine.
We submit that Geingob has never championed Damara priorities and particulars, nor is Marco Hausiku articulating Kavango perspectives and needs when SWAPO positions and policies are being debated. 
At the Government level, ministers from non-Ovambo origins are not ‘the voice’ of their tribes in the halls of power; rather they either follow their consciences and expertise (as they should) when they take positions or they move with the majority, embracing overall party positions on each matter at hand. 
The inclusion of many different tribal groups in Parliament hasn’t slanted the ruling party’s decision-making or voting patterns towards those different groupings.
So what is the difference in having an all Ovambo background roster of candidates that embrace and accept a national agenda and a ‘diverse’ (in terms of last names) roster including different tribes, when the decision-making outcome is the same? 
It is the quality of each candidate and their ‘fit’ for the post that must rule the day, ethnic backgrounds should have no place in the debate.
There should be no confusion of a representative of a particular ethnic group that vocally or aggressively advocates for the agenda of ‘his’ people like Bernadus Swartbooi or Kazenambo Kazenambo (who were fired from their positions for their advocacy), and a Minister like Immanuel Ngatjizeko and Peter Katjivivi who are Herero, but have never championed the priorities of their birth community in Government decision-making (they remain in their positions.)
Tokenism to give the illusion of multi-tribe decision-making and power sharing is often done, but it is hollow.  It is more important to have leadership based on competence, experience and proven commitment to national priorities. 
Leaders selected only because they are women or only because they have a last name that will give the look of national diversity, should be insulted.  Their quality of mind and capacity in the posts are being disparaged.
We look forward to a smooth, clean electoral process at congress, devoid of manufactured ‘issues’ such as this tribal claim.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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