The Time Traveller: Brexit, independence, frustration and hope

25 March 2019
Author   Hugh Ellis
Yesterday, the Republic of Namibia turned 29 years old. In exactly a week’s time, the United Kingdom may leave the European Union, its political home since 1973 (although an extension to the negotiating timeframe now looks more likely). As I write this, the world is still reeling from a white supremacist terrorist attack in New Zealand that left 49 people dead.
It’s a confusing time to be a citizen of this globalised world.
When I was a kid in late-80s-UK, it was an exciting time to be part of Europe. The European Community, as it was then, seemed like a way to avoid repeating the wars between European nations we had learned about in school. Low cost airlines were making France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere seem ‘right around the corner’, part of our neighbourhood.
For many of my generation, it felt like the rug had been pulled from under us, by an old, conservative, angry and often racist side of the country, when the UK voted in favour of Brexit, by the narrowest of margins, in June 2016.
The European Union is far from a perfect institution, but the Leave Campaign often seemed to have little to do with committees and commissions.
One campaign poster featured a long line of poor-looking black and brown people, implying they must be immigrants waiting for admission to the UK. An advertisement on red double-decker buses claimed that leaving the EU would make 350 million a week available for the British National Health Service (NHS). This was later shown to be a lie.
This kind of discourse made me think that Britain was reverting to the nasty parts of European-ness in the racial sense of the term, and that this was one of the many effects of whiteness that my family’s moving to Namibia in the 90s saved me from.
Namibia seemed to be a land of hope in the early 90s, at least to a grade 10, 11 or 12 kid. Hey, for an undergraduate university student in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa, Africa as whole could appear that way.
I used to think – perhaps I still do – that Namibia could – can – be the perfect postcolonial country.
But in order to become that, we’ve got to avoid the Brexit Leave Campaign way of thinking.
Like with the British and their NHS, which is increasingly staffed by Asian, African and Eastern-European medics, we Namibians see foreigners as the cause of our problems when, more often than not, they’re a big part of the solution.
We blame Zimbabweans – as a collective – for the collapse of the SME Bank, and excuse the Namibian Chairman. A charitable explanation is that he didn’t read the fine print, but such non-reading is not what is expected of Directors under the Companies Act.
Like the freedom-of-speech-loving New Zealanders, we, in common with most of the world, have failed to recognise the harm done by a new generation of white supremacist politics, both on- and offline. A politics that thinks it’s cool and edgy to reminisce about colonial ‘old times’, and complain about affirmative action without reflecting on the history and social conditions that make affirmative action necessary.
I am trying not to be too cynical, either about my home country, Namibia, or the country most people seem to associate my accent and mannerisms with, Britain.
I still enjoy Independence every March 21st. I strongly disagree with those who say there’s ‘nothing to celebrate’. Although in 1990, no-one would have expected a 2019 where some children are still malnourished and almost 40 per cent of the population live in informal settlements.
I hope the UK will come to terms with the fact that the days of ‘living in isolation’ and/ or expecting the rest of the world to obey orders, are long gone. Britain has not been a global empire for a long time. It’s a small island nation, that for goodness sake, needs to co-operate with others.
This is a long shot, but I also hope white people globally get out of our mentality where even the slightest personal insult, or suggestion that we may not be supermen, provokes a violent response. This is the root of a lot of suffering in this world, and we’d do well to abandon it.
Hugh Ellis is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. Contact him on Twitter: @ellis_hugh


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