The recent outburst of military violence on the civilian streets of Namibia are indicative of what happens when the wrong tools are used, without alteration, for purposes for which they were not intended. Soldiers are not policemen, unless they are trained to do so.
While I have no inside information about the incidents that occurred, the violent over-the-top actions by a few soldiers caused severe harm not just to the citizens involved and who witnessed the events, but to Namibia’s reputation as a peaceful country.
Soldiers that are trained to take orders, patrol, march in formation in parades and follow set work drills in particular operations, are blunt force sledge hammers that can be re-purposed, but need shaping and supervision. Dislodging local criminals, making evidentiary cases that can stand-up in court, and developing community support is the work of policing chisels and sculpting tools, not military battering rams.
At best, this violence against unarmed citizens is the usual case in Namibia where people are given jobs and then thrown, unprepared into situations with no supervision, training, guidance or effective command structures.
At worse, this is the first salvo in a disorganised military action to destabilise Namibia and make people fear the army to quell potential unrest that is brewing in these tough economic times.
My experience in this life has shown me that rank-and-file soldiers react not only to what they are ordered to do, but also to what they infer from their officers and leaders. A wink and a nod are as loud as a direct command. Did those soldiers beating up citizens do it because they are a few rotten eggs, or is it indicative of a systemic, institutional, military disregard for the freedoms in our constitution?
I have to ask - Does our military think they have a better idea about how things should run in Namibia? I do not pose this question lightly and the very thought scares me to my core.
At all costs, our democratically elected government must act strongly, swiftly and punitively against the sloppy military command structures supervising Operation Hornkrantz as well as the individual soldiers involved.
Months ago, I supported the domestic security use of trained members of the under-utilised Namibian defence forces in concert with NamPol. With crime escalating, police budgets cut and military budgets unnecessarily blooming, trained soldiers on the streets made some sense.
I felt that soldiers should be considered for staffing large events for crowd control, replacing the VVIP police forces, taking over anti-poaching duties, patrolling national parks to assist the tourists, and be detailed to the border posts to assist Home Affairs officials and the thousands of visitors passing through.
Along with those suggested duties, intense and consistent training to force soldiers normally used to the screaming sounds of their sergeants, to learn about constitutional rights and civil liberties, was a good idea.
However, I never thought it was smart to allow soldiers on patrol on the streets without a NamPol officer alongside and without training on the laws and how to manage citizen interactions. The entire idea that they, as soldiers, are there to SERVE the people not control them, must be the bible in any training manual.
Let me delicately submit that the vast majority of ordinary soldiers are largely in the military not due to their academic success stories while at school and plentiful options to go into other work careers. Taking that reality into consideration and the fact that working with the public is not for everyone (in terms of personality, inclinations, language skills, etc…), deciding which soldiers should be posted in cities side-by-side with the general public should have been managed more carefully.
With the information currently available about the violent episodes, the armed soldiers attacking unarmed members of the public for whatever reason, it is clear that something has gone terribly wrong.
Decision-makers must be aware that the entire reputation of Namibia as a peaceful country is at stake. Already, online stories about so-called military attacks on unarmed civilians in Namibia are beginning. With the current tensions in other parts of Africa where their militaries are in direct conflict with the people to varying degrees, adding Namibia to that list is unfair, but it may happen none-the-less. Far too many people worldwide are ignorant about Africa and look for any chance to lump everything into one negative category when dealing with black people.
It is hard to put a genie back into the bottle so the Geingob Administration must take care on this episode.
A ‘boys-will-be-boys’ response is insufficient. The usual hush-hush atmosphere about anything military will also do this country no good. The reaction and retribution must be tangible.