Enter kings, exit republic

24 May 2019
Author   Professor Joseph Diescho

Last month, while the nation was preparing to bid farewell one of its better known traditional community hereditary leaders, Tatekulu Omukwaniilwa Immanuel Kauluma Elifas, one citizen pulled a sick prank on social media by pretending to communicate a national message from the Good Offices of the Prime Minister that all Aandonga in the public sector be given a public holiday to commemorate their King.  The unseemly prank was a Freudian slip that gives a nod to tribalism. 

At the moment we are not sure whether to go forward as a Republic or go backwards as tribes.  If anything, the farewell of Tatekulu Elifas reminded us that we are a country where the past and the future have not yet made peace. 
Namibia is a Republic on paper but in reality, many of the citizens are trapped in the politics of the liberation struggle; only this time, there is no foreign colonial ruler as a unifying enemy.  Now we are all trapped in the politics of perpetual transition without a Moses to point us to the Promised Land.
Our political leaders are without big dreams about the future and therefore they are wholly unable to immigrate out of the old ‘SWA’ into a free Namibia, even though nearly 30 years have passed since independence.  They are businessmen in government, hell-bent on serving themselves and their families at the expense of Namibian people.
SWAPO, as a once-respected liberal movement, is now a clearing house for politically-connected ‘politico-preneurs’ and influence peddlers who camp in the party not because they admire the values, ethics and idealism of this organisation that brought us national independence, but because the party membership right-of-passage is personal self-enrichment.
In the scramble for power in order to get richer, our national leadership has turned to mundane and ephemeral things like funerals to show-off their power and to extract approval from the people (particularly at election time).  It is in this context that in Namibia,  state funerals run the risk of being dished out imprudently.
The recent death of a former high official is a clear case; this piece refers to state funded funerals in general terms.   
In mature democracies, there is a decorum that determines who is deserving of such honour of state funerals.  In Namibia, there seems to be no clear and transparent criteria and standards for this; state funerals seem to come as the result of the President’s reaction to grant this high honour to whomever he wishes or for whom he is lobbied. 
State funded funerals are expensive, particularly at a time when taxpayers struggle to receive the other needed services they deserve from the State. 
Officials, state or heroes’ funerals are high national honours and should represent the pinnacle moments for the nation to reflect on its core values and uplift its ideals.  
A significant portion of the dozens of people the state has been burying in Namibia might not be the best representatives of what we as a nation hold dear. Worse, as people always speak well of the dead, we go to the extent of giving speeches at such funerals just to polish up the lives of these individuals. 
It is both important and necessary for us as citizens to be honest in this sensitive discussion.  Remaining silent on this issue will not solve it.
Many Namibians suffer from a chronic inferiority complex, which manifests itself in the scramble for recognition. State funerals may have become a habit like the dishing out of honorary ‘doctorate’ degrees by our universities. 
Many world leaders have been recognised with honorary doctorates by many universities but they do not walk around being called “Doctor this and Doctor that”.  Nelson Mandela had over 300 such doctorates but refused to be called Doctor Mandela.  Former US President Barack Obama is a recipient of over a dozen honorary degrees, but he is not called, “Doctor Obama.”  These kinds of leaders did not wish to be called “Doctor” at every function because they have respect for earned accolades and are comfortable in their skins without such non-academic titles.  
But in Namibia, almost every person close to power wants to be a hero. This has become an unhealthy culture to the extent that many people in the public service have lied about their degrees or sought such ‘degrees’ by paying questionable online institutions that offer them for a price.  
In this important process of self-definition and recalibration of how we give honours let us consider the following: 
One, the constitution does not mention, even once, the word ‘king’ as a structure of authority in Namibia. How did we suddenly become so preoccupied with traditional kings as markers of our democracy and nationhood? 
There were fewer chiefs or kings in 1990 than there are now. The many who called themselves kings or chiefs were the most useful instruments of divide and rule in colonial times. Suddenly, for opportunistic reasons, the new political elites and the traditional rulers have fashioned a parasitic relationship with government for political survival. 
The elites seem to need the chiefs to mobilise their voting herds in election times and the chiefs or kings, need the government for their financial upkeep. They have become delivery points of SWAPO propaganda and politicking.  Chiefs or kings have become, in effect, employees of the President. 
Two - Traditional leaders should be maintained by the people who benefit from the traditions they represent, not via tax payer dollars. 
Three- we forget that the struggle for national independence and sovereignty that SWAPO so ably prosecuted, was never a struggle to return the people in free Namibia to tribal fiefdoms and to be ruled in accordance with tribal and ethnic instincts.
Four – A multiplicity of ‘Royal Highnesses’ imbued with some sort of elevated state of being or a unique set of rights, cannot exist side by side with the ethos and precepts of a Republic. 
As a small and young nation, we need to decide whether we want our loyalties to be channeled towards our tribal and ethnic enclaves or to the Republic of Namibia that our Founders have bequeathed us. 
We just cannot afford to have both, as we appear to be going now. For heaven’s sake, let the chiefs and kings be buried by their traditional communities and not by the state. 
Five - Many of us refuse to respect ourselves, yet we demand respect from others who see us doing foolish things.  It cannot be right that while other civilisations are aiming high by using their resources to move up in the future, we use the little we have and what others give us when we beg to run ourselves into the ground.
In many respects, our leaders seem heavily insulated from the truth of how an average Namibian in the townships or rural areas lives, so much so that they hate any voice that says something different from what they believe is true.  In a sense, those with power belong to a ‘cult’ which commands its members to walk the same, sound the same and keep quiet when they bow to their political masters. This is dangerous!
Let us rise to the real challenge of nation-building, which is the consistent requirement to refocus our country’s agenda to fit the needs of the people as they evolve over time.  We cannot remain mired in the past or cling to traditions and state-funded actions that do not promote the constitution of the country.  Let us give all that we do as a nation, a solid re-think.
This article has been shortened for space – Ed.


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.

Contact Us

Windhoek Observer House
c/o John Meinert & Rossini Street
Windhoek West
Tel: +264 61 411 800
Fax: +264 61 226 098