The Time Traveler: A cure for smugness

09 August 2019
Author   Hugh Ellis
It’s easy to be smug, as a Namibian, when you hear the international news these days.
Smug, adjective: having or showing an excessive pride in oneself or one's achievements.
I’m pretty smug that the racist and arrogant Donald Trump is not my President, nor Trump-lite Boris Johnson my Prime Minister (narrowly dodged a bullet, with that last one!)
Last week, the US reported not one, but two mass shootings in 24 hours, almost 30 dead in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, by some accounts taking the number of mass shootings in America this year to 31.
I’m pretty happy that, even though I feel that Namibia’s gun laws are not tough enough, every Namibian who wants to buy a gun, without exception, has to go through a background check, and a civilian may not own an AK47.
I may be from a ‘Third World’, country, but I’m proud that my constitution grants me the right to join the Army Reserves (‘a well-regulated militia’) in a way that cannot be construed by corrupt legislators and judges to somehow also imply that I also have the God-given right to keep a Glock in my bedroom.
In a time when many leaders are fanning the fires of race hate - calling Muslim women in traditional Islamic dress ‘letterboxes’ or trying to send elected members of Congress ‘back home’ to their ancestral nations - I’m pleased that my President is an oasis of calm and reconciliation, stressing all races’ rights to live in his homeland.
At first glance it may appear that I have a lot to be smug about.
But that’s the thing about smugness - it’s fake. It gives you false hope. It leads you to not recognize and deal with the same, but less dramatic, faults in yourself that you see in others.
Namibia may not have a mass shooting problem per se, but it does have one of the world’s highest rates of rape and domestic violence.
One in four Namibian women are survivors of violence at the hands of their partners, according to the Namibia Demographic and Health Survey.  When you hear stories about the brutality that is the response to even minor threats to many a Namibian man’s ‘honor’, you question whether we really live in a peaceful country.
We have no Trump equivalent, and are even thankfully spared the likes of Steve Hofmeyr in South Africa, the failed rockstar who has said that apartheid wasn’t that bad, and thinks that violent robberies on farms are somehow ‘white genocide’ (white South Africans are less likely to be murdered than their black counterparts, according to the Institute for Security Studies). But let’s not pretend all is good in Namibian race relations.
The fact that no less than a Minister of State was allegedly threatened and subjected to a tirade of insults by a white hotel owner at Opuwo last weekend, suggests that racial tension still bubbles under the surface of Namibian society, despite the Government’s attempts to keep a lid on the pot.
In my opinion, it’s likely to remain so, as long as the income and wealth inequality created by years of colonialism and apartheid is not addressed in a serious manner.
A visit to your local informal settlement can be a good way to cure national smugness. The smell will tell you that toilets are still a luxury in many of these ghettos.
When you take an unvarnished look at your country, you realize how much hard work is required to change it.
The US will have to completely disavow the racism and violence on which it was built, and compensate Native and African American communities accordingly.
The UK will have to make peace with the fact that it’s not a great Empire any more, it’s a small island in the Atlantic Ocean. Like all small islands, cooperation with neighbors and welcoming immigrants are requirements for national survival.
As for Namibia, we could do worse than to stop dressing the grazes on the surface of our national body - and start dealing with the deep wounds instead. A ten-year-old might tell us that this starts with ‘being humble’ and ‘sharing’.
Hugh Ellis owns weapons more under the brands of Bic or Paper Mate than Glock or Walther, and is a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. Follow him on Twitter @ellis_hugh


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