‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen,’ said Winston Churchill.
Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Winston Churchill. He may have been all about ‘fighting for freedom’ when it came to white, Anglo-Saxon British people, but his treatment of then-British subjects in India, Ireland, Kenya and half a dozen other places falls somewhere between the imperially callous and the downright criminal.
Still, even a broken watch is right twice a day, and here, eloquently so.
By the time you read this, the Namibian Presidential Election will be over, and in all likelihood, Dr Hage Gottfried Geingob and SWAPO Party will be winners. In the wake of their victory, Geingob and SWAPO would do well to display courage - not the courage to stand up and speak, but the courage to sit down and listen.
It’s not always easy to sit down and listen to Namibian youth (as a lecturer I know first-hand how little time for protocol they have), but if you do (and I think my students will testify that I at least try) you’ll hear that the youth are tired.
They’re tired of lack of opportunity. Tired of school fees increasing every year, while jobs get fewer. Tired of having ‘entrepreneurship’ preached at them, while they are barely allowed inside the bank, much less offered a business loan.
They see that politicians travel in luxury; that their suits are spotless and their guards wear immaculate uniforms. They want the elite to share the pain of the ordinary people.
People in rural areas are tired. Tired of promises of access to land coming to almost nothing, tired of half-hearted drought relief, tired of living under patriarchal interpretations of customary law.
Namibian women are tired. When your Government gets international awards for gender equity in Parliament, but domestic violence shows no sign of ending, and reproductive rights laws are stuck in the Middle Ages, wouldn’t you be?
Peel things back a layer, and what I see is, many Namibians are questioning the post-Independence political consensus. The consensus that, apart from providing basic infrastructure, the Government steps back and relies on the market. That ‘reconciliation’ trumps the need to redistribute the apartheid loot to the black majority.
It may be hard for Likely-President-Elect Geingob to listen to tired, angry Namibians, because these Namibians, whether they fully realize it or not, are often questioning the very consensus that Geingob and his comrades were very diligent and brave in helping engineer in the late 80s and early 90s.
Heck, I get it. It’s hard for me, too, as a white Namibian.
Namibians of German and white South African extraction have done the best out of Independence. Sanctions that held our businesses back were abolished, we got to keep almost all of our land, tax increases were never unbearable, and commerce, overall, has boomed. But even I can see that if we don’t sit down and listen to Namibians outside the safe havens of Maerua Mall, the SKW Complex, the bougie Farmers’ Markets, our wealth and safety is going to be short lived.
What the solution is, I don’t even know.
Although I’ve always been left-wing in my thought, I’m not suggesting we need become like some other countries I could mention, whose leaders preach formulaic Marxist theory while the people starve or emigrate.
The confluence of artificial intelligence, big data, and biotechnology commonly known as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, if harnessed correctly, may offer opportunities that no-one in 1990 had dreamed of. Fighting racism at the very root, not at surface level as we have been doing, may lead to extraordinary change. Simply resisting the capture of the State by multinational corporations can achieve a lot.
But of course, any solution will have to be designed from the ground up, not copied from some European or American or Chinese textbook.
And we will have to start by listening. Not to talk back, not so we can say ‘that used to be me’ or ‘that happened to me once’ or ‘you’re wrong’ or ‘that’s none of your business’, but listening to truly understand.
I’m ready to do that, Dr Geingob. Are you?
Hugh Ellis is a poet and a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. All views expressed here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at ellishugh.wordpress.com