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Enhancing nationhood through devolution of power

By Paul T. Shipale
In an opinion piece, written by Shampapi Shiremo that appeared in one of the local newspapers on Monday, April 29, 2013, it emerged that a group of academics, who mainly hail from the Eastern Caprivi Strip, accused the former Governor of the Kavango Region, the late Honourable Maurus Nekaro and the Hambukushu Fumu, His Majesty Erwin Munika Mbambo "for (sic) advocating for more 'theft' of land from Caprivi and for (sic) provoking inter-tribal regional conflict."

Similarly, one Councillor in Oshana Region is also reported to have alleged that their Governor is making himself guilty of tribalism by sidelining Oshindonga-speaking Councillors.

Although the Governor denied the allegations attributed to him in the media, if one also considers the demands from some constituencies in Omusati and Ohangwena Regions asking for the borders of the Regions and Constituencies to be relooked at, the question is posed to find out why is this happening?

Like Shiremo, I too pen this piece with a great sense of selfrestraint bearing in mind that these are constitutional matters to which finality, in terms of decision-making, rests with the Head of State.

In a paper of 12-09-2001, Julius Kipngetich, a Lecturer in the Faculty of Management Science of Commerce at the University of Nairobi, refutes the claim that the most popular and enduring perspective on the sources of conflicts in Africa is the contention that ethnicity per se constitutes the critical, if not the determinant, source of conflict on the continent.

According to Kipngetich, an understanding is needed of the fact that the conflicts resulting from ethnicity are primarily attributable to two factors; universal, basic human needs for group identity, security, recognition, participation and a sense of an empowering level of autonomy, and the absence of appropriate policies and institutions of political and economic systems that would enable the attainment of these needs.

Therefore, contrary to commonly held impressions, resentment and fear of other ethnic groups is not inequitable distribution of national wealth and authoritative positions which precipitates internal conflicts; the issue at stake invariably devolves on the processes by which resources are allocated, and these processes relate to such needs as recognition, identity and participation. The process may be more important than the actual allocation; and the process is a political issue.

In his address, on the occasion of the official opening of the 15th Annual Meeting of the Council of Traditional Leaders, on the 15th of October, 2012 at Katima Mulilo, in the Caprivi Region, His Excellency President Pohamba said; "Our Traditional Leaders are the custodians of our culture and tradition. In other words, they are the custodians of our identity as a nation. In this context, they play a vital role in the existence not only of our communities but also of our nation."

The President further emphasized that "our Constitution recognizes the status, role and place of institutions of traditional leadership, which have been established in terms of relevant laws. The Council of Traditional Leaders is one such an institution. It is tasked with the responsibility of advising the President on matters pertaining to the management and utilisation of communal land...."

Indeed, the traditional authorities play a pivotal role in our society. It is for this reason that they are tasked with specific functions in terms of our laws, which include, among others, assisting and co-operating with Government, Regional Councils and Local Authority Councils in the execution of their policies and keeping the members of the traditional community informed of developmental projects in their respective area as well as ensuring that members of their traditional communities use the natural resources at their disposal on a sustainable basis and in a manner that conserves the environment and maintains the ecosystem for the benefit of all persons in Namibia. "In this way, harmonious relations can be maintained between Traditional Authorities and the Government, especially the Regional Councils and Local Authorities, for the sake of development of our country" said the President.

In terms of Article 32 (3) of the Namibian Constitution, read together with the provisions of the Special Advisors and Regional Governors Amendment Act of 1990, the President can appoint Regional Governors, who are charged with a task of acting as representatives of the Central Government in the Regions and as a link between the Central Government, Regional and Local Authority Councils, and Traditional Authorities. The Governors are further tasked to investigate and report to the President or the relevant Minister on matters relating to the Regions where they are posted.

In addition, the Government has also adopted the National Rural Development Policy designed to strengthen institutions such as the Constituency Development Committees and Regional Development Co-ordination Committees to enable them to effectively guide rural development and provide a platform for citizens to participate directly and indirectly in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of rural development initiatives. So far, there has been good cooperation between Regional Governors and our Traditional Authorities, which allowed for the strengthening of local participation in the planning and implementation of development initiatives. Now one wonders why the sudden squabbles.

According to Kipngetich again, whereas the individual is responsive to opportunities for improvement in lifestyle and malleable, there is no malleability in acceptance of denial of ontological needs such as security, recognition, participation, autonomy and dignity. Therefore, any political system that denies or suppresses these human needs must eventually generate protest and conflict. Undoubtedly, underneath the surface there seems to be boiling discontent due to denial of ontological needs of recognition and participation.

The answer to this is sustainable and helpful democratic elections as well as prudent and responsive electoral, administrative and/or territorial arrangements crafted to build the confidence of each group in the political system. Here is where the Delimitation Commission comes in handy. According to Article 104 of the Namibian Constitution, the President is authorized to appoint a Delimitation Commission which may create or change the boundaries of regions "only on geographical basis without any reference to the race, colour or ethnic origin of the inhabitants of such areas."

Indeed, Devolution should be viewed as a way to dampen regional, racial, ethnic, or religious cleavages and enhance our nationhood and not to further fragment us into tribal and ethnic entities. Having said that, I see no problem with the demand of some constituencies to be re-looked at if there is a genuine cry that they feel neglected because the aim here is to come up with prudent and responsive administrative and/or territorial arrangements crafted to build the confidence of each group in the political system in order to respond to their ontological needs of recognition and participation.

Perhaps our Governors should recognize 'the importance of reaching out for consensus among the significant component units of a pluralistic society' to avoid similar incidents in the future, having said that, I reject the idea of forming another region purely for administrative purposes as if the Councillors and Governors cannot reach consensus on matters pertaining to their jurisdictions.

Namibia remains a sovereign, secular, democratic and unitary State founded upon the rule of law and justice for all. In the genuine attempt at nation building, at this juncture, all of us as Namibians have to shed our parochial communalism and to think as Pan- Africanists and Nationalists.

Let us not take our peace for granted but we should jealously guard and preserve the peace we have been enjoying since independence and 'not get carried away with our domestic issues, without contextualizing them correctly' as one editorial pointed out.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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