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To be born a nation

By Paul T. Shipale
The Namibian newspaper's edition of Friday 17 February printed some divergent and diametrically opposed views on the issue of what Hengari termed 'dark clouds of tribalism'.

These ranged from Ms Gwen Lister's Political Perspective asking for consistency and even-handedness against the unconstitutional "tribalistic and discriminatory sentiments" 'to make an example of someone for doing It' and Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari's criticisms of the insensitivities of journalists and his call for 'future Heads of State to reflect the cultural diversity of this country'.

After giving a 'mounting list of contraventions' of the Minister of Youth and Sport Kazenambo Kazenambo's 'tribalistic tirade', Ms Lister argued that 'the three-strikes principle could well apply in this case' for the Minister's statements were 'clearly inciteful and inflammatory' then Ms Lister called for Kazenambo's sacking arguing that 'a very senior political office- bearer should have restraint…and if he either doesn't possess it or lacks self control, he is clearly both incapable of holding public office and uncomfortable with it, and should be duly relieved of the burden'. Lister's views echo those of the Journalist of the Sun newspaper, Mr. Jan Poolman who said the other day, that the person's ethnic origin is irrelevant since the Namibian constitution in its Preamble says "we the Namibian people" and does not make reference to our ethnic, tribal, racial or gender origin.

Contrary to these views, on his part, Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari in solidarity with the Minister of Youth and Sport, seems to add salt to the festering wound by justifying an unconstitutional and inflammatory statement and came up with his own quack political remedy.

Throwing himself into a calamity howling, Hengari directed his critics to the journalist and said he should have been more sensitive in posing his questions yet he did not say anything about political officebearers exercising restraint.

Hengari also lashed at what he termed ' the dominant ethnic group' who 'feel more entitled to power, wealth and responsibility and consider him (referring to Kazenambo) an un grateful turkey…who must behave at all times like a lucky sophisticated turkey whose life has been spared'.

I categorically reject with the contempt it deserves the preposterous idea of equating Martin Luther King Jnr. to self indicted factional raiders who are out to wreck the country with their disdain, a sneering and contemptuous attitude. What is the country supposed to do?

Stand there and wait until these jokers have honeycombed it to the point that it would be merely a hollow shell of itself? The charges of discriminating against a supposedly 'imaginary minority' seem to have been designed to cloud the real issue, of taking the reins of power and reign comes whatever, even if it means using undemocratic means of threatening to tear the constitution apart and using the newly coined phrase of 'discrimination against or marginalization of minority groups'.

I wish Hengari could read the tribute by Lieutenant-General Martin Shalli written in memory of the late Acting PLAN Commander and member of the SWAPO Central Committee, Isaac Ndeshitiwa Jason Pondoleni Shikongo and other PLAN fighters such as Dimo Hamambo, Peter Nanyemba, Matias Ndakolo Mbulunganga, Hamutenya Zulu, Aron Shongambele, Elia Haulondjaba, Wilbard Tashiya Nakada, Nambahu 'kumbo' and many others. Lieutenant- General Shalli said "the freedom we enjoy today did not come on a silver platter, it came through the supreme sacrifices made by our people on the field of battle and their bodies turn in their graves owing to the lack of unity and one-nationhood that we unfortunately subject ourselves to. In their honour, let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of nation building."

That said, Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah of 'The Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society', based in Cape Town, in his paper titled "African wars and ethnic conflicts – rebuilding failed states" on the postcolonial state and ethnic realities says advocacy of the ethos of democratic pluralism and the peaceful co-existence of diverse socio-cultural groups needs to be advanced and propagandized as a matter of policy and urgency. The creation of ethnic mythologies and ethnogenesis needs to be exposed and unmasked so that the drift into conflict can be avoided. It is misleading, as is often the case, to suggest that mass society in Africa is fundamentally prone to ethnic sectionalism, generally known as tribalism which defines the interests of ethnicity above wider interests. The case rather is that, in the competition for resources and under conditions of steadily diminishing availability of resources, some rival elites employ ethnic sentiments as mobilizing instruments to gain power, control and access to resources and resource management.

Such realities are aggravated by the expanding poverty in African societies and are exacerbated by unemployment.

'There is also need for policies which welcome diversity in a collectively enriching social environment. The structure of the postcolonial state would benefit from openings, which allow for the accommodation of democratic institutions, with respect for cultural and ethnic diversity. Such approaches will ensure that the road to peace in Africa is not fraught with internecine conflict. This can be achieved under wider pan- Africanist structures that enhance democratic expression without pandering to territorial balkanization or Bantustan solutions.'

Indeed, ethnic factors have been consistently utilized from the colonial period as a mobilizing agent in African politics. As an example, Professor Prah points out that a Fang migration legend was used to rally the dispersed Fang groups of Gabon and Cameroon for the common purpose of ending colonial rule.

A Yoruba myth served as the basis of establishing the 'Society of the Children of Oduduwa' for the purpose of uniting the people of the Western Region of Nigeria. Bakongo mythology has been used for political purposed by Kasavubu's ABAKO party in the Congo, saying the Luena and Chokwe should unite in support of Tshombe and his CONAKAT party, or conversely why the Luena and Chokwe should unite to oppose the Lunda (Bascom.1965.477).

In post-colonial politics, such manipulation of ethnic sentiments and mythology has continued.

During Daniel Arap Moi's rule in Kenya (1978- 2003), or the Mobutu Sese Seko's period in Zaire (1965- 97), ethnic groups were consistently been played against each other. In the decade leading up to the commencement of the second civil war (1983) in the Sudan, Numeiri successfully used such tactics to divide the Southerners. Migration myths are today, being used by diamond and gold-looting warlords to mobilize support among opposing Hema and Lendu groups. Over the years, civil wars became increasingly rampant on the continent. There emerged ethnically based groups, "which came into existence to champion the cause of particular ethnic groups, ostensibly, to protect the interests of the ethnic groups concerned in the face of "the intense competition between the elites for the control of the economic, political and social infrastructures of the country." (ibid.), Professor Prah asserted.

On the occasion of the 17th All African Students Conference in Windhoek on 28 May 2011, in a text read on his behalf, the then SPLM's President John Garang cautioned Africans saying "if we do not formulate plans for unity and take active steps to form a political union, we will soon be fighting and warring among ourselves with imperialists and colonialists standing behind the screen pulling various wires, to make us cut each other's throats for the sake of their diabolical purposes in Africa… Patriotic African leaders correctly analyzed the situation and knew what needed to be done. They stressed such issues as "national formation", "nation building" and "national unity" as their top priorities.

They realized that colonially inherited states had to be moulded into viable nation states, and further stressed the necessity of African unity". It is for this reason that our Founding President always talked about unity and the common good for all our people.

It is on record that SWAPO rejected the proposed policy of ethnic fragmentation and advocated for Nation building contrary to the Odeendaal commission of enquiry into social, economic and political life in Namibia which was congruent with the apartheid state's official policy of ethnic particularism and spatial social engineering.

The title of a book produced by SWAPO in exile in 1980 'To Be Born a Nation' taken from a saying of the Mozambique's liberation struggle; 'to die a tribe and be born a nation' and which was meant to encapsulate the drive for unity and bonds forged through common Endeavour and sacrifice in order to build one cohesive nation is revelatory and quite relevant in this case. In this regard, H.E. the President, Dr. Pohamba has also implored citizens to see themselves as Namibians first and above their tribal identities and urged our parliamentarians to be exemplary leaders when he reiterated his call for the country to remain united and to shun the vices of tribalism and regionalism as well as rededicate itself to Nation building and the policy of National Reconciliation. Similarly, The Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Theo Ben Gurirab, also gave a stern warning to Parliamentarians and the nation at large saying "slowly but surely Namibia's body politic is entering a slippery terrain which is encouraging disunity and regionalism spurned by tribalism and nepotism of the old fashion kind."

He further elaborated saying "these tendencies are very dangerous for nation building, political tolerance and mutual respect of public officials at all levels" and urged Parliamentarians to re-read the Namibian Constitution, alongside that of SWAPO Party that addresses Nation building and social restructuring and called for the combating of retrogressive tendencies of tribalism, ethnicity, nepotism, racism, sexism, chauvinism, regionalism, personality cults and so on and concluded saying, "We must walk in tandem with the letter and spirit of the constitution in particular, the preamble."

The preamble of the Namibian Constitution, says that the leitmotiv of the Namibian State is to be democratic, sovereign and committed to the 'recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.

This recognition is' indispensable for freedom, justice and peace.' The remainder of the Constitution establishes and explains the liberal-democratic multiparty dispensation that Namibia is to be, which confirms her to be a Constitutional State (Rechtsstaat). Indeed, we live in a Constitutional Democracy, hailed as 'a shining example', while the process of drafting our constitution was regarded as being 'without par'.

These accolades refer to both the process of constitutionmaking and the document's content, which were both remarkable processes of compromise and reconciliation that accepted and reflected the previously adopted 1982's Constitutional principles as a framework for gaining independence.

Our forefathers, faced with perils, charted a course expanded by blood of generations and built our nation. In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, humbled by the task before us and grateful for the trust bestowed on us as well as mindful of the long, arduous and rugged road they have travelled, we must commit ourselves to the principles of democracy and resolve to foster peace, unity and a common loyalty to a single State and strive to achieve National reconciliation.

Their sacrifices still hold and bind us together and we should not give them up for expedience's sake. This is the journey we must continue, this is the task we must carry on and this is the legacy we must preserve.

So we too, let it be said that when we were tested by circumstances, we refused to surrender; we carried forth the torch of freedom and unity and delivered it safely to future generations.

We are the proud keepers of the legacy from our forefathers and reject as false the choice between our ethnic groups and the building of our nation. Our heritage and diversity is strength and not a weakness. It is a blessing and not a curse. The driving force and centre-piece in our nationbuilding project should be unity across socially engineered class and colour divides.

The celebration of diversity under common African unitary institution appears to be the realistic approach to ethnic, regionalist and localist conflicts in Africa. Herein also lays the route to an African renaissance (Prah.1999.52-53).

Appropriate policies need to be put in place to enable cultural pluralism to flourish. Durable peace in Africa requires much more than what can be described as limited 'fire brigade operations' which may put the lid on the immediacy of a given case of festering conflict, but does not address the root causes of conflict which is primarily economic and political.

For this reason, I could not agree more with those who are saying that the ugly rise of tribal antagonism must be nipped in the bud before it poisons our nation and culminate in civil unrest. Let us be born a nation and stop beating tribal drums and stirring the tribal pot before it boils over.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


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