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Towards an inclusive nation building process

By Paul T. Shipale

I frame this article in view of the official opening of the Anti-Corruption Commission's office and the Nationhood and Nation Pride Campaign. I also borrow the title from the former PM, who writes under the pseudonym 'citizen Angula', in his article that appeared in the New Era newspaper of 22 February 2008 titled; "Towards an inclusive, fair and just political order in Africa".

Citizen Angula, in the midst of what he termed, "Namibia at a political crossroads", on 8 February 2008, was alerting us to the dangers of 'ethnic entrepreneurship' as he extensively elaborated on this topic in his article of 15 February 2008, titled "Threats posed by ethnic, political entrepreneurship". In addition, I extensively thought about what another illustrious 'son of the soil', Dr Ben Gurirab said in his opinion piece in the New Era newspaper that " Old Location legacy and Augustineum cosmopolitan convergence among youth then had separated progressive nationalism armed with Pan- Africanism's spirit from ethnic loyalties in the field of modern competitive politics" and concluded that "this is where many straddle the two and are caught in subjective cultural rather than empirical perspectives".

Those who have been my loyal readers would have noticed that the title of my first article that was published on the 2nd of May 2008, under the guidance of the then editor of New Era, Rajah Munamavah, was titled "Let's build". In that article and another one in 2009, I sought to alert the nation on the dangers of 'ethnic entrepreneurship' as evidenced by the 'cracks that appeared on the walls' in 2004 as the late architect Nico Bessinger said, but which fortunately did not touch the foundations of our nationas- state and nation-as-people project as work-in-progress which stills begs for a solid roof to withstand the stormy weathers.

With this backdrop and given what is happening in ZANU-PF which is mired in turmoil as the battle for succession in Zimbabwe boils over, with party heavyweight publicly clashing in the acrimonious power struggle ahead of the party's annual conference this month, the Zimbabwean statesponsored newspaper, the Herald said that "...the self-deprecating habit of pretending all is well when the house is on fire must be dropped like a plague, for fire once teased snarls all the way to ash". I would therefore beg the indulgence of my compatriots to elaborate on the above subject matter, especially in view of next year's elections in both South Africa and Namibia, with the former country's politics getting dirtier as the poll approaches. For this purpose, I will refer to Michela Wrong's book; "It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower," one of those rare books that deliver more than the title suggests.

When tribal mayhem erupted in Kenya following the 2008 elections, most observers were stunned as Kenya was considered Africa's brighter spot. Indeed, Kenya held regular multiparty elections and a solid economy. The question was posed to find out, what, then, explained the madness of men with machetes and broken bottles slashing and pummelling men, women and children from other tribes as it happened in 2008?

According to a review by Joshua Hammer, a freelance foreign correspondent, who was working on a book about German colonialism in Southern Africa, on Dec. 30, 2002, with the inauguration of Mwai Kibaki, the country's first democratically elected and third president, tens of thousands of jubilant Kenyans gathered in a Nairobi park to witness his swearing-in, and hurled stones at the limousine spiriting away former president, Daniel Arap Moi who had ruled the country for 24 years after which he surprised everybody by stepping down gracefully and retiring to his farm in the Kenyan highlands.

Former President Moi was hurled stones and insults at because, according to Wrong, under Moi, the country developed two identities: an island of political stability with a thriving tourism industry, and a kleptocracy. According to Wrong again, "corruption and patronage in Kenya were: so ingrained it was gradually throttling the life from the country" and Wrong further elaborates that Kibaki promised an end to this endemic corruption and his inaugural declaration: "corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya" made to roaring applause in 2002. If one replayed that clip, he or she would likely choke on a chortle for how far the reality is from that lofty ideal to which the Kenyans attached their euphoric hopes.

Wrong continued to say, as the agent of his country's redemption, Kibaki was hardly an inspiring figure despite his illustrious career as the first African graduate of the London School of Economics and who had often been described as "brilliant" by his peers, but had become, "a man with a reputation for soft living. . . . and came across as an urbane, delightfully charming old duffer, but not a man anybody would want running the country". Kibaki was also a member of the Kikuyu tribe, the country's largest, and according to Wrong, who had been marginalized by Moi, a member of the rival Kalenjin tribe. Soon enough, Kibaki stocked his cabinet with fellow Kikuyus - known as "the Mount Kenya Mafia" - who were eager to enjoy the spoils of power after years in the wilderness through a crudely avaricious philosophy: "It's our turn to eat."

Like many others, I too initially approached the book with a defensive scepticism, expecting a predictable caricature of an African nation in broad strokes of pitch black and sparkling white but soon realised that Wrong made no sweeping indictments in the tradition of others before her. In the end, according to Wrong's book, Kenya's recent political history can be summarised thus: The ethnically-based white settler tribe was kicked out to be replaced by a Kikuyu president who then was replaced by a Kalenjin president who promptly followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and so on and so forth. What saddens is that everyone played the zero sum game in the name of "restoring balance" by overcorrecting past partisanship.

On 10 January 2008, Wrong also published an article titled: "Ethnic polarisation is taking hold in Kenya reports" in which she stated that: "In Kenya, as in most African states, self-image cannot be disentangled from colonial story." Indeed, acting on the principle of divide and rule, British administrators allotted certain tribes certain functions: Maasais made good soldiers, the farming Kikuyus were meant to feed the nation, Kambas made for excellent houseboys. Those stereotypes are still in common use today, bandied about as though they capture eternal truths.

For this reason, I concur with the PM Geingob when he said in his usual PM's question programme on nbc tv that every namibian is entitled to his tribal or ethnic origin provided that no one should feel superior or inferior to another. The PM also allayed our fears when he said, "being a PM or President is about rendering a service and not necessarily because one is more intelligent than others."

To come back to my topic, after Kenyan's independence, a cynical system of patronage reinforced the above mentioned distinctions and as poverty levels soared and ethnic hostility simmered, arap Moi, a Kalenjin, capitalised on the suspicions of the smaller tribes, presenting himself as the only leader who could keep the majority Kikuyus' vaunting ambition in check.

Wrong says one could detect the antagonism in the coded language: politicians railed against "a certain community" meaning the Kikuyus or "the people of the lake" referring to the Luos. Fortunately, the lid stayed on, but the conviction that only Kikuyus and their cousins were "eating" meant Odinga's campaign promise of majimboism - federalism - found a ready audience.

To ordinary Kenyans' ears, majimboism meant that, in future, only Luos would be allowed to own land in Luo areas, only Kambas would be allowed to run shops in Kambaland. The end result was the madness of men with machetes and broken bottles slashing and pummelling men, women and children from other tribes. A quarter of a million have been displaced and made homeless as the result of this de facto ethnic partition because of ruthless politicians, seeking the most effective issue around which to rally support, in the age of multiparty democracy and who have pushed the concept of the nation state to breaking point.

Prior to colonialism, identities were very fluid, permeated by complex processes of assimilation, incorporation, interand intra-marriage, alliances, fragmentation and constant movement. Colonialism had the negative effect not of inventing identities from scratch, but reinventing existing ones, rigidifying and politicising them in a number of ways constructing 'ethnic citizenship' in Africa'.

Even if Nationalism was one of the main vehicles for constructing national identities out of different ethnic and racial groups, and despite the contribution of colonialism to the politicisation of ethnicity, some nationalist discourses of nationbuilding in Africa favoured unitary histories on which to base the imagined postcolonial nation. These discourses ceaselessly constructed national nodal points on which to hinge and construct national identity and in the process; other nation alist political actors have continued to languish outside mainstream nationalist history. Indeed, the progression of African nationalism has fossilised along these false ethnic faultlines of bimodal ethnic categorisation, with devastating implications for the postcolonial nation-building project. Therefore, the daunting task for African nationalists as nation-builders in ex-settler colonies is to create a stable, common and single citizenship. This task involves more than de-racialising institutions and removing racial legislation from the statute books. It requires what Mamdani has termed 'an overall metamorphosis' and the building of a new political order that is capable of creating equal and consenting citizens.

Against this background, Founding Father of the Namibian Nation, H.E. Dr Sam Nujoma, is right when he says we must unite and refrain from civil wars as well as be vigilant against the machinations of the imperialists. In next year's elections, let us therefore avoid the negative stereotypes and reference to tribes and ethnic groups. We need to reject the narrative of race and tribal feuding, and people should not be elected based on their tribe, race or ethnic origin but on their abilities to deliver.

In this regard, I couldn't agree more with the Zimbabwean Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo who said that 'guided democracy' undermines democracy as it implies manipulation of the democratic process and seeks to impose supremacy of leaders over the supremacy of the people. Nevertheless, I am happy that as Namibians we have been able to find common grounds and build consensus whenever it was required of us. I therefore urge my compatriots to continue along this path of nationbuilding and follow in the footsteps of H.E. Dr Sam Nujoma and heed his call when he says "a people united, striving to achieve a common good for all members of the society, will always emerge victorious." I wish you all a prosperous new year 2014!

Disclaimer: These views do not necessarily represent the views of my employer nor am I paid to write them


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