Are We Really Independent?


are we really independent

NAMIBIA is an interesting, funny, complicated and multi-dimensional place. We are a diverse nation, in both our ethnic make-up and languages, where one can walk on Independence Avenue and hear a person speak Otjiherero, Oshiwambo, English and Afrikaans, not in the same conversation….but in one sentence!

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“This Is Africa”

IS EVERYTHING that is bad Afrikan?I ask this because the phrase ‘This Is Africa!’ has become commonplace, used to often express negative stereotypes of the continent.

Lack of or poor service delivery …TIA. Strangling of women by their so-called lovers…TIA. Sewage water running in the streets…TIA. Pastors or traditional healers raping while using the Bible or spirits to justify their licentious actions…TIA. Being Continue reading

we must pause, reflect and ask many questions

Evidenced by the public outpour throughout the country, Dr Abraham Iyambo, the late Minister of Education, was a much beloved Namibian public figure.iyambo1.pngThe positive remarks and songs of praises are well deserved because he gave Namibians something that many of our leaders all over the world have either robbed us of, do not value or do not know how to give. Dr. Iyambo gave us Hope.

Hope is a powerful thing. We need only to look at what happened in the United States, when an unlikely candidate with the campaign tag of HOPE was elected president of the United States in 2008. He was lauded globally and awarded a noble peace prize not really because of his accomplishment but because of the hope he brought. Hope is a powerful thing and on 2nd February 2013, the death Dr. Iyambo while in Europe, shook the fragile hope of many in his native land an ocean away.

Much has been written and spoken about the ministry of education (MOE) in Namibia; regardless of the feelings that one has of past ministers from Mr. Nahas Angula to now the late Dr. Iyambo, what should not be lost in the narrative is the fact that MOE is charged with taking an education system that before independence was designed to produce people for servitude to now being charged with producing people who convert vision 2030 to a reality. This is an arduous task that Dr. Iyambo by all account performed superbly. Year after year of students failing, left most of us dejected and resigned even though we knew that something needed to change. His actions as minister – such as convening an education congress, picking up garbage in disguise while investigating teacher attendance, giving students encouragement during exam periods –made many believe that our challenges are surmountable. However, if we are to honour his memory, his hard work, and determination, we must pause, reflect, and ask many questions about his death in relation to the larger Republic especially with regards to education. Most of all, we must pause and address the issue of Namibia Cynicism.

Cynicism is the antithesis of hope. It is understandable that the excitement of 21 March 1990 has abated but it is sad that it has been replaced by a sense of surrender to circumstances. The ‘oh well, that’s just how it is’ mentality has permeated nearly all facets of Namibian society and to a large extent much of the Afrikan continent as reflected in the TIA (This Is Africa) – mentality. This inexcusable and morally reprehensible. Those whose blood waters our freedom deserve better, and future generations from whom we borrowed today, expect better.

Namibia lost a reformer in Dr. Iyambo; however, death of a reformer does not have to mean death of reform nor does his death mean the death of hope in our education system. So as we celebrate the life of an accomplished Namibian, this occasion should also lead us to have some conversations that often are missing in the national discourse: conversations about hope, hard work, merit, service delivery and accountability throughout our society.

[this one is for you]

This one is
for you who made the twentieth 21st possible
for you Meme na Tate who fought from within
for you who prayed everyday for the safety of those abroad
for you whose mahangu field was destroyed by the Casspir because you were a sympathizer
for you who stayed behind telling stories of aunts and uncles that left before my birth
it’s because of your stories that I felt I knew them before meeting them
It’s been 20 years but please accept my thanks.

This one is
for you who has plenty of internal and external scars to proof your loyalty and dedication
for you who was out there fighting for me so that I could have this day
for you Oupa and Ouma beaming with pride and filled with many stories that will go unheard
20 years have passed but please allow me to say Eios

This one is
for you Mevrou and Meneer who taught me how to read and write without papers or pencils
for you who taught me to respect education even when it was inferior
for you who gave me the foundation and the building blocks to what today is my knowledge base
it has been 20 years of not acknowledging your efforts, let me say today pandu.

This one is
for you who out of helplessness told me to hide from mortars, grenades and bullets
for you who made me memorize pictures of explosives not to pick up off the ground
for you who allowed me to have a childhood oblivious to the instability and inhumanness around me
for you who made life normal amongst absurdity
Let me say Ondangero Onene 20 years late.

This one is
for you in far off lands who cared for a place you never knew
for you who interceded on my behalf when I could not cross the Atlantic
for you who facilitated meetings, education, shelter and support for a people
the power that be deemed unqualified and unfit for self determination
for you who believed in social justice and equality
Here is my 20 years worth of omapandulo.

This one is for you
the one who knows no national curfew
the one who has an individual name instead of the generic, hurtful and offensive Kaffir
the one for whom questioning freedom is akin to questioning gravity
the one who was born with tap water, a computer, a cell phone and watching TV before 6pm
the one who will chart the course for the next 20 years
the one to whom I may not be able to say 20 years from now Tumezi Shangwe
for your innocence, your impatience and your hopefulness

This one is
for you perhaps most importantly
for you who went to the mountain top but never got to the promised land
for you whose bones built the bridge that led me to my today
for you whose blood is the adhesive for the bridge of my tomorrow
for you whose fighting and dedication I never knew because you were gone before I arrived
for you who gave freely and willingly so that I can now proclaim unequivocally and without justification
I am born free!

This one is for you
This one is for me
Twenty years later
This one is for us
Twenty times over
Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day –
Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day –
Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day –
Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day –
Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day –
Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day –
Happy Independence Day – Happy Independence Day!

An official decree

No Afrikan shall henceforth, never ever, ever, ever, (ever +infinity) use the following words or phrases, “Third World”, “Former colonial master” and “Tribal” (or their derivatives). The penalty for using such words is an official revocation of the Afrikan identity card!

Reasons for decree

Far too many people use and continue to accept terms such as “Third world” without knowledge of their origin or giving weight to implications. French demographer and economic historian Alfred Sauvy, was amongst the first to use the term (Tiers Monde) in reference to countries that were unaligned with either the Soviet Union or NATO during the Cold War (hint: he did not use it as a compliment). Overtime, the term has undergone various metamorphosis and has been used to describe countries that belong to certain economic categories or human development indexes. However can any Afrikan after looking critically at the term, deny that inherent in it are hints of inferiority and being worth less than someone else from the “first world”? Is there any positive value encapsulated in such a term that would warrant further use by Afrikans?

The second term “former colonial master” is used widely in European and North American media and surprisingly in Afrikan media as well. When something “newsworthy” happens in Afrika, the story is often accompanied by the mention of “the former colonial master” of that country. Is an Afrikan’s worth only measured in relation to the ones who stole/steals from, murdered, raped, his/her family of yesteryears? Imagine the uproar from the USA if every time that it is mentioned, there is a constant reference to it being a former British Colony? Or if every visit that a US president makes to the UK is accompanied with mentions of visiting the “former colonial master?” Why is there no such uproar from Afrikans?  What justification is there for any Afrikan to accept such treatment?

Tribalism is yet another term that continues to be used freely without a critical evaluation of origin or meaning and perception contained therein. The term tribe or tribal often conjures up unflattering depictions. Seemingly of those who so called ‘need to be protected from themselves’ and in so doing cordoned off from others.  A definitive and satisfactory explanation as to the distinction between tribal groups and ethnic groups is hard to find. However concatenating the information available, the conclusion is that one term conjures up a more sense of the primitive while the other seem to be applied to groups outside of Afrika (tribal war in Rwanda vs. ethnic violence in Bosnia).

Exception to the decree

If an Afrikan should continue to use words such as, “Third World”, “Former colonial master”, “Tribal”, “Natives” and many others that have been used to demean, then she or he must give the words definition. If you chose to proudly refer to yourself as from the third world, than express in the Afrikan context why you are happy to say that. If you are proud to refer to yourself as tribal, then do so, but have reason that are not connected to those who initially and unflatteringly characterized you as such.

Not really a decree

Ok, so I do not have the power to issue a decree or at least any that would be followed. I remain however adamant about the need, by Afrikans, especially Afrikan intellectuals to think critically about words and perhaps remove some from our respective lexicon.

If language is the key aspect that distinguishes human beings from animals, then words are perhaps the most powerful weapon that exists in the arsenal. Words are powerful. Words have meaning and it is in the way that such word are used, intended, or perceived where the power lies. It is time for Afrikans to take the reign of this power and wield it more effectively in defining identity.

There is an old saying, “until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” Afrika, although has the capability and knowledge, continues to glorify the hunt at the behest of telling its own history. Like an offensive nickname that one has no control over, little can be done to prevent non-Afrikans from referring to Afrikans inauspiciously, but for Afrikans to openly embrace such self-defecation is simply wrong.

The case of Zim

I am accustomed to hearing individuals regurgitate erroneous factoids in conversations as a way of either sounding knowledgeable or just because they have been misinformed. This is especially true with issues concerning Afrika. Of recent, I have become increasingly perplexed by what I see on the news, or rather what passes as news with regards to the situation in Zimbabwe. As I watched, I began to ask myself: Is there another Zimbabwe, the one the media see and that which I – and possibly other Afrikans – know?

The often-repeated (regurgitate) statement is that Zimbabwe is a tragic case because it used to be a beacon of hope for the rest of Afrika. Various media outlets lamented that the continual failure of Zimbabwe is much more significant because Zimbabwe was an example of success, the “bread basket of Afrika”.

One can argue that being Afrikan and black, I am at risk of seeing racism, discrimination and other unfairness where there is none. Nonetheless, I still maintain that, the underlying connotation, or rather what media outlets were really asking and saying in “a nice way” was the following:
–    Oh great, what a surprise, another Afrikan failed state
–    If Zimbabwe can go from being a beacon to nothing how long will it take for others to follow suite
–    Look at what we left them and look at how they have ruined it
–    Can’t those Afrikans get anything right

While growing up in Namibia, not once, can I recall picking up a packaging with a “made in Zimbabwe” label attached.  It does not mean it did not happen, just that I cannot remember seeing it. So I began researching, with the hope of discovering instances of when Zimbabwe was the beacon of hope, the “bread basket for Afrika.” I looked for information on Zimbabwean economy from organizations such as the IMF, World Bank, UN and other statistical website that report GDP.

I am not an economist, and any realm that deals with numbers is perhaps my weakest area of understanding. However, from my novice interpretation of the data, I could not find instances in which Zimbabwe was the sole beacon of hope for Afrika. Other Afrikan nations in the same time frame where more or just as prosperous. What I did find was that from the late 80s to the present Zimbabwe’s economic growth has been stagnant and since the late 90s it has been in perpetual decline.

To be fair, Zimbabwe has experienced prosperity especially in the area of agriculture. Zimbabwe exported food and various goods to other Afrikan countries. There was also a prolonged period of peace and stability, and at one point a very good education system. However, president Mugabe and his administration have continually mismanaged the resources of the country and in the process defiled the memories and the blood of those true freedom fighters whose songs they sing and whose name they invoke at rallies. Even though there is some validity to blaming the “imperialist”, “former colonizer”, “the West” or other devils du jour, to a large extent the current Zimbabwean government should be blamed for the suffering of the Zimbabwean people.

That Zimbabwe experienced success after independence and that it got some things correct, was a good thing and I do not mean to minimize or trivialize. This however does not mean it should be accorded the status of Afrika’s role model or fallen hero. The bar for Afrikan success is continuously lowered. It seems that every time an Afrikan leader walks without tripping over his or her feet the world celebrates it as an achievement. This for any proud Afrikan, is or at the very least should be, insulting. There were and are many countries on the continent that are enjoying peace and stability, respect their constitutions, continue to grow their economies and should be hailed as beacons for Afrika. There are many good things happening on the continent and many hardworking public servants that should be congratulated. They however can no longer involve Robert Mugabe and others (some in the opposition); regardless of what accomplishments they had in the past or how they brought “liberation”.

What is sad about Zimbabwe (beyond the obvious suffering of the people), and what the media has missed,  is not merely the economic collapse. The reality and the danger of the Zimbabwean situation is its ability to destabilize a large part of Southern Afrika. Zimbabwe shares borders with five Southern Afrikan countries. As the situation becomes worse by the day, the people leave and go to neighbouring countries to seek refuge, to find jobs, and to get access to basic human rights. This mass exodus causes stress on all sectors, from education, health, overall economy and many other social services. This is the danger of a failing Zimbabwe, in which – if media reports are to be believed – a $50 Billion bill can only buy two loaves of bread.

Even more disappointing and perhaps just as dangerous, though not surprising, is the scarcity of public outrage from other Afrikan leaders. Perhaps this could be contributed to the Afrikan cultural upbringing where one rarely criticizes elders or publicly rebukes. Perhaps it is a quid pro quo system, a sort of ‘don’t call me out and I wont call you out when you do your thing.’ Regardless of the reason, their silence is deafening enough that it is drowning out the cries of those suffering and dying from many preventable causes such as the non-existent cholera. The lack of progress and the inability to resolve the matter is a shame for Southern Afrika and especially more so for the Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.

The mediocre and often idiotic coverage on Afrika neglects to notice that there are many nations in Afrika that continue to experience various successes. Furthermore, the actions and behaviour of us Afrikans at times does little to repel the demeaning and disparaging remarks or coverage,  often directed at the continent. Ultimately, regardless of what is happening in Afrika, the world does not have to worry about the continent imploding. Afrika is progressing and we are a very proud and capable people regardless of what little respect we are accorded. The hope and wish for me in the 2009 will be that we’ll stop surviving and move to thriving.

All it takes is but one

I was recently asked to offer a reflection at a committee meeting, on the noble peace price winner Former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, who has served as a United Nations envoy to different parts of the world and has played a role in Namibia’s history as a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Namibia. The New York Times wrote that “Mr. Ahtisaari has said that the highlight of his career may well be his work over 13 years in helping Namibia make the transition to independence after years of violent conflict with South Africa.”

The man first peeked my curiosity when I was much younger, as I witnessed the arrival of white 4x4s painted with the initials UN, flying the blue flag driving throughout Namibia as we prepared for “independence”. Rather than focus on the individual for my reflection I chose to focus on the fact that everyone who is considered great, everyone who has received recognition and accolades, everyone who has ever been awarded the Noble prize, even the man to who the award is named after; they all had a first step, a one action that they took that sets them on their way.

Below is my reflection


All it takes is but one

All it takes is but one
One word to be the foundation for a great book
One sentence to start an epic story
One step to win the marathon that seemed unwinnable
One voice to lead and at times to create a chorus
One action, though seemingly inconsequential to be the one that starts it all

It took but
one man to take that one small step while taking a giant step for humankind
one woman to refuse to give up her seat
one man to utter the words I have a dream
One man, one woman to create a movement that inspires the many
One action, to begin the formation of the next great one

The question is
am I willing to be the one
can I be the one who is yelling
while the rest of the world stand silent pretending not to see or hear
Can I be the one whose works go unnoticed
even as they form the base for the one movement that will inspire many
Are you willing to be the one fighting
even if it is for many who are not appreciative of your efforts
Are you willing to be the one who is imprisoned for 30 years
while serving as the hope for millions
Can you be the one Nobel laureate under house arrest for years
so long as you serve as the beacon of hope for the many
Are you willing to be the one who is held captive
simply because you said that one
that one word that gave others an idea, a belief

Will you be happy being the one stone
that causes ripples of change while disappearing unnoticingly in the depth of an ocean
will you be happy to be the one student that stands in front of tanks
with nothing but the clothes on your back, the idea, the belief, the determination and the hope in your heart
are you willing to be the one in the group of the many who never gets accolades
no matter how many good to great acts you perform
Will you be the one who seemingly stands alone
doing what is right even if no one seems to notice

All it takes is one
one person
one act
one belief
one dream
to be the hope for the many
to be the light in a seemingly dark world.
All it takes is but one

What is Afrikan Diplomacy?

After what one would assume a marathon of negotiations and various concessions and compromises that would never be made public even as they are made in the interest of the public, President Robert Mugabe, opposition leader and prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai have on behalf of their parties come to an agreement that many are hoping would restore dignity to the people of Zimbabwe and put an end to the mud slide that is the Zimbabwean economy.

As it is in a football match were the “fans” in one breath curse the striker who missed an opportunity to score and in the next minute celebrate his winning goal, President Thambo Mbeki is now in the western media being hailed as an exemplary diplomat who has managed to bring about what the sanctions and the angry rhetoric could not produce. The same man who just weeks earlier was being labeled ineffective is the same one being lauded for his accomplishment (of course one has to wonder if this success will help his own political challenges in his own country).

Is this a case to celebrate though? Has anyone won or for that matter lost as a result of the agreement signed? Zimbabwe ambassador to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, when asked of the deal told the told the BBC it was a “triumph for African diplomacy.” Is this truly a success of Afrikan diplomacy?

What is Afrikan diplomacy?

Perhaps Afrikan diplomacy means that elections results will no longer be respected and the one in power simply has to refuse to secede and make the one who wins negotiate. If such is the case, then yes, we can mark Zimbabwe a success, as was the case in Kenya. Which then begs the question, what purpose do elections serve if they are simply to be discarded so that leaders are chosen in negotiations? Does this mean other Afrikan heads of state should follow suite. If any other party wins election in Namibia, will SWAPO simply stay in power and hold the country hostage until a negotiated agreement arrives so that the government can be combined and split between those who won and those who refused to leave office. If president dos Santos in Angola looses elections, would he go peacefully and respect the wish of the people or would the head of the AU come in to negotiate an agreement on the election? If Mr. Zuma and the ANC loose an election, will they accept the results or will it be time for another African diplomat to save the day?

Why not dispenses with all the pageantry, all the mirage of “fair and free election” or “democratic process” and simply move to negotiations? From Cairo to the Cape, Libreville to Antananarivo, let’s do away with all elections. This way instead of having election observers, have a group of heads of states whose job is to go around and negotiate power sharing deals and simply leave the people out of the process. Is this what Afrikan diplomacy looks like?

Or perhaps Afrikan diplomacy is the realization that the true and right solution might not always be the best especially if it leads to loss of lives. Perhaps Afrikan diplomacy is the realization and the recognition of the fact that even if the result of an election shows differently, given the choice between a potential blood bath and economic suffering, a negotiated peace would be preferable? Could this be Afrikan diplomacy?

Hopefully an argument or an explanation for what Afrikan diplomacy is and is not, would resemble the following: Afrikan diplomacy is the re-recognition of the importance and worth of the Afrikan being. The belief in the innate ability of Afrikans to find solutions to Afrikan issues. The rejection of the idea that Afrikan are civilized only so far as in relation to and in measurement of Eurocentric standards. Hopefully entwined with in the term “Afrikan diplomacy” is the realization that there exist a stark difference between getting a new flag and a nation being independent and that true independence for Afrika has yet to be attained and cannot be achieved by solitary Afrikan nations.

Nigerian Chief Emeka Anyaoku while serving as Commonwealth Secretary-General was asked to reflect on the topic of Afrikan diplomacy and stated that “African diplomacy is as effective as the governments behind it; and it cannot be effective if the governments behind it are either unstable or lack legitimacy or are infirm of purpose.” Another argument that can be derived from that statement than is that Afrikan diplomacy cannot be used as the pretence to aiding Afrikan leaders stay in power for additional decades, while weakening and subverting the very same principles that they themselves fought for. Afrikan diplomacy is not the continual appeasement of leaders who feel entitled power as they facilitate the destruction of hopes and dreams of those who fought by their side and aborting Afrika’s future. Afrikan diplomacy means nothing if it is simply designed to find short-term solutions and while failing to address the issues that can lead to re-occurance of violence and instability. Issues such as education, economic disparity, recolinisation, effective leadership and governance, lack of visionaries in governments and so on. All of which Afrikans have the knowledge to resolve successfully.

As to whether or not the Zimbabwe solution is a cause to celebrate, that only time will tell. It is further too early to gauge whether or not Tsvangirai will be any different from Mugabe. There is no conclusive evidence that the MDC is a new party that has the best interest of the Zimbabwean people at heart or simply a group of those who oppose the ZanuPF. It is at times easier to fight against something than to fight for something and follow through with the promises made when given the opportunity. It is similarly easy to praise a principle or a process when one agrees with the solution it produces, the test though is whether or not the same people who celebrate today will still see the same process as valid when it does not work in their favour. Perhaps they will, or perhaps they’ll be back to the same question: “What is Afrikan diplomacy?”