Is Namibia losing its sense of national cohesion?

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

NAMIBIA is a rainbow nation characterised by its different tribes. Take time and visit our streets of Windhoek, you will appreciate how God has blessed this nation with people of different colours. This rainbow nation came from a dark history of apartheid laws of segregation that was characterised by divide and rule. The apartheid laws of segregation were based on eleven tribal/ethnic lines, of which whites topped the list because they considered themselves as supreme human beings comparable to none.

It was through the divide and rule policy that Bantustans were established, with the aim of disuniting black Namibians and strengthening white supremacy. Fortunately, that strategy worked against the apartheid white minority regime. Instead, it strengthened the majority blacks for a common goal, which was to fight for independence.

It was also during that dark moment when all black Namibians became united as people who belong to the same family. That national and family cohesion remained until some years after independence. Unfortunately, the coherence of the rainbow family is fading.

During the apartheid administration, this country was governed on Bantustan lines. After independence, the government had to dismantle apartheid administration and set up administrative mechanisms that were applicable in a democratic setting. Among these, administrative mechanisms were to demarcate the country into regions to ensure the smooth running of government affairs.

The demarcation of the country into regions is not unique to Namibia, it is rather a normal practice across the globe. I must, however, affirm that the new administrative arrangement brought in new regional and tribal dimensions. Those new dimensions made some of our people not want to live in harmony with other Namibians.

There are now people in this country who have started seeing themselves as belonging to certain regions and tribes to the extent that they cannot accommodate others in their regions. Apart from regionalism and tribalism, there are also signs of inter-regional and intra-tribal frictions among our people.

To make the above points clear regarding inter-regional and intra-tribal frictions, I shall cite few examples. For over a decade now, we have experienced inter-regional friction when some Oshiwambo-speaking people who went to Kavango region for grazing purposes, were given a red ticket and marching orders to leave that region.

The government also sided with the eviction of Oshiwambo-speaking people from that region, instead of playing an impartial role. For nearly ten years now, we have witnessed intra-tribal friction after the death of Hon Hendrik Witbooi. That means the Witbooi clan had been at war with itself until the matter was resolved very recently through the courts.

Intra-tribal friction also happened after the death of Omukwaniilwa Kauluma Elifas of Ondonga when the royal family was divided on the succession. That matter was again resolved by the courts. Currently, there are claims and counter claims between Hambukushu and Mafwe Traditional Authorities over the ownership of Bwabwata National Park.

There are repeatedly calls from some regions that people from other regions must not get employment in those regions. The political connotation is that they are foreigners who are not wanted in those regions. There is the burning issue of ancestral land. The list of frictions may be long to exhaust.

The bottom line is, there are so many things happening now that were never experienced before independence. Looking closely at these, one would deduce that the root causes are political struggle for power, tribalism and regionalism. Hence, there is need for the political leadership to take effective and appropriate measures to remedy and contain the situation before it gets out of control.

Regionalism and tribalism are sources of national self-destruction, mirrored in the African context where national power, identity and strength rooted in family, tribe, nationality and continental identity. That is how Africans can identify themselves. As a rainbow nation, we must all be proud of what we are. It is our different tribes and colours that made us a rainbow nation. We must, therefore, foster and inculcate into our children a spirit of non-tribalism and grow colour-blind.

It is also a historic fact that the majority of Namibians are Bantu-speaking people who migrated from Central Africa and the Great Lake regions. If this school of thought is correct, which I think it is, then the offspring of the majority of Namibians in one way or another belong to the same tribe, as they are Bantu-speaking.

That historic fact revealed that the majority of our people who are Bantu-speaking have all settled in Namibia, like many Africans have settled in different parts of the continent. However, the best of it is that we are still within the borders of our continent. Migration was just a matter of giving one another breathing spaces and it must not be used as a weapon to disunite us.

As such, the diverse culture and traditions of our nation must serve as a source of national strength and as a uniting factor, as opposed to divisive vices.

The point is, there is no second-hand Namibian or any Namibian who is more Namibian than the other, as there is no any Namibian who is a Namibian by default. All Namibians are Namibians because they are Namibians. Destructive and divisive regionalism and tribalism have destroyed many African countries and must not be allowed to have a space in Namibia after our hard-won independence.

It is, therefore, imperative that we accept one another, diverse as we are in order to ensure that peace prevails in the country. That must be our national prerequisite if we are to remain united under the clarion call of ‘One Nation One Namibia’.   

We must be mindful and outward looking, even beyond our borders and understand what is happening in other parts of our mother continent. Africa is experiencing internally displaced persons because of nations in conflict with themselves. There are countries in Africa that became stateless because their governments became dysfunctional. There are people in Africa living in deplorable and unbearable conditions because of the political struggle for power, tribalism and regionalism.

I must conclude that Namibians are going to polls to cast their votes this year. It is hoped that regionalism and tribalism as a national self-destructive weapons will not be used at the expense of the electorate to cause political pandemonium, as has happened in many parts of African.

Take my word, if you mark in red the flashpoints and spots where blood has been shed in Africa because of political conflicts, the entire map of the continent will be blood-red. Notwithstanding the fact that regionalism and tribalism can cause nations to break up, it must as well be underpinned that tribes are the best source of national power, national identity, national strength and serve as a unifying factor once effectively used in the best interest of the people.

* Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force. He is HOD and senior lecturer at IUM, and holder of a Master’s degree in Strategic Studies. The views expressed here are his own.