Life after the NDF, what happens to retired soldiers?

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

THE NDF was made up by the former opposing ex-combatants of People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and the South West Territorial Force (SWATF) with the constitutional mandate “to defend the territory and national interests of Namibia”. The then opposing ex-combatants were put under a unified command structure with the aim to defend independent Namibia.

From a military viewpoint, defend means to make unreserved sacrifices, including dying in combat, on behalf of the nation. Territory may be construed as a piece of land or a country/state, while national interests are facets that are critical for the survival of a nation, which such a nation is willing to preserve, defend, die for and unwilling to postpone or lose.

From the foregoing, the NDF is therefore structured to be able to fulfil that mandate. Defending the territory and national interests has its own complexities, more so given that Namibia is not a landlocked country. Namibia has the land, airspace and blue waters. The NDF structure is therefore composed of the land force, air force and navy.

To have structures is not enough. What matters most is the quality of those structures. Quality is not determined by how many souls you have in uniform. Quality is determined by how well-trained, well-equipped, well-maintained and professional souls are in uniforms. Those are some of the most important multifaceted ingredients a nation like Namibia must aim at.     

As the NDF executes its national duty, it is aware of both the domestic/internal and external security environment, which may affect Namibia. The rapid and ever-changing international security environment or external security environment is an important political and defence component of Namibia as they influence the decisions and actions of the political leadership and of the NDF.

As the international security environment changes caused by rapid globalisation and national interests of other nations, the political leadership must also make the NDF’s mission to change in order to be in conformity with the changing environment.

Take a situation where the world of today is faced with global challenges of extremism violence, terrorism and radicalisation. Those new security dimensions of threats brought in new strategic thinking, whereby the focus to fight war must be shaped to fight invisible enemies.

The point is that time is now ticking for ex-combatants who were pioneers and battle-tested, to exit from the NDF. The majority has already retired. By estimate, at the fall of 2025, six years from now, the long serving ex-combatants will all retire to the streets. I deliberately brought in the word “streets” because that is what is happening in this country to retired NDF members.

Worth understanding here is that some retired NDF members were employed by the government for a very short period of time. As such, they were not able to accumulate their pensions. In other words, what they receive as a monthly pension is very low and cannot sustain them, in view of the national contribution they made while in uniform.   

There are a few who after retirement have been reassigned to August 26 Holding and its subsidiaries, as well to the Ministry of Veteran Affairs, respectively. That happened by design because of the connectivity to fefence matters and not necessarily in recognition of the national contribution they have made while in uniform. I must however, appreciate that I was lucky enough that I was taken up by two institutions of higher learning, namely, UNAM and IUM where I continue to make a contribution in the field of academics.       

Before I lose track of the point, it is no secret in this country that after members of the NDF have retired from active military service, they are discarded to the dustbins. Today, there is a sizable number of retired members of the force who are roaming in their home village with their rich experience, but having no means to contribute significantly.

The reason why retired members of the NDF are being discarded in the manner they are, is because of a wrong perception in this country that the only thing soldiers know and can do well is pull triggers. Meaning, once they are no longer in uniform, they can no longer make any meaningful contribution to the nation.

What this nation is not aware of is that gone are the days when militaries were perceived as a bunch of fools, for those who are not educated. In the case of the NDF, it has been and continues to be led by highly qualified commanders at different levels. The NDF has been training, developing and educating its members.

It is through tailor-made training, development and education that the NDF is empowered with strategic versatile thinking. I must as well point out that most of the technological inventions we are enjoying today on this planet, have been invented by militaries, permeated and adopted by other sectors of society.

Militaries have always been in the lead and that is why they are respected by their nation-states. Think of the word “strategy”. It originated from the military and was exclusive used by generals within the military domain. Today, strategy is commonly used in all sphere of life.

Think of flying the fastest jet fighters and deliver accurate fire to the enemy target while at the highest speed. It is only a trained military pilot who capable of doing that. Imagine sailing under deep blue water in a submarine, delivering fire and destroying under-water and offshore targets. Only a capable trained sailor can do that. Imagine destroying land targets hundred of kilometres away. The only human being capable to do so is the trained mind of a land soldier.

To substantiate further, the first human being who orbited the globe in April 1960 was Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet-trained pilot. In the same token, Neil Armstrong, a trained (USA) engineer, was the first human being to put his foot on the moon in July 1969. Both Gagarin and Armstrong were all trained military personnel. It is, therefore, beyond reasonable doubt that most of the major achievements in life were made possible by trained military personnel. Hence, militaries deserve respect for their contributions.

As matters stand now, there are close to forty retired NDF generals from active military service who are doing literally nothing. If one adds the total numbers of retired members of the NDF, you will be puzzled as that number is in thousands. Why retired members, including generals and most senior officers, are doing nothing is because after retirement the mind-set of our people, including political leaders, is “what else can they do after they hanged up their military boots?”      

Let us look it from another angle. Most of the retired generals, if not all of them, are long serving Swapo Party members since the time of the liberation struggle. But after retirement, they find it difficult if not impossible even to be absorbed into the party structures.

That is so because the party’s political stringent in place is rigid, leaving no room for exceptions to the rule, even though there is a general understanding that there is always an exception to every rule.  Even though you may have been a party member for decades, the stringent rule is that getting into the party structure as an active member, you have to start right from the beginning as if you are a new recruit.

Imagine a general starting over again as a recruit in order to be able climb the political ladder within the party he served for decades, because he or she served the nation in a uniform. That means some us will only be able to make our contributions to the party from the periphery.

Let me also shed some practical experiences on how some governments and political parties have treated their retired generals and senior military officers. Because of their vast experience and the contributions they made while in uniform, retired generals are normally reassigned and or redeployed to some other sectors, instead of sending them into retirement to rot.

I do not want to prove this point myself, even though I can. But if one wishes to prove the point one does not need to go beyond SADC region to understand what kind of respect governments and political parties give to their retired generals and senior officers.

If one does brief research within the contexts of the SADC region about retired generals, the fact-finding mission shall reveal that the majority of retired generals have been reassigned or absorbed within their governments and party structures. I shall leave it there for the future to make the correct judgement.

* Lt Gen (Rtd) is a former Chief of the Defence Force, a Holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and Senior Lecturer at IUM. These are his own views.