Tribes are sources of national power, identity, political strength,

Tribalism is a weapon of national self-destruction

By Lieutenant General (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

THERE is something politicians are well aware of that tribes are the sources of national power, identity and political strength. They know as well that tribalism is a weapon for national self-destruction. Despite this political reality, politicians opt to take both of them -depending on the circumstances- when trying to garner political support from the electorate.

Politicians who take tribes as source of national power, identity and political power, do fully employ that to their political advantage. However, those who choose tribalism and manipulate the minds of people, do that at the detriment of the people and their own political careers.

Namibia came from a dark history, of apartheid and racial laws of segregation, that was characterised by divide and rule based on the colour of skin and tribe. The apartheid and racial laws of segregation in Namibia were crafted based on 11 tribal/ethnic lines.

Whites topped the list because they considered themselves as supreme human beings comparable to none. For the reasons known by those who were on power, the Oshiwambo-speaking tribe was at the tail end of the list despite the fact that they made up over 50 percent of the Namibian population.

While apartheid and racial laws were inhuman and targeting blacks, they were however an effective weapon at the disposal of the minority whites. Be it as it were, those laws were implemented to the letter and spirit as we were all aware of our limitations. For example, whenever you found a sign that read, ‘Europeans only’, it was obvious that it was a no go area for blacks.

The same is true that it was unlawful, shameful and a disgrace for a white person to be a resident, for example, of Katutura as that location was exclusive meant for blacks. Whoever broke those laws would face the law. In order to protect ourselves as citizens of this country we adhered to those laws despite the fact that they were inhuman.      

It is those inhumane laws that made the majority of black Namibians take up arms and endure a protracted war of resistance and liberation struggle. After precious lives were sacrificed by the sons and daughters of the soil, it was a historic watershed and unforgettable moment to witness the lowering of the apartheid flag and the hoisting of our national flag midnight of 21 March 1990 when the inhumane laws were buried to rot forever.

It is historic that on 21 March 1990, the Namibian nation regained its rightful national identity and political independence. It was also the same day that Namibia joined other nations and was recognised as a member of the international community.

Within the African context, national power, identity and strength starts within the family, tribe, nationality then continental and so forth. That is how Africans can be identified. For Namibia, it is our individual identities that give us national identities as Namibians regardless of our roots of origin. We must therefore, be extremely delighted to be what we are because it our tribes and nationality that give us our unquestionable Namibian identity.   

It is also a historic fact that the majority of Namibians are Bantu-speaking who migrated from Central Africa and the Great Lakes Regions. If this school of thought is correct, then the majority of Bantu-speaking Namibians belong to the same tribe.

By its characteristics and composition, Namibia is a rainbow nation made up of many tribes and colours. It is our characteristic as a nation that was supposed to serve as a source of political strength and a national uniting factor as opposed to being a divisive force. As a diverse and multicultural nation, we must all be proud of what we are.

We must applaud those visionary leaders who drafted and adopted our Constitution for having foresight by inserting Chapter 2, Article 4 of the supreme law of the land and made provision as to who qualifies to be a Namibian citizen. Tribes or no tribes, our identity is therefore, entrenched in the supreme law of the land.

It is our different tribes and colours that make our nation. We must therefore, embrace the spirit of our children who are growing non-tribal and colour blind. As a nation, we must inculcate and plant seeds that shall contribute towards national building. It must as well be entrenched in our minds that there is no second-hand Namibian or any Namibian who is more Namibian than the other.

All Namibians are Namibians because they are Namibians. The gravity of destructive and divisive tribalism that has destroyed many African countries must not be allowed to have space in independent Namibia. It is therefore, imperative that we must accept one another diverse as we are and ensure that peace prevails as a prerequisite that will make this nation prosper and move forward in harmony.   

Namibia has a commodious political space that is enough for all of us and possibly those who are yet to come. In any case, there may still be people out there who are not Namibians today but may apply to be Namibians tomorrow based on the Constitutional principles. But from the moment their applications are approved, they will qualify to be Namibians with equal rights to those born Namibians.   

It is always frightening when one looks at what is happening in some parts of Africa where tribalism is causing conflicts because it has been and continues to be used for political gain. Tribalism has caused total political pandemonium to many parts of the continent to the extent that nations have been faced with total destruction of properties and loss of lives.

Looking closely to what is happening in Namibia these days, it appears as if some politicians are running out of a clean political agenda and now resorting to dirty tribal politics. There is conspicuous evidence that the ugly face of racism is being replaced with tribalism. We must be mindful that replacing racism with tribalism will break up our reputable political fabric of this nation. We must therefore, guard against the emergence of ethnocentric politics.

Against that backdrop, as a nation, we must not allow our tribes and colours to be used as a national self-destructive weapon. Instead, our tribes and colours must be employed as sources of national power, identity and political strength that must aim at national building.

Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a Member of Governing Council of IUM. Former Chief of the Defence Force and a Holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies. He was a part time lecturer at UNAM, served as HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. Views expressed here are that of the author.