The sculpture of Chief Hosea Komombumbi Kutako radiates calm authority at the main entrance of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Chief Kutako, commander and prisoner of war, Herero royal and arguably the most consequential Namibian of the past century, died on 18 July 1970.
Today, Chief Kutako is worth convocation for two reasons. First, at a moment when morbid symptoms are attempting to shake into dysfunction the foundations of our Republic. Second, as we head into a phase of invoking the memory at different shrines to pay tribute and to measure the gravity of our past, the legacy of Chief Kutako ought to illuminate our actions.
The Herero people congregated this week in Okahandja for the 11 August 1904 Battle of Hamakari, and the Republic will convene in a specific region of our land to pay tribute to 26 August 1966 – the homonym for the Battle of Ongulumbashe. Both events bear meaning for Chief Kutako. First, he was a commander, and survivor of the first genocide of the 20th century. Second, as the first Namibian to openly appeal and to organise for self-determination, Chief Kutako located the building blocks for the secondary phase of our liberation struggle.
Irrespective of how you look at it, Chief Kutako sits inimitably in our nation’s historical firmament as an exit point for the primary resistance phase as we fought valiantly against a genocidal Germany – and as a noteworthy entry-point as Namibians converged and cohered in their struggle for independence from the Apartheid regime.
Chief Kutako’s role in our history becomes – with the benefit of hindsight – transformational and transitional. The first of Tanga, Founding President Sam Nujoma, Father of the Namibian Nation, led our liberation struggle as an outstanding student and alumnus of Chief Kutako. I shall not linger on that emotional trajectory here. The Founding President’s autobiography ‘Where Other’s Wavered’ evokes a poignant voyage with Chief Kutako as his travelling icon, and not companion.
Over two years ago, we fêted on March 21, 25 years of freedom with an orderly transition from the second of Tanga, President Lucas Pohamba to the third and last of Tanga, President Hage Geingob. Last implies that we are at a dangerous interregnum, at the crossroads – witnessing the passing into history of the last of the titans of Tanga at the command of our Republic. This is a frightful moment, but also of hope about what the next seven years could leave behind. On the interregnum, Antonio Gramsci, the Italian philosopher writing in his Prison Notebooks demonstrates that if the old is dying and the new cannot be born, an assortment of morbid symptoms appear.
Freedom can be threatened, not always through political violence – but by the macabre demoralising nature of a lack of opportunities, corruption, a culture of impunity, media misinformation and unhealthy divisions. Poor governance and corruption can lead to a democratic recession. It can fuel the morbid symptoms of decay and instability.
Oddly, it can also be our finest hour as citizens as we graft a post-Kutako and post-Tanga heritage and future. As guest of the Namibian government in March 2015, the President of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keita defined the Tanga crop as ‘men of faith and men of mission’.
These men and women of Tanga pushed back against one of the ghastliest ills of our times, Apartheid colonialism. Correspondingly, the leadership and constituencies of our nation must push back against corruption, divisions, demagoguery and cynicism. It is what Chief Kutako would plead.
As one of the architects of our constitution, President Geingob has demonstrated commitment to the rule of law. Rules and not momentary impulses toward arbitrary actions ought to matter more than outcomes in a constitutional democracy. This can be irritating at times – but it is just how a democracy ought to function. Our noise as civil society should guard against anger submerging the democratic institutions whose raison d’être is to protect and to act on behalf of the people. The majority of Namibians intuit that this is their government and it must work for them.
For the most part, they are silent. They are not taking part in the sorry spectacle and orgy of anti-republican rants towards symbols and institutions of our democracy, including the values of tolerance that we committed to at our founding as a republic.
No society is guaranteed of a successful future. Each society must work hard to win the future. To win, we should deal with the catalogue of morbid symptoms. The uninspiring bickering about power deflects attention from the agenda of prosperity that will win the future. Even established democracies agree on a Presidential candidate by approbation. It is dishonest to say that consensus is anti-democratic. Moreover, the smallness of our public spats are not at par with the transformational promise of this Presidency.
Chairman Mao spoke about the ‘Great Leap Forward’, Deng Xiaoping allowed China’s take-off with his ‘three modernisations’, and Xi Jinping’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ seeks to catapult China ahead of the United States. There are analogues here, even if small. Prosperity, as a gigantesque transformational task was theorised by this Presidency after a conceptual framing of what the Nujoma and Pohamba Presidencies meant.
The daily management of economic problems notwithstanding, the Geingob Presidency sits (just like Chief Kutako) with the dual task of transformation and transition. While ambitioning to live up to its modernising promise of prosperity as transformation, it must in the same vein prepare our post-Tanga transition. For this dyad to occur, we as citizens, the media and civil society should raise our game. More importantly, we should let Hage get on with the job!
* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is a visiting fellow at Sciences Po Paris. He holds a PhD in political science from the Sorbonne.