One of the biggest diseases threatening to tear the country apart 27 years after independence is the (re)emergence of what is described glibly as tribalism. In a very strange way, tribalism is a symptom of a bigger illness in post-colonial Afrikan states. In the first place, post-colonial entities that call themselves states have not transformed their own communities into states with bureaucracies that run resources like states.
The post-colonial political elites use apparatuses of state, which they inherit from their colonial master in the same manner that they were used before, namely to subjugate and abuse traditional communities while the leaders behave as though they are monarchies to be worshipped and revered permanently just like the nincompoop rulers of traditional fiefdoms did in the pre- and colonial times. In other words, many Afrikan Heads of State behave like traditional rulers and expect tribes to die! In the main, our leaders expect to be worshipped because they distribute largesse among their subjects who must show grace or get harsh retribution if they differ in thought from the Big Ruler. In the absence of a system wherein all are equal, tribalism returns as the only form of community voice of disaffection and dissent.
Before we blame apartheid, colonialism, imperialism and opposition, we must do a proper and honest diagnosis of this difficulty before it is too late. First, the communities that are reasserting themselves with at times unpleasant voices have always been there and were managed in a manner that did not infuriate them to the extent that they could say we need to be seen/treated differently or are not taking this anymore. Second, the accounts on the ground indicate that the fingers are pointing to government as the naked emperor which has not taken its people seriously.
Third, we need to take both the blame and the responsibility as a nation by admitting that we have taken things for granted and have not begun the process of serious, deliberate and truth-based process of nation-building. Fourth, we have not been mature to separate the realities of governance and management from each other such that we would have found proper minds, hands and instruments to take care of them.
In other words, we seem to equate governance (which is political) with management (which is technical and professional). That is why we politicisse everything and have the wrong people to do things beyond their capabilities. This explains why we sit with the same managers of an economy that is way beyond their abilities, good citizens though they are. Hence, the economic quagmire we are in right now. Fifth, we must accept with a patriotic sense that 27 years after independence we have not developed a national leadership that champions our national character instead of separate identities, be they along tribal, ethnic, language, religious and recently political party lines.
All these formations eat away at our national character and strength. There is not one single national leader who stands up to chastise us all that in order for the nation to live and flourish the tribe or the political party must die. Our leaders would rather kill the nation to save their party or tribe. Today Namibia is oddly more colourful NOT as a nation, but in tribal, ethnic and political party uniforms at the expense of the national flag and other national symbols, starting right at the top of our political governance and national resource management. The nation is drowning in the ever multiplying formations of difference. For instance, functions of and by the governing party Swapo across the country, give a strong sense that we are still in the struggle to liberate the country.
They are sites of freedom songs, pumping of fists in the air, and war cries of impending victory, instead of celebrating with thanks the national accomplishments in the last quarter of a century. We are still in the mode of being victims and blaming someone – all the time! All the role models we lift up are pre-independence role players who operated in a different context from ours. There are no thinkers, no innovators, no creators of knowledge or industry, unless they tell lies that they were feeding freedom fighters when the records show otherwise. This is where we all must begin our self-examination.
The starting point is how we define our problems. What is tribalism in our context? Why is it a problem today when it was not three years ago? The population neither expanded nor decreased exponentially to warrant such a national consternation. Let us, therefore, use our own experiences to find, define and solve our problem, if it is there in the first place.
In most Afrikan languages, the term tribe does not translate to mean the same as tribe, stam or Stamm. When people refer to themselves in historical contexts they call themselves communities or nations, and their traditional leaders are referred to as kings or noble rulers – not chiefs. In all the Kavango languages, the term used for what is called chiefs in English is Hompa or Fumu, in Otjiherero Ombara, in Oshiwambo languages Omukwaniilwa or Ohamba, in Setswana Kgosi, in Silozi Litunga. The Namas and Damaras referred to this supreme ruler as Gaob. These terms mean king or supreme ruler in the same manner reference is made to God, therefore denoting the supremacy and finality of their authority and as courts of final appeal in their jurisdictions.
Not only would a policy of this nature protect everybody, but would be a better foundation for sustainable peace and stability. Our real problem is not tribalism, but lack of national cohesion, and a leadership to drive it. There is a serious need for a social cohesion conference before it is too late!