Namibians have over the years taken a backseat when it comes to holding government accountable. Citizen power refers to the effects of citizens’ engagement caused by power redistribution between the government and the governed, allowing the latter take a more active participation role in decision-making processes. The public must be reminded about the benefits that would come with greater citizen participation in government affairs. Because the question of citizen power has been a bone of political contention, most of the answers have been purposely buried in innocuous euphemisms like “self-help” or “citizen involvement.” Still others have been embellished with misleading rhetoric like “absolute control” which is something no one has or can have. Between understated euphemisms and exacerbated rhetoric, even scholars have found it difficult to follow the controversy.
To the headline reading public, it is simply bewildering. My answer to the critical ‘what’ question is simply that citizen participation is a categorical term for citizen power. It is the redistribution of power that enables the have-not citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately included in the future. But despite the great benefits that can be derived from citizen power, Namibians continue to take a lax approach on issues that affect their daily lives. Despite widespread unearthing by the media of poor governance practices and maladministration in the public sector, the citizenry seem uninterested in the affairs of their country. In other countries, the public follows-up on media reports that reveal poor practices in the public system by organizing mass demonstrations and holding public discussions on critical issues facing their countries but in Namibia we have adopted the “each one for himself and God for us all” concept.
Namibians need to understand that for leaders to remain on their toes, there is a level of pressure that must be exerted on them. Government has in recent years forged to create platforms where citizens can influence public policies, although questions have been raised. In the name of citizen participation, people are placed on rubberstamp advisory committees or advisory boards for the express purpose of “educating” them or engineering their support. Instead of genuine citizen participation, the bottom rung of the ladder signifies the distortion of participation into a public relations vehicle by powerholders.
Namibia continues to be a relatively stable, peaceful and well-managed country. But such positive factors should not create complacency amongst the citizenry to place their entire future in the hands of politicians. During a public discussion this week local entrepreneur Twapewa Kadhikwa, while expressing her shock at the closure of SME Bank, said “it seems we have left our destiny in the hands of people who do not care about us”. The statement holds a deep underlying message which borders on accountability and transparency. We need to understand the phrase in the sense that transparency and accountability must be sought and the onus rests upon us as citizens to actively participate in the affairs of the country. At the same time, government should continue providing avenues through which citizens can participate in the affairs of the country.