Saturday 15 May 2021
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Identity politics and the Land question in Namibia

The land reform process in Namibia has not been without its squables and struggles, to say the least! Namibian government has had to deal with the country’s cultural diversity, different ethnic groups and multiple communities. Since independence, the land reform process has been based on then official policies of “nation building” and reconciliation. These policies attempts to ignore and downplay the existence of ethnic differences and tension in the country. The government has redistributed land from white farmers to Namibian citizens without considering their ethnicity or race. This should be greatly appreciated. Whether it has had the desired result is another issue entirely. Land redistribution in Namibia has been a matter of contention in the past years or dare I say since the first national land conference in 1991. So, conclusions could be drawn from different perspectives that, in ignoring the differences in ethnic origins and tensions that comes with it, the land redistribution has not had the desired results or outcomes, compared to what could have been if the government has considered these complexities and differences while adopting policies regarding the land.
Identity or identity politics is unique. It’s different from country to country. It’s quit strong in some country such as Namibia, South Africa, Nigeria and others and quite weak in others. One thing is for sure identities exist everywhere. And it’s were the politics of identity originates, which people use, mostly to their advantage, ignoring it does not at all help our political landscape or our government, especially in a very contentious issue such as land.
Different identities exist in our country. Like South Africa, Namibia continues to be divided, by different identities, no matter how ignorant we are about it. Ethnicity (language, race, and sometimes tradition) and classes continues to be divided. This should be considered while talking about land or redistributing land, to make our policy more effective and much considerate. The imergency of of party loyalty created by the state has further complicated the issue of land. Redistribution of land has often been accused of favouritism, of being given to those close to the ruling party leaders or affiliated to the party. The refusal of the Ministry of Land to publicise the list of redistributed land beneficiaries or recipients implies that there is something in this argument.
The president has recently emphasised in the importance of local authorities, and how they can handle then land, or work as the agents of the state in land redistribution. This is indeed a bold and very important statement. During, colonial times and immediately after, traditional authorities has had a telling effects in Namibian politics, and indeed made the work of the government much easier in redistributing land to Namibian citizens. The downturn has been that the powers of traditional authorities have mostly been reduced, and their legitimacy downplayed in many instances. Some chiefs or king has been recognised by government and others have not. The issue of traditional identity has also complicated land redistribution, as many chiefs and queens of certain races mostly identify with their subject in allocating land. It’s would be naïve to say that land redistribution at local level has been a complete success.
Regional segregation is another issue that has a bearing on the land question. In mplementing different regions, mostly based on geography rather than ethnicity or class, the Namibian government hoped to prevent segragation and division among Namibians, to unite the people and allow different ethnic groups to exist together in harmony. We can’t say this policy has worked a charm. Far from it, many Namibians have settled where their countrparts are. So identities, division and segregation are truly well and alive in Namibia. This should be the entry point for our land conference. We need to use the land to unite and stabilize the nation.  The multiplicity of our regions has enhanced our division and diversity; and it has had a telling effect on our land policies.
We know the government has been doing its best to tackle division and identity complexities in the country, although not well enough to have any positive results. Like South Africa, the government has played politics of accommodation, through notions of nation building, the Namibian house, harambee, pulling together and one Namibia one nation, affirmative action etc., theoretically these all sounds amazing, action and implementation though has not been forthcoming. The issue of having one official language, which is foreign and have local languages so different from one another, has complicated our identities. Language barrier and communication has been a problem in our country, these complications further complicate our identity politics and the land question. The ignorance of government to recognise these complexities and differences in class and ethnicity is indeed baffling. The issues that exist and the flaws in our land policies highlight the need to recognise these complexities. More than 25 years after independence, the land continues to be an issue of contention, and destabilize or governance and to an extent threatens our peace. Many people continue to fight for land and lay claims to ancestral land, etc., which again government has ignored, in the second land conference. We all hope this conference brings about meaningful conclusions and resolutions to the land question, but the ignorance from government, lack of consultation and exclusion of the major parties involved in the land both urban and rural make us wonder if there would be ever a successful and progressive answer or solution to the issue of land. Something tell us that even after the land conference, questions over land would continue, and be even more intense.
*Tobias Joseph is native of Okapya Village up north. He studies Master of Arts in Political Studies at the University of Namibia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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