Sunday 18 April 2021
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Tribalism and ethnicism are retrogressive constructs

A recent Presidential town hall meeting that took place at Nkurenkuru in Kavango West made headlines for what many construe as a personal attack by President Hage Geingob on his Political Nemesis and Academic Arch-rival Professor Joseph Diescho.  Professor Diescho is regarded by his ardent supporters and sympathizers as the most educated man in Namibia; as if the level of a man’s education, intelligence and intellect can be measured solely by their attainment of a Professorship?
President Geingob at the occasion insisted on setting the record straight by highlighting the various opportunities afforded Professor Diescho as a ‘son of the soil,’ and how Diescho has  over the years “failed” to live up to expectations and professional assignments assigned to him.
His Executive Directorship at the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management being a case in point.
Moving unto the social media space, the Namibian Newspaper columnist Professor Ndumba Kamwanya who shares a similar ethnic heritage as Professor Diescho sought to steer tribal/ethnic sentiment by remarking that “The town hall meeting also revealed the people sowing division in Kavango against the Nyemba, Vimbundu and Chokwe”; identities which are not necessarily tribal or ethnic to begin with, but rather clan-based and dialect subsets of the greater Kavango people.
What is surprising however, is the amount of support Kamwanya received for pursuing an ethnic agenda that seeks to differentiate Namibians along tribal, ethnic and clan-based lines.
Cosmetic differences that undermine the development efforts of the Head of State in building a “Namibian House”, where all men and women are equal regardless of which language they speak and what customary norms and traditions they practice.
When people rely on superficial differences such as clan, dialect, tribe, race, gender and generational constructs and categories to advance their interests, they undermine their own collective will and capacity to confront the real challenges they face.
Lack of decent and affordable housing, unemployment and poverty are the critical issues faced by a significant number of Namibians residing in urban areas regardless of which ethnic groups or ‘tribal’ identities they assume.
In rural areas, persistent drought, human-wildlife conflict, negligible access to farming land that is suitable for animal husbandry and crop-production are factors that cut across ethnic lines and affect indigenous Namibians regardless of their geographic location within the boundaries/borders of the state.
These are the issues that need to be addressed and not which ethnic group those appointed by the President belong too.
The President himself comes from an ethnic background which only makes up11.4% of the total Namibian population according to the 2011 Population and Housing Census.
Regardless of his ethnic identity Hage Geingob has managed to rise to the highest level as Head of State overtaking political competitors who see his Damara heritage as an inherent weakness which otherwise makes him unworthy of the country’s Presidency.
Amongst his own kith and kin President Geingob has been unfairly treated because of his insistence on not being labeled as a ‘tribesman’ but rather a nationalist in a Namibian context. Since assuming office President Geingob has been invited to attend the Damara cultural festival which he has always declined.
Not because he is ashamed of his background but because the organizers of the event under the Damara Kings Council have long been associated with apartheid colonial government which Hage has always stood against.
It is understandable why Hage the person and Hage the Head of State would not want to be associated with apartheid “Bantustan” collaborators under the false impression of unity and reconciliation.
The question of ethnic identity in Namibia is unnecessarily sensitive. Through collective brain-washing, influential academics like Diescho and Kamwanyah seek to sow division amongst Namibians by invoking feelings of helplessness amongst those that speak the same language as themselves by laying the blame on those that speak a different language. They tend to resort to fear mongering of tribal extremism in Namibia, by summoning the ghosts of the Rwandan genocide (that they only witnessed in the movie Hotel Rwanda which took place thousands of kilometers away under totally different circumstances) to try and whip up emotions by threatening that the same may happen in Namibia.
The inability to distinguish between negative stereotyping and tribal extremism due to ethnic intolerance have made supporters of these learned men become victims of an irrational fear which is retrogressive and subtracts from the significant gains made in building a Namibian house which was once divided along nefarious ethnic lines.
Namibia is a constitutional democracy that affords citizens protection from ethnic discrimination.
There are also legal avenues available for individuals who imagine themselves to be victims of ethnic discrimination.
Unlike the people’s court of facebook and various other social media these judicial systems are governed by systems and processes which would require Diescho and Kamwanyah to bring forth evidence to be tested by the courts whether their assertions that some language groups in Namibia receive special consideration when it comes to appointment to authoritative positions at the expense of those from different language groups.
The alarmist posturing and scare-mongering in the country at the moment in reaction to anything ethnic related serves to confirm a popular mistrust amongst the country’s citizens.
However it should be noted that these mistrusts are a result of harmless negative stereotyping which all Namibians are victims and perpetrators of and not necessarily cultural intolerance towards those who come from different ethnic backgrounds. It is rather tragic that well travelled and highly educated men such as Ndumba and Diescho would expose their duplicity in advocating ‘One Namibia One Nation’ when it is suitable to advance their interests but rely on ethnic differences to peddle untruths and malice when they cannot find reason to attack those whose leadership they oppose.

Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent Columnist

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