Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari
On 17 August 2019, at the 39th SADC Summit in Dar Es Salaam, after the familiar United Republic of Tanzania and SADC anthem had been played, President Hage G. Geingob rose gently to the podium to deliver his final statement as Chairperson of the regional organisation. There was a deafening silence as the Namibian President made the short, but intensely consequential walk to the podium. The self-effacing, and trademark brief statement by President Geingob in front of 12 out of 16 SADC Heads of State and Government reflected a fine balance between the difficult tasks that had been achieved under the Namibian Chair, and the challenges that lay ahead in attempts to foster a stronger and closer SADC. Without question, for those in attendance, and as many whispered and applauded as the President read the statement, the Namibian Chair had raised the bar with his diplomacies and our soft power.
The Democratic Republic of Congo represented by a freshly inaugurated President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi, nodding in quiet agreement as the outgoing Chair read the statement, was a fine testimony to the difficult missions that had been accomplished by President Geingob. Following Presidential elections in December 2018, the DRC had 7 months prior to Summit inaugurated President Tshisekedi in the first peaceful transfer of power since 1960. President Geingob tactfully guided the politico-diplomatic track by building consensus among key African actors, patiently engaging diverse parties in the domestic electoral contest, urging inclusion, restraint, dialogue and respect for the institutions of the DRC. Moreover, the presence of President Azali Assoumani of the Union of the Comoros added an allure of the accomplished outsized tasks. President Geingob was always available on the margins of summits - gracious but firm in his counsel to President Assoumani, emphasizing peace, inclusion, rule of law and the primacy of institutions during a difficult political transition in that country. Unsurprisingly, the skillful work of the Namibian President as SADC Chair is widely commented in African and European capitals. After all, the President as Namibia’s Brand Ambassador in Chief enhanced as Chair of SADC our national prestige and brand Namibia as reliable and dependable in fostering development, dialogue and peace. Oddly, the Namibian trumpet has been absent regarding the stellar work, highlighted in the SADC Communiqué of 18 August 2019, which in point 17, endorsed the operationalisation of KiSwahili as the fourth working language of the organisation.
KiSwahili, which the Namibian government announced recently as a language to be taught optionally from 2021 in Namibian schools has been met with bouts of ridicule, careless analysis, if not visible xenophobia. The question we should now ask ourselves is: how did we get here, to the point of self-hate where we cannot applaud excellence in Presidential actions? How did we reach this stage, where a country whose past of struggle is deeply rooted in the solidarity of the people of the region, entertains toxic nativist conversations about an African language? What are we saying about ourselves by mainstreaming xenophobia, self-hate, anger and institutional disrespect, passing these frivolously for fair reflections of public sentiment?
We have to remind ourselves that our history and identity as Namibians is intimately connected to the people of Tanzania, Angola, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many strangers in other parts of the world who have contributed to our voyage. In 1963, the 3rd President journeyed into the hazardous unknown, spending a year in Botswana, determinedly living on hope for several months in Kinshasa with strangers whose language he could barely speak – but who accepted him as one of their own. Professor Peter Katjavivi would recount his years in Tanzania as a freedom fighter, alongside the first heroic female PLAN fighter Auguste “Mukwahepo” Immanuel, who oversaw provisions meticulously. Our nation’s history is that mélange of influences, experiences of heroic and ordinary individuals, and these constitute in part, the Namibian nation.
Is it not odd that we teach French, Mandarin, German and Portuguese in our schools without commotion! Which makes it shocking to see that the introduction of a beautiful widely spoken African language would generate an anti-African debate, which is the contrary of what you would expect from our young nation. Harvard University historian Jill Lepore in her book, This Amercia: The Case for the Nation reminds, “Nations are made of people held together by history, like wattle and daub or lath and blaster or bricks and mortar”. In that vein, as we are imagining a better Namibian House, we cannot do so without an imagined past. We cannot imagine our past and shape a better future by talking and writing about ourselves as if we have not done great things in the past.
As we edge closer to 30 years of freedom, President Geingob was intentional in his 2020 New Year message when he said that as citizens and as ambassadors of our nation’s brand, we should engage in a journey of introspection, reflecting on our shortcomings and successes, all in the interest of improvement. That journey of reflection is the basis for crafting a better, a more inclusive and confident Namibia. Yes, President Geingob will play his part as the first among us. Still, it is our individual and collective responsibility as citizens to raise the Namibian brand to the pedestal of successful nations.
* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is the presidential spokesperson
2020-01-31 08:07:48 | 4 months ago