In Understanding Civil Society - History, debates and contemporary approaches, a contribution to the book Civil Society Peacebuilding, Christoph Spurk clarifies the concept of ‘civil society’ by going back to its historical and philosophical roots in order for us to give agency to the concept in different contexts.
Here, Spurk makes reference amongst others to Charles Montesquieu (1689-1755), simply referred to as Montesquieu, a French lawyer, man of letters and political philosopher, who lived during the Age of Enlightenment. Montesquieu elaborated his model of the separation of powers (De l’esprit des lois) where he distinguished, similarly to Locke, between political society (regulating the relations between citizens), but presents a far less sharp contrast between the two spheres.
Instead, he stresses a balance between central authority and societal networks (corps intermediaries), where the central authority (monarchy) must be controlled by the rule of law, and limited by the countervailing power of independent organisations (networks) that operate inside and outside the political structure (Merkel and Lauth 1985).
It is from this overview, however, that we recognise that paradigm shifts took place in how we conceptualise civil society today in Namibia, including “the change from equating civil society with the state itself towards opposing them, as well as from a purely economic understanding of civil society to a non-economic, political understanding”.
It is this (mis)understanding under quote which brings many at odds rather unnecessarily with the philosophy of the Affirmative Repositioning Movement (AR), a radical movement in Namibia primarily aimed at restoring the dignity of the hopeless masses of our people by improving the socio-economic conditions, the basis being in particular the master means of production: Land.
With the birth of the AR movement, Montesquieu›s «change from equating civil society with the state itself towards opposing them» reverberated, albeit in a disproportionately skeptical form on so many levels, particularly at political level, to a degree of cognitive dissonance.
Spurk furthermore in his contribution in the definition of the Structure and Positioning of Civil Society alludes that “Civil society is seen as a sector on its own, both different from the state and political sphere, and seen as differentiated from the market and the business sector (economic sphere)”.
The overlapping of these sectors sometimes causes for boundaries to be blurry, hence the false belief in political corridors that the AR movement is a political formation in the making, cheered on by a “third force”.
In order to debunk this problematic understanding by political structures of what civil society (ought to) entails, it’s paramount to clarify so in tandem with the “structure and position of civil society”, in this case the AR, and the clarity that the state can be opposed from within and outside the political structure by the AR, decisively rejecting the ill-informed notion that the AR may not engage the state.
Despite this, civil society often provides staff out of its ranks for the political society and its institutions, such as the request by then industrialisation minister Immanuel Ngatjizeko to the AR movement to nominate representatives to serve on five respective rent boards.
Again, another example par excellence of a government that is not serious with the housing crisis in our country, but rather opting to play Micky Mouse tricks.
For this reason, AR in the processes of articulation and negotiation of political interests within society, belonging to the family of civil society (associations and social movements), makes demands and not requests to the political society or state, but does not assume offices, contrary for example, to the dormant National Youth Council of Namibia (NYC), which exists at the mercy of requests.
* Benedick M Louw is the AR Land Indigenisation Envoy. You can follow him on twitter @benedick_m_louw