In his documentary, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage,” Ali Mazrui a distinguished Kenyan scholar maintains that colonialism separated and grouped people against their will. He cites the Biafra War, which almost tore Nigeria apart from 1967 to 1970, as an example of such forced merging. In Namibia, Apartheid and the Odendaal Commission bred the Bantustan system, which divided Namibians and resettling them in locations along ethnic lines hence there are Ovambo Lokasie, Herero Location, Nama and Damara lokasies.
Like elsewhere in Africa, nationalism in Namibia meant to abolish such ethnic orientation and tendencies, but they are refusing to die. What is mostly hit is the employment sector where lately there was a call to employ people per quota system based on ethnicity.
The government and its nationalistic agencies were caught off-guard and fumbled about the labour policies, which are hardly implemented equally and satisfactorily to all Namibians.
Ethnicity is an ideology of the modern times often used by the political elite to mobilise ethnic populations to achieve narrow elite objectives. Its crafting is always the work of the educated elite who seek to seize advantage over rival elite from other ethnic groups in a competition for mean resources. To understand ethnicity’s roots in Africa, one cannot ignore the role of western education in the shaping of this ideology. According to the cultural capital theory of education as advanced by Bernestein (1977) and Bourdieu (1977) among others, the school is involved in the distribution, reproduction and legitimation of cultural capital in a class-based society.
Thus, although the school is not the originator of the differential allocation of cultural capital, yet it facilitates and enhances unequal accumulation of inherited cultural capital. As a result, dominant social groups use the education system to secure privilege across generations and because of their cultural and political domination, educational selection becomes based on criteria that favour their offspring.
Bowles and Gintis (1977) equally argued that Western formal schools reproduced and served the interests, values and personality characteristics necessary in a repressive capitalist society and reinforced class inequalities. Thirty years of freedom has continued to imbue into the minds of the Katutura schoolgoing children, that schools in central Windhoek are no-go areas. Schools in the countryside continue to be segregated along with socio-economic basis in terms of facilities.
This scenario has been played out repeatedly since the colonial era and policies of successive regimes have reflected this desire to secure an advantage for an ethnic constituency over all other ethnic constituencies. Colonial politics, such as it was, helped to create the ethnic social organisations that were dominant in most African countries at independence.
Obviously, given the uneven patterns of colonial economic and educational development, this abrupt change in the ways of conducting the affairs of state meant that certain ethnic groups were more likely to occupy these powerful positions in the new government than others were. The situation in Namibia calls for interrogation wherein some sectors one ethnicity dominates others, and in some regional councils like the Zambezi, gender equality is non-existent.
This makes the call for gender equality in all spheres hollow and elusive. It has also become crystal clear that in Namibia certain positions are reserved for the particular chosen few, whose criteria is ethnicity. If the lesser Namibian occupies such position, the incumbent puppeteers and threatened by the power that be, despite the constitutional provision which guarantees equal opportunity for all.
In some offices, employment-seekers are subjected to portray their ethnicity-belongingness. Advertisements are just formalities, as incumbents to such positions are always predetermined before the interviews. All these issues are known and done before the eyes and ears of ministers and executive directors. An explanation should be sought then about the dominance of other ethnic groups at the expense of others, whereas nationalism entails that all groups in the country should have access to employment and equal opportunities.
Ethnicity has again become the most prominent feature in the competition for the goods of modernisation such as land, markets, jobs, education, etc. For these reasons and more, ethnicity has refused to die. Instead, it continues to gain more power to divide people politically even in the face of national and an emergent class-consciousness.
As Vail (1989) has noted, this shows quite clearly that ethnicity is not a natural cultural residue but a consciously crafted ideological creation that is very modern and dynamic. The indications are that given the prevailing circumstances, it will continue to feature prominently in African politics -Namibia being no exception. It is therefore counterproductive to ignore it as an embarrassing phenomenon that should have “disappeared”.
Ethnic loyalty, identification and hostility are inherited by future generations through socialisation. The agents of political socialisation become infected with the germ of the prescribed ethnic ideology. Thus, even when the primary basis of inter-ethnic hostilities is removed, there remains the problem posed by the internalised dimension of the ethnic ideologies. It is not ethnicity that brings bad politics but it is bad politics that bring ethnicity. By extension, bad politics contrives to misuse education to advance ethnic causes. It is this bad politics that must be brought to an end.
The de-ethnicisation of education is an important area to begin in controlling the harmful effects of ethnicity in national life and this can only be achieved through a new constitutional dispensation that can serve to guide equity not only in education but in all other aspects of national life. In Namibia, after thirty years of nationhood, the political panorama has remained ethnic, where the electorate has been voting for parties based on regionalism and ethnicity. To secure its future as a society, Namibia must strive to make education a force for good, apply the Affirmative Action policy to cater for the marginalized societies and perhaps apply some forms of ethnic balancing mechanisms.