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Opinion - Namibia: The death of nation-building?

2021-03-10  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Namibia: The death of nation-building?
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Andrė du Pisani

In an article, published on Friday, 18 December 2020 in The Namibian, Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari, press secretary in the Presidency, asked Namibians to “continue with the heritage of unity and tolerance”. 

His reference that “some of the prominent among us (politicians and analysts) are dangerously gambling by telling the lie that nation-building is a fluke and ours is a country in a Hobbesian state of tribalism, racism and divisions” is not entirely misplaced. It is true that some politicians and analysts stoke the embers of race, class, tribe and region. Why this is so, the author failed to answer.   

The author reminded readers that many Namibians “fought occupying forces in socially constructed ethnic geographies. But their moral victories have been to the benefit of a national history of development and nation-building since 1990”. It is precisely here that one of the current centrifugal currents originates: the failure of political leaders to value the diversity and range of actions and perspectives that individually and collectively built the most insightful guides to everyday life and the future. Namibia has to build both a common past and a common future. That, as Ali Mazrui warned, is a daunting undertaking.

Patriotic history

The patriotic history so prevalent in the mentalities of some political notables is the very worm in the apple of nation-building. Patriotic history and anti-colonial nationalism is by no means a sufficient condition for building a nation. While patriotism is widely viewed as both natural and good, philosophy teaches us that an emphasis on patriotic pride is, in the language of Martha Nussbaum, ‘morally dangerous’, adding that our ‘primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world’.

The philosopher, Richard Rorty, correctly in my view, argues that the right kind of patriotism is necessary for a united, harmonious society. He approves of the project of creating a national identity based on a ‘community of communities’, or what John Rawls calls ‘a social union of social unions’. National belonging is what enables diverse citizens to see that they are all in it together. The alternative, for Rawls, is ‘multiculturalism based on the politics of difference’. Thus, reconciliation is at the bottom a cultural and not a political project.

Usefully the author invoked the ethics of cosmopolitanism as exemplified in the thoroughly competent work of the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah. But, in the political practise of our country, ‘the heights of popularity and patriotism are still the beaten road to power and tyranny’, to paraphrase David Hume. The line between a legitimate love for one’s country and blind patriotism and loyalty is thin. Namibians need to be cosmopolitans and patriots. Our citizenship enables both.

Present and future

If indeed Namibians of different persuasions and gifts were to continue with ‘the heritage of unity and tolerance’, a more radical moral imagination would be needed, for more than the tribe has to die before the Nation can be built.  

Nation-building is impossible unless the networks of power and privilege of the past 30 years, enabled by the ideology of #corporatised liberation fall. Namibia needs to utilize all her social capital to transcend inequality and injustice and to ensure social protection for the most vulnerable. A national conversation on what it might mean to lay claim to the identity of being   ‘Namibian’ is urgently required. All Namibians need to work significantly harder at this and be more modest in their politics and divisive opinions. Perhaps, then the nation might rise from the ashes of history?


*  Andrė du Pisani is Emeritus Professor at the University of Namibia (Unam) with a keen interest in literature, moral philosophy, politics, photography and art. The views expressed are entirely his own.

2021-03-10  Staff Reporter

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