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Opinion - The impact of tribalism and ethnicity on Namibian political dynamics

2023-06-08  Correspondent

Opinion - The impact of tribalism and ethnicity on Namibian political dynamics

Johanna Hipangelwa

Namibia, a varied country with an interesting past, is dealing with the impact of tribalism and ethnicity on its political processes. 

Tribalism and ethnicity have played/play an important role in determining Namibia’s political processes. Namibia’s history is characterised by colonialism and apartheid, both of which deepened tribal differences and ethnic identities. German colonial authority and apartheid practices by South Africa deepened these divisions, leaving a legacy of ethnic strife and socioeconomic spread. As a result, knowing the current political dynamics driven by tribalism and ethnicity is critical to understanding this historical backdrop. 

Tribal connections have influenced the establishment and support base of political parties in Namibia, among other possible barriers to efficient democratic governance and social cohesion. Some parties have arisen along tribal lines, representing and supporting the interests of distinct ethnic communities. As a result, political representation is fragmented and limited to cross-ethnic collaboration. 

Additionally, tribal and ethnic impacts frequently manifest in voting patterns, causing voters to choose candidates from their own ethnic group. This phenomenon has the potential to overshadow candidates’ legitimacy (such as policy platforms, qualifications, and leadership ability). The ethnic voting patterns that result contribute significantly to a lack of variety in political representation and impede the formation of inclusive, merit-based political systems. 

Furthermore, ethnicity and tribalism have a significant impact on policy formation and implementation, since political parties may embrace ethnic-based policies in order to appeal to specific voter groups, potentially increasing divisions and sustaining tribal identities. Such policies run the risk of putting the interests of specific groups ahead of the collective requirements of the entire nation, limiting inclusive government and socioeconomic progress. 

In a nutshell, the ethnic-centred interests leave the value of a shared national identity and goals becomes questionable. This impedes the development of a cohesive society and weakens efforts to rectify socioeconomic imbalances, as well as interfering with the efforts to build a nation. 


Strategies to mitigate negative consequences 

As previously stated, the issue of tribalism and ethnicity in Namibia’s political landscape is complex and multifaceted, necessitating a comprehensive approach based on careful analysis and considerations to counteract the negative effects of tribalism and ethnicity on Namibia’s political dynamics.

The above is of paramount importance. This includes fostering inter-ethnic dialogue, strengthening civic education, enforcing inclusive policies, reforming political parties, strengthening independent institutions, promoting responsible media, engaging grassroots communities, exemplifying inclusive leadership, and resolving conflicts through reconciliation. 

To summarise, while tribal ties can contribute to divisions and issues, creating national unity, encouraging inclusive government, and resolving historical injustices are critical to reducing the repercussions. Namibia can overcome tribal tensions and establish a more cohesive and inclusive political scene by prioritising inclusivity, unity, and equitable representation. 


* Johanna Hipangelwa is a final-year Political Science student. 


2023-06-08  Correspondent

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