• August 9th, 2020

Searching for anecdotes of home-grown foreign policy


The revolutionary icon of Namibia’s fight against colonisation, Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi, demonstrated astuteness and foresight when he diplomatically engaged traditional chiefs and foreign colonial settlers for balance of power in the territory called Namibia today during the period starting from around 1880.

These were the years known as the Scramble for Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884, where European leaders carved up Africa for colonization.  Territories like Namibia today came to be known as German Southwest Africa.
Professor Sanders (2014) in his contributing article in the published book Namibian Diplomacy before independence, stated that people living in what is now Namibia engaged in forms of diplomacy among themselves and with others before German colonization began in 1884, and once the Germans had arrived, Hendrik Witbooi, the leader of the Nama, and others engaged them diplomatically as well as militarily.
The Hendrik Witbooi Journals provide ample examples of thorough knowledge of Witbooi about proper forms of address to government leaders, traditional leaders and those in charge of institutions and entities, already in the 1880s.

Hillebrecht, in her book “Hendrik Witbooi and Samuel Maharero: The Ambiguity of Heroes” wrote that the Journals of Hendrik Witbooi consist of incoming and outgoing diplomatic and administrative correspondence, treaties and proclamations.  
Namibia entered the international arena as a sovereign country at independence in 1990.  Foreign policy conceptualization therefore started in all earnest and some of the documents produced were the Foreign Policy Regulations, Manual of Operations, Protocol Manual, and other administrative and financial guideline documentations.  

More formal foreign policy conceptualization took place in 2004 with the development of the White Paper on Foreign Policy.  Of late, Namibia’s Policy on International Relations and Cooperation was published in January 2017 after wider consultations.  In the words of the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, the pillars of international relations have changed and new issues, both domestic and global, have emerged.

Some of the issues stated in the document are climate change, human and environmental security, human trafficking, terrorism … which require global and national attention and resolve.  Of late, we are in the grip of a deadly pandemic, coronavirus or code-named Covid-19, which has spread like wildfire all over the world. All countries, including Namibia, have come up with drastic measures to curtail it, like declaring it an emergency crisis, and closing or cancelling major points of mass gatherings.
The global and domestic issues like this deadly pandemic will constantly change and will adversely affect world communities and countries simultaneously and differently.  

Inter-dependency and multilateralism are therefore accepted hallmarks for closer cooperation amongst nations of the world for greater security and peace in the world.  
To appropriately and uniquely contribute and partake in international fora, each country demonstrates its peculiar character, which are shaped by its cultures, beliefs and history.  In the words of our founding father, Sam Nujoma, people who do not know where they are coming from, will not know where they are going. And frequently, we are reminded through these documents that foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy.  

The 2017 Policy on International Relations and Cooperation states that Namibia’s foreign policy at independence was shaped by lessons learned during the national liberation struggle, diplomatic efforts and lobbying done at the United Nations, Southern Africa Development Coordinating Committee, the Organization of African Unity and the Non-Alignment Movement.

These are amongst the first ingredients necessary to help formulate Namibia’s foreign policy, but equally important is for us to look further down the road of where we are coming from and chart the way forward for where we want to go.  Going back further down the road, at the dawn of the Berlin Conference in 1884, our forefathers were engaged in fierce battles with meagre resources to fight foreign occupation, to protect and preserve this land.  They made supreme sacrifices with their lives in that process. 

The Foreign Policy of Namibia should therefore include ingredients of realities experienced by early Namibian citizens, starting with the likes of Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi and their vision for an independent Africa and Namibia.  How they wanted to project the land, possessions and their people, and in the process to tell an unambiguous complete story. 

Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi wrote letters to far-off countries like Japan and China already in the 1880s. Does it not ring a bell that we are coming from somewhere?  The subjects of discussion in Hendrik Witbooi’s Diary related to colonial occupation, land dispossession, pan-Africanism, and world matters.  

Namibia’s foreign policy should therefore interrogate whether the visions and perspectives held by our forefathers and foremothers possessed elements deserving to be incorporated into home-grown foreign policy conceptualization.  
The United Nations for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) wrote about Hendrik Witbooi that his insights into the nature of colonialism, about the fundamental difference between conflict with African competitors and with European invaders, his attempts at formulating African legal concepts and the visionary and poetic power of some of his texts are the qualities that set his letters apart and above the bulk of contemporary and earlier African texts of the same genre, that the texts include the probably first written formulation of the concept of Pan-Africanism.

Brigitte Lau, in one of her writings about Hendrik Witbooi stated that hardly any other African tribal leader kept written records of his experiences, views, meetings and agreements or had handwritten copies made of his correspondences.
Namibia is in a unique position to draw on views and experiences of early vanguards of the Namibian struggle against colonization and include these in foreign policy conceptualization. Studies and researches could interrogate and popularize their views on major national and world issues.  If not, these treasures will remain inconspicuous, irrelevant, and not to inspire and guide generations to come.


Staff Reporter
2020-04-30 10:14:40 | 3 months ago

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