Landless People’s Movement leader Bernadus Swartbooi has struck a conciliatory tone by warning Namibians to guard against ethnic nationalism, which he said is real, yet citizens do not learn the hard lessons of its ugly side.
“Ethnic nationalism is a dangerous political and social shift away from the discourse of reconstructing a new African nation and building a successful nation-state on the continent,” Swartbooi said in his nation-building address on Wednesday.
In Namibia, Swartbooi said the nation-state stands weakened and less representative of the people of Namibia.
“Ethnic political orientation creates a temporary false sense of power and security, yet all of us are collectively made less secure, less free, less equal and less peaceful,” he said.
He said the Namibian state of the 21st century is analysed, perceived and experienced from an ethnic lens, not as a steward of the promises of freedom and independence.
“It is a machine of exclusion and negative discrimination. It is a cash cow for the elite and their associates – not as our collective political steward,” he added.
To illustrate his point, Swartbooi said by comparing the Rwandan experience with where Namibia is today, the parallels are striking.
Referring to Rwanda, Swartbooi said from 1962 to 1994, exclusion of some citizens in the public sector jobs on ethnic basis became institutionalised. “Opportunities for personal upward mobility in social and economic spheres was reserved for ethnic clientele,” he said.
“Elite corruption was shielded via ethnic loyalties and a deep state system that became conspiratorial in character. Any sense of national consciousness was a nuisance, ridiculed and brushed off as a weakness, as wanting to gain political mileage.”
He said when the legitimacy of the Rwandan government became questioned and progressively eroded, they fell back to their ethnic constituency, investing state resources in the regions of origin of the leadership to maintain a semblance of political support.
“Rwanda became further fragmented: the seeds of self-destruction and genocide were planted deeply, and they were now inevitable. And so, we saw the genocide of over eight hundred thousand moderate Hutus and Tutsis (800 000),” he said.
“Sounds familiar to Namibia? The fault lines and fissures of exclusion, corruption and ethnic clientelism are evident in Namibia.”
He said the silencing of political discourse different and just, as being ethnocentric, geared at disturbing peace and stability, are the notions Namibians are exposed to daily.
“Underlying these verbal threats and venom, the deployment of troops inside the border of the country to drive home a threat of military punishment of others is clear today,” he said.
He claimed the militarisation of parliament is real and evident today in the country.