For the past several years, we have been living under the illusion that, after the colonial sunset, we had crossed that historic bridge from inequality to equality, conflict to absolute peace, and from poverty to prosperity. The nation was hopeful at the dawn of independence that we were shaping a society grounded in common citizenship and the African Ubuntu. I think it is high time that we reflect on the journey we have travelled - a journey we believe it is that of democracy, diverse cultures, high moral and ethical values, cherished national ideals and unity. There is a universal principle that states that every generation has a moral obligation to work on behalf of the next generation. Can the old generation that liberated the country confidently say, today, that, after independence, they have acted worthy of themselves, protected and passed on, lovingly and not grudgingly, that biblical “shining city on a hill” called Namibia to the following generation? The natural way to begin that exercise of reflection and introspection, I argue, is by way of a moral question: What is the moral state of our nation today? Morality is, however, a subjective and relative concept, but scholars of note have defined morals as those prevailing standards of behaviour that enable people to live cooperatively in a community or nation. They are what communities, societies or nations sanction to be acceptable. For the purpose of this piece, the author has identified six (of many) positive values which are common in many modern African societies against which our nation should morally evaluate itself. These values are believed to be responsible for moral regeneration in Africa and shape the moral fabrics of many nations:
Human dignity and equality
Our founding documents affirm that all human beings are created equal, with certain inalienable rights and equal dignity. For the past few years, our news cycle has been filled with protests about provision of housing, gender-based violence, abuse of children, plight of our veterans, youth empowerment, etc. Have we adequately addressed those issues? The answer is probably in the negative. Because we still have citizens living in deplorable conditions in the forgotten corners of our country, and some who still have no place to call home. We are still living in a society where mothers and girls are beaten within an inch of their lives. We are raising our children in a society where, by the age of 16, more than 70% of them will have experienced or witnessed violence; and a sizeable number of our youth still feel left out. Given the aforementioned social ills, we should, perhaps, introspect ourselves, first and foremost, as to whether we respect human dignity and whether our economy extends opportunities to every willing heart.
Upholding honesty and integrity
Honesty is the ability to always deal in truth and integrity is the ability to adhere to the moral principles of life. For the past several years, we have witnessed a condition which some refer to as “cognitive dissonance” creeping into our governance systems, where those entrusted with power may be presented with facts, and sometimes truth, but they still choose to deny them and create some new realities around themselves which, eventually, become their truth. Plundering of the nation’s resources have been normalised. Personally and hilariously, my biggest display of dishonesty was when a former President once remarked, as once reported by some local media houses, that he was shocked to learn that there are so many informal settlements in Namibia, and when the current head of state once expressed “anger” at the growing shacks in the country. That was dishonest and insincere to me. In order to uphold this value, we need a system of good governance with honest and ethical leaders, and judicial system that punishes all forms plunder, theft, extortion, bribery and exploitation.
Material wellbeing and economic justice
Given the tragic past that has haunted our economic system since independence, the socio-economic rights enshrined in our laws should be as practical as they are inspirational. We ought to ask ourselves: Have we ensured that our policies and programmes aimed at uplifting the poor, vulnerable and those on society’s margins have worked? Economic justice can hardly be achieved if more than 90% of the economy is controlled by 8% of the population. We still have rampant corruption in Namibia widely reported in our media which hampers the distribution of resources for the material well-being of citizens. Some public institutions are still managed by the dishonest and greedy. Entrenched economic and material inequalities are still part our society. The more things appear to have changed for the better, the more they remain the same.
Family and community values
In Africa, our individualism has always been bound by a set of values - the glue upon which every healthy society depends. We call it Ubuntu. We value the imperatives of family and the cross-generational obligations that family implies, although some call it “black tax”. We value the community which expresses itself in the statement: “It takes a village to raise a child”; and we value something bigger than ourselves - whether that something expresses itself in a formal religion or ethical precepts. We ought to, then, ask ourselves questions: Do we nurture children as we should and instil family values in them? Do we take care of the elderly and respect our parents as a cultural imperative? Have we, as a country, fought against the neglect of family responsibilities whether due to alcohol abuse or other factors? Do we promote collective responsibility among families and communities within the spirit of Ubuntu?
Ensuring harmony in culture, beliefs and conscience
Namibia is a racial and ethnic society. We benefit from different cultures and beliefs drawn from every corner of this country. However, we have seen our diversity being used as a tool to divide and disenfranchise us instead of building us. As a historic fact, race has been used to ensure that a certain group of minority controls the country’s means of production. Culture has been used, through ethnicity, to extend opportunities only to certain tribesmen and women. We have seen religion being used to exploit the poor, gullible, and the vulnerable of our society. How do we ensure that our cultural and religious beliefs strengthen social cohesion and not exploitation? Are we still we men and women of conscience?
Striving for justice
The past few weeks, we have witnessed a clash of ideas in our national chambers relating to reconciliation. At the centre of that debate was the question whether Namibians have reconciled post-independence, not only with the former colonisers, but also with each other, especially different ethnic groups in our country. Part of the reasons why such debates are resurfacing is because we have probably not dealt, adequately, with the question of reconciliation and restorative justice as far as the injustices of the past are concerned. Some quarters feel they have not benefitted fairly from the national cake despite having suffered at the hands of the colonisers. Have we ensured justice and fairness to prevail in the administration of government and do we promote peaceful co-existence of people from different backgrounds?
If moral decay, economic injustice, hopelessness, rampant corruption and plunder do not paint a picture of a nation following that perilous path towards nothingness, I wonder what does. We need a serious reflection in the “year of introspection” as declared by the President.