15 February 2013

Namibia: Swapo's Shame of the Exile Child

Photo: IRIN
File photo of street children in Zambia.

IT WAS somewhat disappointing to hear Prime Minister Hage Geingob give a standard answer about the so-called struggle kids' march for jobs.

Geingob was quoted by the media as saying that the government cares about all Namibians and that the GRN is addressing the national employment in "a holistic", "systematic" and "methodical" manner. There is of course merit in his reasoning, but the hypocrisy is palpable here: I did not hear anybody saying government is for all the people when Chinese scholarships were awarded to senior politicians' children in 2009. Nor do I hear the same when government tenders, farms and fishing quotas are awarded to relatives, friends and acquaintances.

What exactly does the PM mean by addressing Namibia's skyrocketing unemployment rate 'holistically, systematically and methodically'?

The government's half-hearted response toward the 'struggle kids' issue hasn't been systematic but rather a one-size-fits-all approach of reserved entry-level government jobs. This very same response is what is turning public support against the 'struggle kids' because people see them as being treated differently than other Namibians. But also reserving jobs for some (due to where they were born) might actually be unconstitutional.

Prime Minister Geingob further said that the government cannot be held hostage or coerced through demonstrations and occupations. Describing a protest or demonstration by the citizens demanding jobs as 'molesting' and holding government hostage is puzzling and deplorable, especially when coming from the man who is likely to be Namibian's third president in 2015.

However, judging from social and print media, the public seems to agree with the PM. Some view the struggle kids' demand as part of the larger culture of entitlement prevailing at every level of the Namibian society, especially among politicians and the so-called previously disadvantaged.

But in a country with a skyrocketing unemployment rate and high income inequality, aren't they simply practising their civic duty, which is to engage and demand the best from their government? Perhaps they failed to frame and place their demand in the broader Namibian context, but let's also acknowledge that their demand is interconnected to the civic issues of our time such as poverty, economic inequality and corruption.

This issue is not just about 'struggle kids' demanding employment, but more than what meets the eye. It is also about the perception that leaders are enjoying the fruits of independence alone while the rest of the people are left out in the cold.

A brief context is in order here: people born in exile, also known as Children of the Liberation Struggle, vary in terms of age, education, economic and social status. Some have lost both parents. Others may have one parent or both parents still alive. Some are thriving (especially ministers and senior politicians' children) and others not.

It is common knowledge, however, that no psychological, emotional or social preparation was done when they were repatriated to Namibia - a country they never knew - in order to reunite them with their surviving families/relatives/communities in the late 1980s. We also know that most of them are no longer children, some now have children of their own.

The difference between 'struggle kids' who are thriving and those left behind is the structured environment, economic stability and social support received soon after repatriation in 1989.

This distinction is necessary because most of those marching to Windhoek are children of ex-liberation war fighters - the unsung heroes and heroines - who died in exile or in some cases are still alive but have no economic means to support their offsprings.

Most importantly, it should be noted that government is for all Namibians, but Swapo is not. Therefore, the biggest embarrassment should go to Swapo at the party and individual level. The party and many a 'comrade' have amassed a lot of personal wealth through legitimate and dubious dealings. Yet, does the thought to start a programme for Swapo orphans (both exile and non-exile) never cross your mind? How about even volunteering your time to mentor some of the 'kids' as a way of telling the comrades you lost at the battlefield that "I've got your back"?

These are not just 'struggle kids' but children of your friends who died from colonial bullets next to you in the trenches. I am not sure about you, but where I come from camaraderie runs deeper... it is a sacred bond that cannot be broken even if the other person is no longer alive.

So don't 'governmentalise' (by hiding behind the government) but personalise this issue, and come up with a private solution to augment whatever the government might be trying to do.

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