Monday, April 14, 2014

Week 9: Keeping Up In Khorixas: A Week of Self-Discovery and New Perspectives

By Kelsey Renner and Madison Rainaud-Owens


Some of the students stayed at Waterfall Post 1
and went to Church with their families on Sunday
to be part of the community.
As our van pulled into the first farm to begin dropping us off near Khorixas in the Kunene region of Namibia, reality began to sink in for a lot of us that this week was actually about to happen. There were no more Thursday language classes to practice the Damara language, no more tips or advice from CGE staff, and no more time to find comfort with our other classmates in knowing we were all about to be pushed out of our comfort zones. However, as quickly as our nerves set in, they were gone as soon as we all met the loving and caring faces that were to be our own families for the next week. 

The rural homestays are the last homestay of our program, and are given the most preparation. We spent time in language classes and other homestays to get us acclimated to the idea of what life on the farms would be like. It was hard to know what to expect, though. After about a day, we were set in our routines and adjusting to our new homes. Our families allowed us to be very hands on and involved in parts of their daily lives, letting us try everything from milking goats to dunging houses to collecting mopane worms, a staple food in Damara culture. Our families had few amenities, with little to no access to electricity or running water, providing us a unique experience to live off the grid and test our boundaries. We were being exposed to a different way of life than what we’re used to growing up in the United States, or even our temporary home in Windhoek. This was our chance to learn about a different Namibia.

While we know the harm of having preconceived notions and how limiting those can be, it was hard to get those ideas out of our heads leading up to the homestay. No running water? How would we cook? How would we go to the bathroom? What kind of food are we going to eat? Is my family going to be able to understand me? Will I be sitting in silence for a week? These questions ran through our head at a mile a minute, but one of the most valuable parts of the trip was being able to break down these mental barriers one by one. 

On our first full day in Khorixas, we said goodbye to our families for the day and went into town with all the students. We made a stop at Cornelius Goraseb High School, where we had a round-table discussion with a group of students about concerns facing students our age, whether it is examinations, college applications, or even broader social issues, in Namibia and the United States [1]. As we talked more with the students, it became clear that our different backgrounds still held common ground with things that matter to us at this point in our lives. This discussion was invaluable in starting to break down our differences and helping us to find the string that unites us as people. We learned that we all just want to succeed and make a little bit of difference in this world in a way we know how. This common thread was something that would be very important in helping us learn and adapt throughout the rest of the week. 

Maddy learns how to milk a cow for the first time!
Cattle are an important aspect of rural livlihood at
the farms we stayed at.
One of the most striking things we saw were the wealth inequalities not only between Northern Namibia and other parts of the country we’ve seen, but within our own farm communities. Some of our families were in charge of large herds of animals, while some had little or none. Since farming was the families’ main source of income, access to animals as capital served as a very important part of everyday life, giving them a way to buy basic needs. Some families had cars, giving them a way to travel back and forth to the goods and services located in town, while others didn’t. It suddenly became clear that these things we take fore granted having convenient access to in our everyday lives give us access to many more opportunities. While we are operating partly on assumptions and don’t want to interject our own Western notions of development, we couldn’t help but wonder if the families’ lack of access was tied into the lingering effects of the Apartheid system. While the system has been legally over for more than two decades, it became clear to us that the Kunene region is vastly different than the capital, central city of Windhoek, where even though informal settlements and poverty exist, the opportunity for jobs and education is much more abundant. We wonder if it has already been twenty-four years since Namibia gained independence, when will all families and communities start to reap the positive effects of these changes? However, what maybe even more important to note than this observation, is that as outsiders of the farm, who were just fortunate to experience it for a week, this lifestyle may not warrant any change for those who live there. While many theories and discussions of development focus on bettering lives for people, mostly with good intentions, we learned first-hand this week that these types of changes may not always be necessary to the people they’re put upon. Even with the disparities in wealth within our farm, the sense of community and support stood out more than anything. While we were not even part of the actual community, we instantly were surrounded with the love and support of all the members of the farm. When you need help, there are people instantly there to offer it. While somebody looking in from the outside may see “what’s wrong” with this and “what needs fixing”, we grew to see it from the inside looking out and realize nothing was broken in the first place. 

We learned to appreciate the need to try and understand and accept all types of lifestyles, uniting ourselves on similarities instead of picking apart the differences. While parts of the week may have shocked us at first, by the end, it all seemed normal to us as well. We were lucky enough to experience something so unique from our own culture, and we hope to bring the lessons we learned this week into everything we continue to do, both in the rest of our time abroad and upon our returns home. 


This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


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[1] 19th March 2014. Cornelius Goraseb High School is a school located in Khorixas, Namibia that has students coming from all different places in the country to attend and stay at their hostel during the school week. Our purpose in visiting was to meet and connect with students about issues we both face in our daily lives.

Week 8: Where Do We Go From Here? Reconciliation in an Independent Namibia

By Holden Beale and Gena Reynolds

One of the most important issues in Namibia today is the reconciliation process that has defined the post-apartheid era in Southern Africa. Different actors have had contrasting visions for how a successful reconciliation process might develop and conclude, but a meaningful synthesis has been difficult at times  in Namibia under the hegemony of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO). In a country such as Namibia where racism and oppression have a history of tremendous institutionalization, reconciliation looms large in the national consciousness. For history class we visited the University of Namibia in Windhoek (UNAM), where we attended a lecture on the history of apartheid [1]. The lecture provided us with an historical background for how the system of apartheid evolved during the middle of the 20th century out of previous forms of colonization and segregation that had been in place under German and British rule. Since Namibia’s earliest colonization in the 1880s, the systems of exploitation and dehumanization between Europeans and Africans, but also between different ethnic groups, created a situation where reconciliation was imperative to independence. 

There are a variety of actors who have contributed and continue to contribute to the process of reconciliation. The most apparent of such actors is the government which drafted the Namibian constitution, a document nominally impartial and fair, but whose implementation, many members of the political minority believe, tends to favor the current ruling party: SWAPO. This influence is problematic; SWAPO has a difficult past with opposition parties and with the War of Liberation, generating many issues that need reconciling of their own. Phil ya Nangoloh spoke to us in our religion class about his personal experience as a SWAPO member and his resultant moral conflicts derived from witnessing the SWAPO prison camps in southern Angola [2]. These moral conflicts led him to eventually split from SWAPO and found ed NAMRIGHTS, an NGO dedicated to promoting human rights in Namibia. Third party actors such as NAMRIGHTS have been working towards reconciliation independent of the Namibian government, with little government funding or direct support. 

More recently NAMRIGHTS’ activism regarding the independence trial for the Caprivi region of Namibia has drawn hostility from the Namibian government. Caprivi is the “panhandle” of Namibia, possessing its own culture and identity, and is seeking independence of the SWAPO party and the Namibian government as a whole. Ya Nangoloh has been instrumental in the international trial regarding Caprivi’s independence, and has recently requested the United Nations for protection due to threats to his life. Because of the domination of SWAPO within Namibia’s government, diverse voices like ya Nangoloh’s, and others who stand in opposition to the ruling party are often stamped out, or sidelined, making a meaningful reconciliation difficult. 

For a successful transition, it is necessary to understand the history and memories of the groups that are being reconciled. During history class, Priscilla Geingob came to speak to us about the legacy of apartheid and its similarities to the legacy of segregation and racism in the United States [3]. Geingob was born in Brooklyn, and came to Africa during Namibia’s liberation struggle. There she met her husband, a SWAPO leader and the probable future president of Namibia. She spoke to us about the issues facing African-Americans during Reconstruction, and how solutions for inequality have been debated since the Emancipation Proclamation. She noted that the differing opinions of W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington provide a perfect example of this tension. Du Bois wanted freed slaves to enter all parts of American society and to excel and through their success raise up the rest of the population. Washington thought that freed blacks should start where they were, in the trades they had mastered during slavery like laundry and cooking. Du Bois’ ideology can be seen in Namibia today, in the extreme inequality between the rich elite and the general population. According to the World Bank, Namibia had the third highest recorded Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality within a society, in the world in 2011 [4].


We visited the Parliament Building in for History 327 with Professor Romanus
Shivoro to learn about the direction the Namibian Parliament is moving towards
Perhaps the most public and widely accepted form of reconciliation is the constitution that was ratified after independence in 1990. During politics class we were able to visit the Parliament Building and speak with some employees about the work and direction Parliament is moving towards [5]. One of the big initiatives of the Namibian Parliament is to reach out to the public in an attempt to incorporate the opinions and needs of the people into the government. This action is representative of the attempts of the government on the whole to create a more cohesive community in Namibia, and to reconcile differing opinions within the country. These attempts are not as successful as would be hoped, possibly because of the historical hegemony of SWAPO since independence.

The issue of reconciliation is a difficult one, but one that cannot be ignored. Namibia, like many post-colonial societies in Africa and around the world, has a contested history, which makes reconciliation one of the priorities even after more than two decades of independence. The experiences of this past week were able to acquaint us with the obstacles and options for reconciliation, and have given us a look into the complexities of historical memory and forgiveness.


This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


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[1] Shivoro, Romanus. History 327. Augsburg College Center for Global Education Southern Africa. 13 March, 2014. Class visit to the University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia. 

[2] Ya Nangoloh, Phil. Religion 346. Augsburg College Center for Global Education Southern Africa. 12 March, 2014. Guest Lecture. Windhoek, Namibia

[3] Geingob, Priscilla. History 327. Augsburg College Center for Global Education Southern Africa. 13 March, 2014. Guest Lecture. Windhoek, Namibia.

[4] “List of countries by income equality.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., date last updated (25 March, 2014). Web. Date accessed (11 April, 2014).

[5] Simasiku, Frederick. Political Science 353. Augsburg College Center for Global Education. 11 March, 2014. Class trip to the Parliament Building, Windhoek, Namibia.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Week 7: Political Dominance, Gender Based Violence, and Foreign Aid

By Holden Beale & Desiree Swartz

The National Heroes Acre Monument 
commemorates “The fallen heroes and heroines 
of the motherland Namibia.”
As we start week seven we have moved into the middle of our experience proper. Our ten day stint in Johannesburg and first two home stays are well behind us and the house is full of an energy derived from midterm desperation. We still have a lot ahead of us, including a rural homestay, a trip to Etosha National Park and our concluding trip to Cape Town. The end of our experience is not exactly around the corner, but we are no longer quite as new to the African continent. 

There were a number of themes that emerged during this week. The main theme of our history class has been, “The Liberation Struggle”. To that end we were visited by Pauline Dempers, a political activist who had been imprisoned for her protests against South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and separated from her child [1]. Her story was emotionally powerful and illuminated an otherwise obscure counter-establishment movement in Namibia. 

Various graves of fallen heroes and heroines. 
SWAPO’s dominance in Namibia is a controversial topic. While their strong guiding influence was useful at the beginning of Namibia’s history as an independent state, stories like Ms. Daupers’ show that this hegemonic dominance can have a negative effect on the political and social growth of Namibia. If women like her are oppressed, can Namibia ever truly grow into the democracy that it deserves to be? Even if SWAPO took responsibility for such actions, a strong oppositional party (or several) is clearly necessary to not only fully represent the people of Namibia, but provide a meaningful political check and balance. 

As a class, we visited the National Heroes Acre Monument, which was a tribute to those who had committed themselves to the liberation of Namibia [2]. While the monument was intended to commemorate various heroes of the liberation struggle, the graveyard predominately memorializes SWAPO leaders. This creates controversy because of the heavy emphasis on SWAPO’s contributions. SWAPO’s problematic hegemony was not only shown by Ms. Daupers, but also by the domination of Heroes Acre. 

The “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march
against gender based violence took place on
Saturday, March 8th in Windhoek.
Another one of the most prevalent themes we explored was the role of gender based violence in Namibia. Those of us in the Religion and Social Change course focused on “Contributions of Minority Religions to Social Change in Namibia.” We visited a Jewish synagogue, where Rabbi Zvi Gorelick described gender based violence as “the plague of Namibia" [3]. He expressed the importance of the community coming together to take a stand against gender based violence, and took part in the national “Day of Prayer” for gender based violence on Thursday, March 6. But not of all our learning experiences happened through the classroom.

Men marched in high heels to show their support.
In light of the recent media attention to “passion killings” in Namibia, the citizens of Windhoek decided to take a stand against gender based violence. What better day to take a stand than Saturday, March 8, International Women’s Day? Saturday morning most of our group decided to wake up bright and early for “A Walk in Her Shoes,” a march to raise awareness about and fight gender based violence and passion crimes in Namibia. Hundreds of men wore high heels in protest and walked from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare to Zoo Park over the course of about ten minutes. It was a meaningful experience to see the community come together and fight for this cause. Many of us decided to leave our bystander status and join the crowd: walking, chanting, and laughing. As one, the crowd rang out, “Stop gender violence!” This experience truly made us feel part of the community of Windhoek.

Foreign aid was also a foremost theme in our learning palette this week. In our development class we were fortunate enough to visit the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission here in Windhoek. Unlike many of our other speakers, these men and women were mostly foreigners, though their passion for helping Namibia was certainly authentic. We learned about the influence the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the bureaucratic reorientation towards a health-centric mandate.

Our USAID trip, and thematic focus in development class really emphasized how external state actors influence Namibian politics and policy. USAID stresses the importance of “laying the foundation for more resilient, better-governed societies that can sustainably meet the needs of their people and become effective partners in tackling transnational threats" [4]. Here in Namibia, this foundation focuses predominantly on health care and PEPFAR. However, we read an interesting article, “Dead Aid,” that describes why aid is not working in Africa [5]. Author Dambisa Moyo believes that a consequence of aid-driven interventions has caused a descent into poverty for most African countries. This statement challenged our idea of aid from the United States as being benevolent and valuable to other countries. Are the U.S. and other donors perpetuating a dependency on aid? Are these donors stepping in and deciding what is best for a country, when the country is capable of deciding these things on its own? It has been interesting see the idea of aid from a different perspective. 

Our seventh week was both fun and educational; we learned both through study and through experience. Our CGE program is a Living Learning Community where we grow both in the classroom and throughout Windhoek. The end of our program is still many weeks away, but it’s already clear that this place will leave an indelible mark on us. Windhoek is a special place, this week and every week.


This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


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[1] Pauline Dempers, political activist for breaking the wall of silence, spoke to us during our History course on Thursday, March 6th, 2014.

[2] Visited Heroes National Acres Monument during our History course on Thursday, March 6th, 2014

[3] Zvi Gorelick, Jewish rabbi in Windhoek, Namibia, spoke to us during our Religion course on Wednesday, March 5th, 2014.

[4] United States. USAID. USAID Policy and Framework 2011-2015. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

[5]Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009. Print.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Week 6: Juxtapositions on the Coast - Where the Desert Meets the Sea

By Olivia Cecchi and Samantha Boatright

It was a short week of classes for us at the house, and we were all excited to break up the monotonous weekends by heading to the coast. We had a full weekend ahead of us filled with informative speakers and tourist attractions. Our first adventure was a tour of Swakopmund. Swakopmund is a coastal town on the Western coast of Namibia, and is a popular tourist destination. This coastal town is very well known for it’s German colonial architecture. 

Despite its charming beach atmosphere, Swakopmund played a large role in what is considered to be the first genocide of the 20th century. We learned in history class last week that in the early 1900’s the Herero led a revolt against German settlers [1].  This created an ongoing conflict, which resulted in the systematic killing of Herero and other Namibian ethnic groups. One of the concentration camps for Herero people was located in Swakopmund. Many of the Herero captives were forced into building many of Swakopmund’s distinctive landmarks. 

The picture on the left is the simple engraved stone in memory of
the thousands of Herero people who lost their lives in the war. 
The picture on the right is the large, intricate monument
dedicated to the German soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
The biggest contrast we noticed on our tour of Swakopmund was the difference between the German and Herero memorials. The German monument was very easily accessible, located in the center of town, and towered over us. In juxtaposition the Herero monument was located in between the edge of town and the Namib Desert. It consisted of a simple stone engraved on the behalf of thousands of people who died under German colonial rule. What we took away from this experience was that the German heroism was more celebrated than the lives of thousands of Herero people. We also noticed a difference between the center of Swakopmund and the outskirts. The center of the town, which was noticeably wealthy, included mostly white families with a number of beachfront estates. The outskirts of town included an informal settlement inhabited by mostly black families. This further emphasized our impression of modern colonial influences in Swakopmund. This theme of contrasts carried out through the rest of our weekend in Swakopmund. 

The picture on the top is a common street in the informal 
settlement of Swakopmund. The picture on the bottom is a 
gorgeous house on the bay in Swakopmund. These
 houses are about a 10-minute drive from each other. 
Our tours introduced us to women from different native Namibian cultures including a Herero lady, the Chief of one of the Damara clans, and a Nama herb specialist. Although these were very informative and interesting meetings they felt very contrived. They were all very short, staged glimpses into their cultures. It made us feel as if they were showing us what they thought we wanted to see as tourists in their country i.e. a traditional, exotic, “real” African experience. 

During our free time we were able to experience some of the more traditional tourist attractions of Swakopmund. A few of us went skydiving, some of us went sea kayaking, and others just strolled around town. During our experiences we all noticed some form of subtle division between races. Whether it was at a restaurant or even just walking around we noticed that most of the customers were white while the servers were black. This hammered home the continuation of colonial ideas even in the absence of colonialism.
  
The inside of the fruit from a !Nara plant,
a staple of the Topnaar community.
We also explored Walvis Bay, another coastal city close to Swakopmund. Our tour guide, Joseph Tjitekulu (JJ), took us around the Topnaar community [2]. The Topnaar live throughout two national parks that we traveled through. We visited a school, a church, and some local residents, all located in the Namib Desert. JJ spoke to us about the history of the Topnaar, and their relationship to the land, as agriculture is crucial to the livelihood of the people. However, even in the middle of the desert, JJ shared with us that he still feels the effects of colonial influence on the people of Walvis Bay. He mentioned that when he walks into a restaurant that is full of white customers he feels like he shouldn’t be there. In most cases he feels so uncomfortable that he has to leave. This solidified some of the inklings we had previously felt walking around Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. JJ’s statement reinforced to us that colonial influence still has a strong hold on the minds of this community. 


The beautiful Swakopmund coast, where the desert meets the sea.
We noticed a stark distinction between race relations on the western coast of Namibia. This made us think about division between races in the United States. Although maybe not as blatant, there is no denying that there are still areas in the U.S. that contain similar separated environments. We do not notice it because we are in a place of privilege where this separation does not affect us much. Since being in Namibia we have been more aware of the situation, not only here, but also at home. As we continue to study and visit different areas in Namibia we are learning how to confront these situations in new ways. This new awareness is something we can all take back home with us and help educate people in our lives. We experienced many contrasts this past weekend in Swakopmund that challenged us all intellectually. Swakopmund is a beautiful town where the desert meets the sea, but it is also home to a huge contrast between the different groups of people that inhabit the community.


This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


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[1] SWAPO. "Chapter 6: Traditions of Popular Resistance." To Be Born a Nation: The Liberation Struggle for Namibia. N.p.: Zed, 1981. N. pag. Print.

[2] Joseph Tjitekulu; Tour guide on February 28, 2014 in Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Week 5: “Dogs and slaves are named by their masters, free men name themselves” [1].

By Brianna Mirabile & Hannah Corbin

This past week we were fortunate to hear from two speakers who challenged our preconceived notions of the connections between race, class, and gender equality among Namibia and South Africa. We focused on Namibia’s colonial history, the legacy of apartheid, and the Herero genocide which we then put into the current context of globalization and democracy. 

Our first speaker, Herbert Jauch, began his discussion by stating, “History is viewed in two ways; the first is to deny it ever happened, the second is to blame all current problems on historical events. Both takes are an atrocity to justice” [2]. He discussed how individuals within groups that had systematically been discriminated against have begun to succeed while the majority of such groups have remained left behind. While our focus of class was globalization, our speaker brought aspects surrounding Namibia’s independence into play that we had not yet realized. For example, as Namibia was becoming an independent nation state the so-called ‘West’ dominated world politics, economic systems, and approaches to social reform. This affected the Namibian people in a series of complex and multi-faceted ways; however, Jauch discussed the severe and lasting impacts on gender inequality and poverty in particular. He detailed the ways in which women’s work in the form of home-making was, and continues to be, devalued and purposely left out of the realm of a formal economic system. The work that women performed at home was classified as economically unproductive, and therefore worthless. In a capitalist global economy, if you fail to contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), then you simply fail to contribute. By only measuring economic growth in statistics and GDP, societies fail to recognize the human contribution in unpaid sectors. This then led into a discussion about the Basic Income Grant (BIG), which is an experimental policy that would provide every individual in Namibia, regardless of age, employment status, or class, a stipend of N$100 each month. While the program was successfully tested in a historically impoverished small community outside of Windhoek, organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) campaigned against the program by publishing inaccurate data in order to diminish the program’s efficiency. The program takes a socialist approach to development and economic growth which greatly counters the hegemonic neo-liberal capitalist polices of the World Bank and IMF. In many of our classes this week, we have had many readings discussing the World Bank’s loan policy and forced structural adjustments in order to develop nations uniformly in a fashion that caters to a capitalist driven agenda. Eventually, the program lost the mass support it had gained and Jauch mentioned that what the program needs now is a radical push from the community, particularly from the youth of Namibia; which leads us to our next speaker, Professor Kerina. 

Our group with Professor Mburumba Kerina and his nephew after he spoke
to our history class about his role in Namibia's liberation struggle.
It’s not often you get the chance to meet someone who gave a country its name, personally knew the likes of Malcolm X and Maya Angelou, and helped start a political party that has remained in power for upwards of twenty years (all under the age of 30); however, on Thursday we were lucky enough to hear Professor  Mburumba Kerina discuss his life experiences in the larger context of Namibia’s struggle for independence [1]. He was not only inspiring, but he offered insight into what it was like to be directly involved in the liberation struggle at a great personal risk. While in college in the United States as the first student from Namibia, he petitioned to speak in front of the United Nations about what was happening in his home country. The South African government then tried to get him deported back to the country as South Africa was still in control of Namibia, which was known as South West Africa at the time, in order to prevent him from speaking. When he informed his adoptive Quaker family from Brooklyn of what was happening, he was taken to see then-Senator John F. Kennedy who personally offered him support and in effect, protection from the South African apartheid government. From then he continued activist work in the U.S. while contributing to the creation of the South West African’s People’s Organization (SWAPO) through secret communications. He went on to discuss the role of the youth in the current state of Namibia’s political and social atmosphere by saying that there needs to be more action. In his opinion today’s youth have lost the ability to connect, gain massive support, and create a movement. 

This was an interesting connection to development where we discussed generation X’s political activism. We discussed the question of whether or not it’s enough to change a status, like a post, or upload a new profile picture in the name of a cause. If that isn’t political activism then what does qualifies in an age of social media?


This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


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[1] Kerina, Mburumba, activist and retired member of parliament who spoke to us in our history course on February 20th, 2014 .

[2] Jauch, Herbert, trade union activist who spoke to us in our development course on February 21st, 2014.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Week 4: Strategic Questioning, Urban Homestays, and Decolonizing the Mind

By Maggie Fernandez and Subah Jamus

“Until you liberate your mind, you are still a slave”-Pandu Hailonga [1]

This week was our urban homestay in Windhoek; we were each assigned to different families all throughout the city, of various economic and cultural backgrounds. We were picked up by our host families after our internships on Monday, and only went back to the Center for Global Education (CGE) house for classes. We would eat breakfast with our host families, get dropped off for class and internships, and get picked back up for dinner and evening activities. 

Many students went to a soccer game with their families
at Independence Stadium, photo by Kelsey Renner 
Most of us were apprehensive about going to a family alone without knowing what our families were going to be like and how we would be treated. Luckily, we were pleasantly surprised! We had amazing times and felt like part of the family immediately. Many of us got to enjoy a soccer game, Black Africa, a Namibian team, versus the Kaiser Chiefs, a South African team. There was dancing, singing, and a sense of community through the love of soccer. 

Throughout the course of our homestays, we developed our ability to ask strategic questions about the Windhoek community and the social issues they deem important. Strategic questioning focuses on asking questions that result in complex answers that make a difference and challenge the status quo. It also involves developing your listening skills to relate to the person you are conversing with, while opening your mind to new opinions and perspectives. 

For example, HIV/AIDS is very prominent in Namibia and has affected one in three people, either directly or through a family member or friend [2]. As one of our assignments, we were asked to start a conversation about this topic with our host families or other Namibians who have experienced this epidemic firsthand. We were not asked to focus on the answers they gave, but their willingness to talk about it and the way they approach the issue. Some people in our group had no difficulty having conversations with their host families or others, but some were very reluctant to discuss HIV/AIDS openly. The setbacks some of us faced allowed us to develop our strategic questioning skills further and realize that this is a sensitive issue that many do not want to talk about. This exercise may have been easier to do in the United States, due to the separation many Americans have with the issue of HIV/AIDS. 

In our Politics of Development in Southern Africa class this week, we had a guest speaker, Pandu Hailonga [1]. She was the founding director of CGE and a professor there, and the founder of Young Achievers. Young Achievers, is an empowerment project for youths of all ages to continue their education, develop a vision for their future lives, and ways to take steps in order to achieve that vision. Mrs. Hailonga currently works for The Global Fund, which is a nonprofit working to fight the spread of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria [1]. 

Maggie wearing a traditional Herero dress
provided by her host family
Mrs. Hailonga discussed many thought-provoking topics that made us question what we have previously been taught about development and how to successfully change a community. One of the quotes that stuck out to us was, “Unless you liberate your mind, you are still a slave.” This related to us on many levels; firstly due to the United States’ history of slavery and the oppression that many faced. While slavery itself no longer exists in the US, the only way to truly abolish it is to change your mentality and liberate your mind out of a system of oppression. 

In Southern Africa, the system of apartheid, education in particular, led people of color to believe they were inferior to whites. Despite apartheid ending twenty-three years ago, there are still traces of inequality today. Education during apartheid was different depending on the color of your skin, lighter being better [3]. “Coloureds” was a term given to people who are a mix of black and white, and they were seen as closer to white people, which gave them more opportunities in life. For example, during our homestays, many of us heard negative things about either “coloureds” or “blacks,” based on the differences apartheid created between skin tones. Negative stereotypes still exist about each of these groups and while they should set these supposed racial differences aside and unite as Namibians, many are still stuck in the past, seeing differences instead of similarities, which is what the apartheid system did. 

Mrs. Hailonga offered a solution to decolonize people’s minds; her answer is through critical questioning and the importance of analyzing what one is told is true or how a situation is. Namibia Vision 2030 is a list of goals that Namibia is trying to accomplish by the year 2030. However, according to Mrs. Hailonga, this vision is “a complete joke.” It is a nice slogan, but it does not explain how these goals are going to be achieved. She feels that not all of Namibia is committed and willing to spend their time working on this vision, which shows a lack of critical thinking in this country. The skills needed to go forth with this vision can only be attained by changing the education system and how children are taught to think. The ability to think critically and strategically starts at a young age and needs to be developed over time. Without this emphasis on critical analysis, development will not be as successful or effective. 


This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


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[1] Hailonga, Pandu. Founding director of the Center for Global Education in Windhoek, Namibia spoke to us in our Politics of Development class in Windhoek, Namibia on 14 February, 2014.

[2] Amushila, Sarah. Homestay coordinator for Center for Global Education gave us a driver tour of Windhoek Namibia upon arrival on 12 February, 2014.

[3] Mataboye, Molefi. Political activist and guest speaker in Johannesburg, South Africa on 20 January, 2014.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Week 3: Uneven Development: An Introduction to Namibia

By Gena Reynolds and Joshua Kumi-Darko

Our first full week in Windheok, Namibia was very eventful. We were finally able to get into the rhythm of the semester. On Monday we dispersed to various internship placements around Windhoek for the day, working in a variety of places from an orphanage in Katutura to the City of Windhoek’s offices. Tuesday was spent at the Elisenheim Guest Farm for a day of team building activities with the students and staff. Ironically an impromptu river fording, made necessary by a sudden downpour that created a river where there once was a road, was probably the most effective team building moment of the day. 

At the Elisenheim Guest Farm during team building on Tuesday. 
Staff and students that did not ford the river on foot were 
ferried across the river to the vans, after the heavy rainfall
The rest of the week we were able to finally begin most of our classes and start on the work for the semester. Spending more time in Windhoek and learning more about Namibia’s history allowed the country’s uneven development to become visible. 

On Saturday we went to a meeting of the Young Achievers, a youth empowerment group in Namibia that holds weekly meetings to bring in speakers and discuss issues that affect their community. This week’s focus was the recent news item that ranked Namibia as the third richest country in Africa. Opinions among the group were varied. Many members argued the credibility of this ranking, because they do not see the wealth in their own lives. Others agreed that Namibia is wealthy, especially in resources like diamonds and gold. Whether or not the students believed the ranking, it is clear that some people in Namibia are extremely wealthy, and that some parts of the country are very economically developed while others are extremely impoverished.

Part of the explanation for this can be traced to the history of the country, which we had an introduction to during our time in South Africa, and in our first History class on Thursday [1]. Namibia’s colonial history created a system of economic extraction where, like in South Africa, a small white minority controlled most of the wealth and could maintain an extremely imbalanced distribution of resources. This legacy is still evident today, geographically and socially. The township of Katutura, where the black community was moved in the mid-1900s, is still almost completely populated by blacks, and is far more underdeveloped than the previously white suburbs along the south of the city [2]. The name “Katutura” literally means “a place we cannot settle,” and the history of the residents’ removal is part of the reality of uneven development and opportunity in Namibia today.[3]

An informal settlement in the communal extension of Havana,
outside of Katutura. Katatura itself  means "a place we cannot settle."
In some communal extensions such as Havana, you would never imagine that you are in the capitol of the third richest country in Africa. Few of the streets are paved, and the temporary settlements expand out from the older sections, with corrugated metal shacks making the hills look shiny from far away. In a country of 2.2 million people [4], with the second smallest population density after Mongolia, Namibia boasts 2,000 millionaires (in USD) [5]. While Namibia may be joining South Africa and Nigeria in the category of strong African economies, it has not escaped Africa’s colonial economic past, and the uneven distribution of wealth is only the most visible symptom. 

In the United States there is a common perception that hard work and education can lead to upward mobility, and that even people in difficult circumstances have equal access to these resources. In Namibia it seems that the path to success is viewed very differently. At the Young Achievers meeting we got the impression from the students that social networking and not education facilitated success. Even though the speaker at their meeting put emphasis on the importance of her own education and perseverance, the students seemed skeptical that she could have achieved so much success on her own. The extreme poverty that is so geographically close to such affluence in Windhoek supports this belief that connections are necessary to succeed. 

The United States (US) shares a history of white imperialism and segregation with Namibia and South Africa. Similarly, they share an extreme imbalance in wealth distribution along racial lines. Since their independence in 1990, black Africans in Namibia have had to experience similar struggles as African-Americans in the US after the Civil Rights Movement. The Reconstruction Era in the US following the American Civil War gave former slaves the right to own land, and move freely, but the wealth remained in the hands of whites. Namibia faces the same unequal distribution of resources in the post-apartheid era. There is room for Namibia to improve and innovate, but the process will be slow, if the US is any comparison. Hopefully the obstacles presented by the distribution of wealth and poverty will be overcome through progressive policies in the future. 


This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


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[1] Shivoro, Shivute. History instructor and Director of the Center for Global Education in Namibia, led our first history class on 6 February, 2014.

[2] “History and Old Location of Katutura.” Namibweb.com. Copyright 2014, Accessed 12 February, 2014, http://www.namibweb.com/hiskat.htm. 

[3] Sarah Amushila, the Homestay Coordinator at the Center for Global Education in Namibia, gave a tour of Windhoek, including Katutura, to students on Thursday, 30 January, 2014.
 
[4] “The World Factbook: Namibia." Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed 30 January, 2014,  https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/wa.html. 

[5] A student at the Young Achievers meeting on Saturday, 8 February. The Young Achievers are a youth empowerment group that meets weekly in Katatura and tries to provide a vision for a better future for young Namibians.