Monday, May 12, 2014

Week 15: Challenging & Reflecting

By Desiree Swartz and Darcey Babikian

This week was full of bittersweet experiences as we embarked on our final week in Windhoek. There was plenty of time to fit in all of our last experiences, but we also made time for our integrative projects. These projects were a culmination of information on the topic of our choosing that incorporated religion, politics, development and history. The end of the integrative projects marked not only the end of Namibia, but the end of college for one, the end of junior year for most and the end of sophomore year for the rest. 

This study abroad experience through the Center for Global Education was centered on experiential learning and therefore there was much to reflect upon. The unique aspect of this trip was that learning occurred both in and out of the classroom. This gave us as students the opportunity for critical reflection, in depth evaluations of how we defined ourselves, and context within a global (Southern African) perspective. This meant a great deal of group reflections, which often came with improved awareness of the way in which actions create reactions. In reflection of the final week in Namibia we discussed several different issues we had noticed during our time both in Windhoek and while traveling around Namibia. Our integrative projects touched upon topics such as interracial dating, gender based violence, educational systems, dependency, colonization and apartheid. These very over-arching topics were a great avenue for exploring the ways we felt after spending four months in a different country. 

The first big thing that people talked about was the idea of privilege and how someone can address their privilege without undertaking guilt. We realized as a group that many of the speakers, museums, and locations that we visited were predominantly occupied by foreigners. Do you have to have privilege in order to learn about other countries’ histories or even your own? This was quite jarring because we realized that not everyone or even half of everyone in Namibia is fortunate enough to see as much of the country as we had. On our farms when talking with our host parents we realized that their Namibian context was a much smaller bubble then the one we had experienced although they are permanent residents of Namibia and we are only fleeting residents. 

Another large source of reflection was the economic disparities within Namibia. Although the wealth gap is so large within Namibia, we found it was fairly easy to ignore. Without the Center for Global Education it would be easily possible to only see what you “wanted” while in Namibia. This would include dining out at nice restaurants, exploring the sand dunes in Walvis Bay, and going out in Windhoek, to only name a few. Since we are part of an experiential program we were exposed to the resettlement communities throughout Namibia whenever we visited a new place. It was crazy how close the people living in complete luxury were to the people who are struggling to put food on the table. At times throughout the semester it would be easy to get caught up into our own activities and forget about the stark economic differences existing within our temporary home, Windhoek. When taking this into consideration it is quite interesting to think about how effortlessly it must be for those with wealth to retain wealth within Windhoek. It seems as if those who want to keep their wealth and let the gap continue to grow just turn the other cheek when it comes to the resettlement communities.

Our CGE Family
Much of the reflection that took place during our time in Southern Africa correlated with social issues within the United States as well. We realized as a group that sometimes social issues are difficult to see unless you remove yourself from the situation and reflect on your experiences. While being in Southern Africa and participating in a program called Nation Building, Globalization, and Decolonizing the Mind, it was easy to be consumed with talk about social issues. All of our classes focused and reflected on issues such as privilege, economics, and race and gender relations within Southern Africa. However, many of our classes also challenged us to reflect upon our lives back in the U.S. and how these issues may or may not still be present there. Having this opportunity to study abroad with the Center for Global Education really helped us to have a global perspective, challenge norms, and ask questions both about Southern Africa and about the U.S. 

While we need to realize that the opportunity to study in Southern Africa was in and of itself a privilege, it is still important to bring back the knowledge that we have gathered while here and break down the stereotypes and prejudices that family members or friends may have in regard to our experiences abroad. Collectively the group has taken the time to discuss the different ways in which studying abroad through CGE was both life changing for the best and the worst. While this program opened our eyes and caused us to be aware of the world around us, it has also forced us to be critical thinkers and to notice the “bad” within the world. This program was such a unique opportunity that will be impossible to fully portray to close family and friends, but in the end we will always be able to cherish these memories amongst the fifteen of us. Coming back we walk a fine line between using what we have learned to enhance our lives opposed to separating us from our pre-existing lives in the United States.

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

Friday, May 2, 2014

Week 14: The Beginning of the End

By Subah Jamus and Brianna Mirabile

This week was the beginning of the end of our journey. We spent most of our week wrapping up our academic courses and internships/volunteering. We began by giving presentations on topics we researched that related to our internship placements. It was great to see how everyone combined their practical experience and knowledge with greater issues that Namibia is currently facing. We also discussed how our privilege affects our understandings and perceptions of the world. The fact that we've been able to take part in this program and spend time in Namibia was a privilege that we had initially taken for granted. Over the course of this semester, we have taken a critical look at this privilege in order to better understand our role here. This has culminated in a better understanding of ourselves, our community, and of Namibia as a whole.

In order to properly end our internships we had the opportunity to celebrate with our supervisors and coworkers. We each took the time to tell the room about where we each interned and express our gratitude to our supervisors. Brianna spent the last three months interning at Friendly Haven shelter, the only shelter for women and children who were survivors of gender based violence in Namibia. Through this experience she was able to relate her research on and passion for the issue of gender based violence to the real lives of Namibian women. The presentations by our fellow students highlighted the importance of our participation in the internship. Through this experience, we were able to integrate ourselves into one facet of Namibian society and get a better, first-hand understanding of what we discussed in our courses.

Photos of Brianna and Subah as young children that were used in our history
project in order to illustrate who the policy of Bantu education affects.
In order to wrap up our history class, we (Subah and Brianna) worked together on a project where we examined our lives in the context of Bantu Education. Bantu Education was established in 1953 by the Apartheid government of South Africa, which at the time controlled Namibia. Bantu Education further segregated the education systems, served the interest of the white supremacy, and denied the majority of people access to the same opportunities and resources enjoyed by the minority white population. We put ourselves in the shoes of students of that time period and examined what it would have been like for both of us, considering our race and status. This put into perspective the privilege that we both experience today and made us think about how difficult it must have been to be subjected to such a ludicrous policy. We also realized the importance of reconciliation; although we weren't sure how it could be done- particularly since it's only been 24 years since Namibia gained independence.

A photo taken by Brianna at Friendly Haven shelter for her 
photojournalism and social change project for development.
In our last development class we found creative ways to present an issue in development. Brianna looked at how photojournalism can be used as a means for social change. Especially when trying to create awareness for the challenges facing caregivers of gender based violence survivors. In order to do this, she photographed the women of the shelter's hands because that is their greatest point of contact with the survivors. Whether it be through cooking, cleaning, or physical support, their hands are vital to the care they give.

Subah, Lillian, and Olivia did their creative project on food scarcity around the world. In our presentation we split the classroom into four different countries (United States, Brazil, Namibia, Bangladesh). Out of the four countries we chose, we did a classroom activity that represents how food secure each country is. The way we did this was by using pieces of candy, each country received a certain amount of candy and depending on certain factors the countries would either receive or give back candies. Everyone in the class expanded on different issues within development, and we learned how interconnected and multifaceted issues of development can be. In addition, it showed us the many ways in which you can go about creating social change.

With the official ending of our academic classes, we also began to reflect on our stay here in Windhoek as we begin our journey to Cape town on May 3rd. Being here in Namibia we learned about the intersectionality of religion, development, politics, and history. No issue in Namibian history can be looked at meaningfully if one of these topics is left out. This new understanding we have has changed our perceptions dramatically and when we return to the U.S we will continue to challenge our perceptions and understandings. Our knowledge has grown exponentially, and we will be taking these new lessons back home with us and they will surely last with us a lifetime.

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

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Week 13: The Trials and Tribulations of Migration

By Olivia Cecchi & Maggie Fernandez

This last week was a routine week at the Center for Global Education including internships, classes, and weekend fun. As our time in Windhoek quickly starts to wind down, we continue to find ourselves learning new things about Namibia. For example, this week we learned about the varying migration has on an individual, like housing difficulties, legal limitations, and identity. 

The Shack Dweller's Federation which we
visited during Politics class.
On Tuesday we went with our politics class to the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia, located in Katutura. There we met with Selma Namwandi, who informed us about the mission of the Shack Dwellers Federation, which included helping families or individuals moving into the informal settlement gain legal access to land  [1]. Selma said that as more people moved to Windhoek from more rural areas in Namibia, it has become more difficult to acquire land. As people move into the informal settlement outside of Windhoek, they approach and become a member of the Shack Dweller’s Federation in order to get land rights from the municipality. The organization then applies for a large plot of land on behalf of several individuals, unfortunately this application can take up to two years to be processed. However, once the federation is granted the land, they divide it up and give plots to each individual. Each individual then pays a fee to the government, and additionally a fee towards the Federation, which helps other members that need loans. The contracts then last for eight years, before residents must move to a more permanent settlement. 

It was interesting to learn about the process of applying for land whilst in the informal settlements. Even though these small houses often made up of tin sheets do not fit our expectation of “legal” housing, which we often perceive as permanent structures with wood floors and plumbing and electricity, many of them in fact are legal settlements. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how true representations of people moving to urban centers in order to pursue better economic means are. 

This trip to the Shack Dwellers Federation and the discussion of immigration flowed nicely to our conversations in development class this week. Our guest speaker, Cisco Agostinho, came to Namibia as a child with his family as refuges [2]. They fled conflict in their home country of Angola, and lived in a refugee camp in northern Namibia for many years. Cisco attended primary school within the camp, and attended high school in Windhoek. He returned to the school in the refugee camp to teach in 2009. He spoke to us about how even though other people would consider him a foreigner in Namibia, his previous status as a refugee negated this label. However, when given the opportunity to become a Namibian citizen, he said that he would prefer to keep his Angolan citizenship, and simply apply for permanent residence within Namibia. 

Both these interactions taught us to make the best of our situations and try to get the most out of life. The shack dwellers are trying to improve their housing situations by creating an organization that will benefit them. They decided that they did not want to live illegally and wanted to find a way to approach the municipality in a more professional manner. By uniting nine different informal settlements in the Khomas region, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia was able to receive hundreds of land plots and donations from corporations and local groups. 

On an individual level, Cisco, as an Angolan refugee, decided to take advantage of his education within Namibia, and even return back to the camp after he became a teacher. Although his family was fleeing extreme violence in their home country, and the refugee camps did not provide much comfort, Cisco was able to rise above these hardships and find a place where he felt comfortable within Namibian society. 

On our Easter hike at the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve
Throughout this week we learned about the movement of people around Namibia. These interactions helped us to view immigration as a development issue seeing as there are so many other factors that come into play when people move, including land rights, identity, and access to services to name a few. As we celebrated Easter this past Sunday in Namibia as foreigners, these lessons about the spread of people and knowledge hit us directly. A few of us spent our day going to church, and others went on a hike. Although for some of us this was our traditional way of spending our Easter, many of us celebrated in a completely different way than we would have at home. As foreigners, we needed to navigate our own expectations of the holiday, like not being able to be with our families or own communities as well as what was typical here in Namibia. Easter is a national holiday and many people spend the weekend with their families, and go to church. However we did learn that Easter egg hunts are just as popular here as they are back home! It helped us to understand how people in different types of situations where they are not home may feel. 

Although some of us may have felt a little homesick, we chose to come to Namibia, and made the best of our Easter. However, in other cases people are forced to leave their home because of particular circumstances, like civil war. We can now better recognize how holidays or days of importance may affect them. Choosing to migrate to a new area, but it is often possible to find the good in any situation. 

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


[1] Selma Namwandi, Member of the Shack Dwellers Federation, spoke to our Politics class on 15 April, 2014.

[2] Cisco Agostinho, Former Angolan refugee and current teacher in Windhoek, spoke to our Development class on 17 April, 2014.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Week 12: Reconnecting in Windhoek

By Matt Erbes and Hannah Corbin

This week we reunited as a group after spending a week on spring break. While it was difficult to come back to the formal class schedule after three weeks of traveling, listening to speakers, and seeing other parts of Southern Africa, it was still good to come back together and reconnect as a group. Reconnection and rebuilding were actually two concurrent themes of the week in our classes and activities. 

On Wednesday, the religion class visited the Dutch Reformed Church of Windhoek (DRC) near downtown. We got the chance to listen to Rev. Thijs van der Merwe, a pastor of the church [1]. He spoke to us about the Dutch Reformed Church’s theology during apartheid and how the church has attempted to reconnect with the people of Southern Africa since the fall of the apartheid regime. Reverend van der Merwe explained the justifications behind the DRC’s support of the apartheid regime through specific interpretations of the Bible which are now considered to be incorrect and unjust. It was interesting to hear the other side of the story regarding the theological implications of apartheid from someone raised and educated in the Dutch Reformed tradition. Rev. van der Merwe described how although the DRC has formally apologized for its actions during apartheid, it is still making efforts to integrate itself back into the religious community, which largely rejected its past theological viewpoints. It was easy to see how Rev. van der Merwe and other DRC members would want to be reconnected back into the rest of the community after being regarded as an illegitimate and pro-authoritarian institution which supported the injustice of apartheid by the rest of the South African religious community. One of the biggest challenges facing the DRC today is how to recognize its past and still be able to reconnect with people in the community without fear of stigma. 

Thursday afternoon, the students and staff of CGE loaded up into the buses and drove to the beautiful Nubuamis Hills Bed and Breakfast outside the city for a reconnection retreat. The purpose of this was for everyone to come together and reinforce the idea that part of our education here is intercultural experiences, and in order to be able to connect with people fully, one needs to step outside of their own cultural comfort zone and meet others halfway. The activities we did as a group ranged from jumping in different directions according to Romanus’ commands and acting out the roles of the different tribes of a fictional island, but all could be related back to being able to connect with people outside of one’s own cultural group. The retreat was helpful as a reminder that although we have been in Southern Africa for three months now, we are still foreigners who sometimes need to be reminded that cultural norms are different here from those in the U.S., and it also was an opportunity to reflect on what we had accomplished so far this semester individually and what challenges we have faced or continue to face. 

CGE students and staff with Dr. Robinson after her talk on 
political prisoners and preserving the memory of apartheid liberators. 
Though we focused on our intercultural relationships as a group, we were able to get several other American experiences this week through our speakers. In history this week, we were lucky enough to catch Dr. Deborah Robinson during her short time in Namibia. Dr. Robinson created the South African Political Prisoner Documentation Project in the United States during the apartheid regime in South Africa and Namibia [2].

According to her, the goal of the project was to “raise people’s consciousness about the system of apartheid and the continued racial and socio-economic oppression of people in southern Africa, educate the public about the plight of political prisoners, and be a catalyst for people to develop a personal attachment or bond with a particular political prisoner and his/her family.” The program made brass bracelets each with a name of a political prisoner printed on them and then distributed the bracelets with a twenty-six page informational booklet. Since the program's inception Dr. Robinson has developed relationships with the families of some of the prisoners, hoping to fill in gaps and create a more complete story of the plight of political prisoners. Her main concern was that their stories would become irrelevant for the generations that follow.

CGE students observing an exhibit at the new 
Namibian Independence Museum
While visiting Southern Africa, Dr. Robinson has held a few workshops with the youth hoping to gain a younger perspective on the role the history has played in the countries development. She felt the youth she worked with were very disconnected from the impacts and realities of apartheid. When she asked what we were taught about Southern Africa in school and we mentioned that our education on the matter pre-college was non-existent she was somewhat horrified. The gap and exclusion in the education system is concerning for two reasons. The first is that inadequate teaching of history eliminates the context of current social problems and the second is that it disconnects generations from one another. Dr. Robinson stressed the need to do something with the material she collected and was looking to young people to compile it in creative ways that would hopefully reach a broader audience and get youth active in preserving the stories of activists and fighters. Fortunately, shortly after Dr. Robinson’s talk we headed to the new Namibian Independence Museum whose sole focus is to trace Namibia’s history through colonization and apartheid and document the realities and people of each era. When we got there, a bus of young students was just leaving, which was a hopeful sight. 

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


[1] Reverend Thijs van der Merwe pastor at Dutch Reform Church Windhoek; conversation on April 9, 2014 in Windhoek Namibia

[2] Dr. Deborah Robinson political activist and researcher; Conversation on April 10, 2014, Windhoek Namibia

Week 10: Tourism at Its Finest

By Lillian Maassen & Darcey Babikian

Week ten was a week of reunion. It began on Monday, 24 March, when we said goodbye to our rural homestay families and all piled into the bus together once again to begin our travels around northern Namibia. We stopped in Outjo to do some grocery shopping, then proceeded to our campsite at the Okaukuejo Camp where we got settled in and set up our tents with only a few slight misadventures. 

Caption: One of our first lessons of the day: the hard, rocky Namibian soil 
is not conducive to pounding tent stakes into the ground.
Once we were all situated, we met up to reflect on our experiences at the rural homestays. The most-discussed themes were sanitation, access to clean water, and language and cultural differences, although many of us also commented on the heavy dietary emphasis on carbohydrates. Having reflected ourselves out, we set out on our very first game drive! It was fascinating to see animals we’d only ever seen in pictures right outside our windows. The landscape was absolutely crawling with springbok, but we also spotted oryx, kudu, zebra, ostriches, and even some far-off giraffes. 

One of our first wildlife encounters
We had dinner at the restaurant at the Okaukuejo Camp, which served an all-you-can-eat buffet complete with oryx steak, multiple side dishes, and a dessert bar. After so long subsisting mostly on fried dough with our rural homestays, this seemed incredibly decadent and we tucked in with a will; but, upon reflection, we felt a little uncomfortable about it. It seemed such a perfect example of the massive social gap in this country that people in Khorixas are scraping together meals of porridge and mopane worms while, only miles away, mostly European and American tourists are served lavish meals by uniformed Namibian waiters. In general, for white people the campground was a place to come on holiday, while for black people it was a place to work and make a living. Even though apartheid is officially dismantled, it is easy to see that racial segregation is still alive and well in this country. 

The cheetah invites you to come see the “real Africa.”
Tuesday was another day of adventures and game drives. We packed up in the morning and drove to the Halali Camp, where we were to spend our second night of camping. The racial trends at this campground were similar to the ones at the Okaukuejo Camp, further emphasizing the prevalence of racial disparity here. We set up camp and many of us went straight back to the bus for another game drive; our perseverance was rewarded when we saw a cheetah on the side of the road! It was one of those moments you can’t quite believe is real. Thinking back on it later, we were intrigued by our own reactions to seeing the cheetah: we were so blown away by it because we as Americans are culturally conditioned to consider African animals exotic and romantic. Many tourists come to this continent purely for the purpose of seeing these animals, and then are surprised to find that there are cities and infrastructures here alongside the game parks. Game drives only make up a tiny percentage of our time here; they only even exist in certain parts of certain countries. Africa is a massive continent full of varying landscapes and richly diverse cultures, but in the eyes of the rest of the world it is often reduced to the booming game park tourist industry.

The next morning we departed Halali Camp for the area known simply as “the north,” or “The Four O Region.” It was once called “Ovamboland,” and some Namibians still refer to it that way, but it is generally considered politically incorrect to do so. During the apartheid regime, the land was unceremoniously named after the Ovambo people and used in a derogatory sense. The fact that a more accurate and inclusive name has not yet been applied to the area indicates that the influence of apartheid is still strong. When we arrived at our home for the next night, a fancy guest house in Etuna, we felt this contrast even more acutely. It only took a few minutes of renewed access to hot showers, internet, electricity, and American music videos before we were completely re-accustomed to our pre-Khorixas standards of living. The rural homestays already seemed like a different world. 

After settling in, we took a trip to the Nakambale Museum, the preserved house of a 19th century Finnish missionary named Martti Rautanen. He had lived among the Ovambo for most of his adult life and translated the Bible into their language. We found it strange that the way the Ovambo people chose to “preserve their heritage” was through the name of a foreigner. This demonstrated the legacy of colonialism and the continued prevalence of western culture over Namibian culture. We watched two women pound millet in the traditional way, using massive pestles and a hole in the ground. They fed us the resulting dough and showed us how to make reed baskets. It was cool to see, but we felt a little uncomfortable; they seemed to be putting on a show for us rather than interacting in a genuine manner. We could only assume that their experience had taught them that this was what tourists wanted to see.

Traveling around northern Namibia this week gave us some valuable insight into the tourism industry here. There’s a fine line between learning about a culture and invading it; our very presence here shapes the country’s history.

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

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


[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.

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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.