One of the highlights on week 7 was hearing Graham Hopwood from the NGO Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) spoke to our political science class. The IPPR is working to inform political and community debates, partially through an online site similar to those created in the USA during our recent elections. However, very few people in Namibia have reliable access to computers, which makes internet outreach seem ineffectual. He acknowledged that access to technology is a large problem and does impact voter education and outreach, but feels that small outreach is better than none.
An important unknown in the upcoming elections is the vote of the “born frees.” The generation born right before and during independence has the option to vote for SWAPO because their parents did, not to vote at all, or to critically vote for a party after forming their own political opinions. The three of us feel that voting is extremely important, and that it is the key to creating change and promoting democracy. Criticallyassessing the promises of the political parties is part of every citizen’s active duty and we feel that Graham’s organization, by advocating voter education is increasing people’s capacity to think critically about the government and create positive changes.
The religion class visited a pastor at the Dutch Reform Church. The pastor discussed the difficulties that the church faces today due to its former role in supporting Apartheid for so many years. The class was very interested in hearing this perspective because we have only heard negative opinions regarding this religious institution based on its role in apartheid. The history of the church that he presented to us was interesting because we were able to understand how church ideology can change with the times. He explained that the ideology changed by supporting the institutionalized separation, to the church supporting the oppressed like G-d and Jesus have always done. The church is embracing these changes, but there is still a difficult stigma to overcome with the local population. Our opinion in general is that the church was right for changing its ideology, but it should have never supported the Apartheid in the first place. Our class has been asking a lot of questions about the influence of church and state, and found it very interesting that the church did not speak out against Apartheid earlier due to political repercussions and consequences.
In history class, we compared Namibian and American racial histories and current realities. Dr. Christo Botha, an Afrikaaner professor at the University of Namibia, explained that apartheid was based partially on fear of black domination and also on cultural purity. A classmate stated that Apartheid seems good in theory but impossible in action. Preservation of culture is important, but many of us do not feel that institutionalized segregation can preserve culture. If the idea was to maintain cultural purity, so me of us questioned why the whites were not separated like the blacks were. The whites in South Africa were made up of Afrikaners and British, but they were not divided by ethnicity while the black people were divided were. We felt although racism in both countries is still prevalent, it is more openly acknowledged in Namibia,
while the US mentality
is that racism ended with the civil rights movement. Based on a class discussion that included individual’s experiences with racism in both Namibia and The States, the overwhelming anecdotal evidence was that Americans are much more politically correct with their racism or secretive, whereas people have encountered much more open racism in Namibia.
After working the prior week on a 5 to
7 page paper on globalization’s impact in Namibia and handing it in, the development class visited the USAID office and learned about the different jobs within USAID, the USAID relationship with the Namibian government, the current American foreign policies, and USAID programs. Some students thought USAID’s approach had no emotional connection to its aid recipients since it is a large-scale organization that dispenses aid to umbrella organizations, which then channel the money to its member grassroots organizations. Other students didn’t mind the “impersonal” approach that USAID takes, and could work for USAID as long as they knew they were helping others. Rachel feels that to make the most positive impact there must be personal involvement from the grassroots, and that while the money being distributed at the top may be helpful, the most effective change can be made on the ground. She also respects USAID for the positive programs it funds but feels that she could never work there.
We all agreed that the different paths each employee that spoke to us had taken were encouraging to hear, since some of us are interested in doing foreign aid work as an occupation Some of the class’ criticisms were that those who work there are forced to adhere to government policies that may not be the best policies for the situations at hand. For example during the Bush administration they were forced to teach abstinence instead of condom usage. However, most of us feel that abstinence will not help or protect prostitutes for example.