Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SWAPO, and Other Discontent: An Urban Homestay Experience

Week 4
Charlotte and Hunter

Just as we were becoming more comfortable with our classes, internships, and new Namibian crib, we each were whisked away by our respective Namibian families to spend one week in our urban homestays. Our time with these families provided a more complete understanding of the vast array of cultures and narratives that compose modern Namibian identities.

Although it would be inappropriate for us as bloggers to speak for all CGE student and family experiences, one sentiment that we experienced both in class and in our homestays was that of discontent with party politics in Namibia. In both of our homes, we listened to our surrogate families speak about their misgivings with SWAPO domination of the Namibian government and national discourse.

In the eyes of our family members, SWAPO has consistently failed to serve the best interest of the majority of Namibians since its historic ascent to power in 1990. Both of our host families felt that SWAPO, still riding on the momentum of being the liberation party during Namibia’s apartheid and purporting to bring greater egalitarianism to Namibian society, had not lived up to this promising potential and in fact stood as a road block to greater Namibian growth. One student’s host mom Kaitlin*, a secretary for a government school in Windhoek, revealed that she still sees inefficiencies within the education system such as frequent curricula changes that prevent an effective educational experience as well as consistently overcrowded classes (50+ plus students to a class). Another student’s host brother James*, a 24-year-old student at the Polytechnic, expressed similar frustration at the Ministry of Education for refusing to recognize the honors programs from the Polytechnic while simultaneously recognizing identical degrees from partner universities. He explained that, as a result of this policy, his job prospects are limited and his future paycheck will suffer.

For both, the largest problem facing Namibia is corruption of party leaders as they have experienced through the lens of education. They each provided two different solutions. Kaitlin suggested more diverse voices within government to break down the monolithic SWAPO black liberation party identity. James offered a more provocative solution to government corruption. He believes that SWAPO will ultimately be ousted by popular revolt, likely led by poor Namibians. Herbert Jauch, on the other hand, provides a third possibility.

Herbert Jauch, a Namibian labor activist and researcher, spoke to the CGE Development class last Friday about the current economic structure in Namibia and where he believed the country is headed. Unlike Kaitlin and James, Jauch firmly believes that SWAPO is a fixture in the Namibian political scene, and must be pressured rather than radically changed or rejected by the electorate. While presenting the proposed Basic Income Grant bill, a program that attempts to address glaring structural poverty in Namibia, Jauch suggested that the bill could be passed via direct and unified pressure from key constituencies, primarily in the north of Namibia where SWAPO comfortably dominates the vote (98% according to Jauch). Using Jauch’s model, corruption and government inefficiency can best be addressed by awareness and mobilization among long-standing supporters of SWAPO, thereby recognizing the reality of SWAPO’s dominance in Namibian government.

In considering all of these responses to SWAPO’s current political agenda, we gravitated towards Jauch’s solution because it has the potential to do the least damage to the nation while delivering substantial policy changes. By asserting that a series of peaceful populist protests would effectively convince government officials to meet citizen demands, Jauch is positing that a democracy in the purest sense of the word is a possibility in Namibia. However, while we are hopeful that Jauch’s solution could become a reality, we recognize our predominantly academic and Western, liberal lens in assessing such remedies predisposes us to a more theoretical analysis and perhaps idealistic notion of civil unrest. Our host families, on the other hand, have deeply personal understandings of SWAPO that we lack. As such, their suggestions will be highly contextualized to their specific lenses and are no less valid. Both of their solutions, while not as appealing to Westerners, may in fact be more astute assessments of what may come in Namibia. In short, all three solutions are viable and possible inasmuch as they reflect three nuanced perspectives on the political economy of Namibia.

Both through living with Namibian families and hearing Jauch’s analysis of the Namibian socio-economic scene, we were able to continue broadening our perspectives and knowledge of Namibian politics and culture. While these issues have no easy solution, it is refreshing to experience first-hand counter-narratives that challenge the dominant Namibian political discourse.


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