Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Exploring Western Influence Week 5

Amy & Abigail

After wonderful experiences with our homestay families, it was nice to come back to the CGE house and settle back into a routine. Throughout the previous week, our families introduced us to traditional Namibian cultural practices…we even received traditional dresses according to our families tribes! Amy’s dress was Nama while Abigail’s dress was Oshiwambo. However, after this cultural immersion, we experienced an interesting contrast as our classes focused on Western influence in Namibia’s development.
First, our history class focused on the role of German colonization. We learned about the Herero/Nama genocide that happened in 1904 and decimated 80% of the Herero population and 40% of the Nama. Through a captivating documentary and a powerful guest speaker, we learned about Germany’s aggression in order to gain more land in the fertile farming regions. After a few battles, Germany assembled a large army and the Herero and Nama were rounded up into concentration camps and forced to do hard labor with little food. During class we visited the Alta Feste Museum, home of one of the old German forts and concentration camps. It served as a physical reminder of the atrocities that happened over a hundred years ago.
In our religion class, we discussed the influence of Christianity on traditional African religions in Namibia. It was interesting to see the differing perspectives on the integration of Christianity. Some thought it was positive while some thought it was simply a method of colonization and Western influence. In lieu of our discussions, we took a field trip to visit a Traditional Healer. She was able to give us a picture of the work she did and the differences between traditional healing and hospitalization. Though she claimed this was her calling from God, it seemed as though she mixed some of her traditional beliefs with her current Christian faith. Nonetheless, it was neat to see the powerful influence religion has in the lives of many Namibian people.
Politics was spent studying the creation of the Namibian constitution and its influence from Western powers. We were surprised to learn that nations such as the United States and Europe, forming the Western Contact Group, gave extensive suggestions for the constitution. Partly because they wanted to ensure that Namibia became a democracy since the constitution was written towards the end of the Cold War, the Western Contact Group played a hands-on role in the constitutional proceedings. Additionally, the Constitution borrowed many principles from the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Lastly, in our development class on Friday we discussed the effects of globalization on Namibia’s economy. We heard from Herbert Jauch, a labor researcher, who thought that some aspects of globalization negatively impacted Namibia. He told a story of an export-processing zone, a tax-free area meant to attract foreign investors that hired female laborers and made them work in unfair conditions. In his opinion, a solution to Namibia’s high unemployment rates and poverty is the Basic Income Grant. This fund would provide each person in the country with a small stipend each month, in the process allowing for more children to go to school and more small businesses to be formed. His talk generated a lot of debate among the class, as some students felt like his ideas were utopian and too difficult to be implemented, while others thought his strategy was a positive way forward. Overall, his talk gave us a good picture of Namibia’s economy situation and a unique strategy to improve it.
In all, this week allowed us to experience a variety of different perspectives regarding Western influence and its role in the shaping of past, present, and future Namibia. We are looking forward to our travel to Swakopmund this weekend, a city that's architecture reflects its heavy German influence, so we can continue to see the impact of the West on Africa.

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