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


[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.

No comments: