Monday, October 6, 2014

Week Six: Northern Namibia

By: Harry Summers & Freddy Lindekugel

Expectations were scattered amongst the group as we began our drive to the north. We had heard the term before, but it had no meaning without experience. The region seemed to clump together as one homogenous area. I suppose some of us imagined a vast, green land with people few and far between, acres of farmland and scattered settlements of people. I hoped to explore the identity of the country, one that seemed lost in the city of Windhoek. It felt as if whatever was authentic was drowned out by Western influence and presence.

Our first contact in the north came at the Nakambele Museum. It was amazing to see even the simplest tasks being performed throughout the day. To see the dwellings, sample the food, see their craft, and watch their games was exactly what we needed in order to better understand Namibia’s identity. This was their home. This was their type of grain. This was how they ground it to make porridge. This was how they wove baskets and other crafts. This was how they passed their time. This lens into daily life for the Owambo was instrumental in our enhanced understanding of Namibia’s identity.

Traditional Royal Grainery Scene at Uukwaluudhi Museum         
The Uukwaluudhi Museum provided a slightly different lens. It was very interesting to see a royal homestead.  Rather than delve into daily life and its tasks, this location provided a more comprehensive view of life in a kingdom, including the spaces allotted for certain activities and the roles of groups and individuals. For example, at the back of the homestead, we got to see an area that was meant for the storage of various grains. Individuals of the kingdom could access this area if there was ever a scarcity. We were not fortunate enough to meet the king but his insight would have been invaluable to further enhancing our understanding of the north. It was eye opening in the sense that what seemed traditional and outdated also served as modern. There was no difference. Tradition stood the test of time.

The Outapi War Museum showed us the history of Namibia and its most recent armed struggle, that for independence. The struggle left a significantly different result than past-militarized conflicts. The current ruling party, SWAPO, which stands for the South West Africa Peoples Organization, started as the guerilla group fighting for independence from the South African apartheid government. It was there that we realized some of the lasting impacts of the struggle.

What was apparent once we entered the northern sections of the country was that pride and support for the ruling party was very much alive here far more than in the capital city of Windhoek, apparent by the plethora of SWAPO flags and slogans all over Odangwa and some of the other cities and towns we passed through. The reasons for this near blind support stems from the liberation struggle and the impact this had on the particular part of the country. Entire villages were massacred, people tortured and the land scorched by over a decade of fighting. This legacy has allowed the ruling party to continuously rely on the support of the local populations in the north who still hold their role in the liberation as the defining factor in their political decisions. However, I wonder after twenty years if it is not time to start to look towards the new problems facing the nation. If SWAPO will not provide solutions that show true results to the real problems in Namibia, another party should be elected to office. For example, their proposed housing initiative does not currently take into consideration continued population growth, thus by the time it is finished there will still be even more Namibians without proper housing than there are today. Unfortunately, this may be a pipe dream as SWAPO has now integrated itself so deeply into the country’s very infrastructure that separating the two or the individual members of the party may be nearly impossible.  Corruption and zero accountability now make up the standard for Namibian politics at the higher echelons, shown by the $880 million dollars currently missing from the social security funds of mostly elderly Namibians. What will it take for true change to happen? It appears that the only thing that can truly bring a new future for Namibia is for the born free generation to take over the primary roles in government, to be the primary voting base and to elect officials who will be held accountable for their decisions.

The rich history and culture of Namibia was forged by a combination of tribal traditions, colonization, and bloodshed. The end result is a nation that appears to be divided on a regional basis. The north represents the old traditions and liberation struggle, while Windhoek embodies the westernization of Southern Africa. Going to the north was an experience that better shaped our concept of Namibia. Looking back, Windhoek fails to represent some of the major ethnic groups of Namibia. Windhoek represents modern Namibia, perhaps. It serves as the center of both commercialization and industrialization in the country. Windhoek provides economic promise for the future.

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1 comment:

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