Corruption in Namibia: A consequence of political nepotism and tribal solidarity

29 May 2020 | Opinion

Rukee Tjingaete


Whenever tribalism in Namibia is debated, people jump aggressively to the notion that one is playing a tribal card without considering the context in which it is applied to advance an argument.

We are reminded of its devastations in Rwanda and many African countries where millions of citizens have lost their lives. Therefore, we are cautioned and even warned.

However, we tend to ignore the fact that tribalism is not only manifested in civil wars, but in many other forms that deprive people of their livelihoods and therefore creates discontent.

Ever-lingering effects of apartheid

Namibia today suffers the ever-lingering effects of the South African regime’s institutionally formalised policy of apartheid that divided and ruled over the citizens of this country on the basis of their tribal identity. Despite our denial of its pervasive historical impact today, it is now manifesting itself in tribal politics that seem to advance corruption based on tribal solidarity and regionalism (‘Bantustan policy of homelands for different tribes’).

In Namibia, just like in some corrupt African countries, the looting gangs of state resources form empowerment companies that are purely based on tribal solidarity and regional identity.

The rationale is to keep the secret of corrupt entitlement under the carpet in that ethnic outsiders may not be trusted, because they may be not 100% loyal to tribal solidarity or regionalism. Do we deny the fact that when we form empowerment companies to apply for tender projects, the first questions we ask ourselves are:

· Who is from my region and tribe that I can approach for partnership?

· Who shares my political views?

· How are we related in order to advance our common family interests?

· Do we share the same political affiliation?

Ugly face of corruption

The question is then: How should one address this tribal manifestation of corruption without offending the majority of the citizens of this country who loathe corruption, irrespective of tribe and region? How best can we address and arrest the ugly face of tribalised, politicised and regionalised corruption?

Firstly, we must appreciate the fact that the thieves who plunder state resources through corruption are a tiny majority of our population. As a result, they do not represent any interest other than that of their own swollen bellies.

Secondly, we must address tribalism in such a way that raising it must not blind us to become its propagators and victims of its manifestations.

Thirdly, we must admit that we are all mental psychopaths of historical and institutionalised tribalism that was clinically applied through South Africa’s homeland policy.

We can claim that we have changed since independence, but there are many who still harbour tribal solidarity as a consequence of the pervasive effects of Bantustan.

Based on this argument, I am tempted to postulate that: The history of tribal politics in Namibia might have unconsciously resulted in a tribal-based hegemony and narratives that, under the current corrupt political system, would protect tribal solidarity and corruption at the highest level of the state.

Ethnic interests and narratives

Namibia’s political landscape is structured along ethnic interests and narratives before and after independence.

The policy of national reconciliation appears to simply be a convenient slogan, because the pervasive impact of ethnicity that was imposed on Namibia remains in force. The evidence to this claim is the de facto reality of having many political parties or formations that are tribal-based and therefore seem to derive their votes from their ethnic strong-base that are advocating parochial ethnic interests and narratives.

The recent parliamentary and presidential elections are evidence of this social reality.

For example, when politicians canvass for votes in the remotest local traditional authority areas, they appeal to tribal sentiments to gain support from the chiefs and their followers.

How then should we fight tribalised corruption?

Fighting tribalised corruption

· Reject the registration of empowerment companies whose membership and boards reflect tribal identity and regionalism.

· Caution the appointment of high-ranking officials from the same ethnic group.

· Reject the rationale of tenderpreneurship.

· Do not issue tenders or consider applications from empowerment companies that have already been empowered before, unless new applicants lack skills and capacity.

· Consider what benefits these empowerment companies hold for the majority of citizens.

· Review the managerial structure of state-owned enterprises.

Year of introspection

In conclusion, the promotion of tribal politics generally advances tribal hegemony that feeds nepotism, regionalism, tribal solidarity and corruption. The solution to this challenge is to seriously consider the advice of the president that this year should be the year of introspection. Therefore, grab this opportunity to genuinely and without fear to address issues we want to ignore under the pretext of peace and stability.

The art of pretence that everything is fine will not solve the country’s emerging challenges. We will succeed to keep the republic together by being frank and honest in speaking the truth because it will liberate us.

I take my hat off to selected Namibian newspapers that continue to expose corruption in this country. They are the champions of our democracy.

Our differences should not deter us from joining the event that, under these difficult conditions, is our only source of inspiration and unity.