Once the elections are over, the educated elites retreat into state institutions where they proceed to govern through a system the vast majority of their people do not understand. The proceedings in parliaments are in a colonial language, the laws are framed in the same foreign language and the various organs of state conduct their affairs in a language understood by a minority that was fortunate to receive colonially designed education. This means that for the most part the masses do not understand what is being said and done in their name.

While the principles of democracy are universal, it appears African societies are hugely disadvantaged in their application, to the extent that they are rendered meaningless. For instance, if democratic governance refers to “the capacity of a society to define and establish legal order — which requires institutions based on the principles of equity, freedom, participation in decision making, accountability, and promoting the inclusion of the most vulnerable sectors of society”, how would we see this happening if the majority of the people have no idea of what is going on in the governance of their country?

Mosibundi Mangena, “Introduction.” In: Political Parties in Africa, edited by Ebrahim Fakir and Tom Lodge. 2015. More info.

  • This is definitely a problem in Namibia. It’s arguably becomingd less of a problem, because English-first education means an increasing number of people do speak the language of government. (Though education is not nearly doing as well as it should, and too many folks come through the system with an inadequate ability to write and read english)
  • I still think SWAPO made the right decision when they opted to go for English as the official language. I don’t think the state could cope with the translation and interpretation required to translate in a truly multilingual society. Instead, what would have likely happened is that people who speak minority languages would be marginalised in the name of saving resources.
  • In other words, I think one language represents a better shot at giving everyone access than several languages.


  • More Broadly we have to wonder what the current state of affairs means for democracy. Can we claim that Namibia is a democracy when most people arguably can’t follow what politicians are doing?
  • Or is it enough that people vote based on whatever incomplete information they do have? (and let’s face it, in no country do voters have all the information — government is complicated, that’s partly why we outsource it to politicians in the first place!)
  • For now, government has to do a lot better at communicating what’s going on. Bills debated in parliament should be summarised in easy-to read language. State-owned media should talk about policy in a neutral manner rather than simply parroting what government is saying. Opposition parties need to work to explain policies to voters, and give details on what they would do differently.

update: an example from yesterday

(This is a post from the Sunday Scholarship series, where I summarise academic articles into something a bit more easy to read. Overview here, other posts here.)

Title: Political Homophobia in Postcolonial Namibia.

Author: Ashley Currier

One-sentence summary: The attacks on gays and lesbians by Swapo politicians in the 1990s had several political purposes: they were supposed to intimidate opposition, remind Namibians of Swapo’s power, and aimed at promoting one specific view of history. Full article here.

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When I tweet about what’s happening in Parliament, I usually get few reactions. But when the NA started discussing a bill to end our practice of winter time, people were very interested. Media houses tweeted about it too, and a vocal subsection of Namibian twitter sounded off — mostly in the negative — about this decision:

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update: The Namibian has a story on this bill, entitled ‘”Supreme Court might become irrelevant”‘

In the space of three days last week, government passed the “Namibia Citizenship Amendment Bill” — a document which could render some Namibians stateless, all while undermining the separation of powers in our government.


Well, basically there was a Supreme Court ruling recently that government didn’t like, and they passed a law to ovverrule the court. The case in question concerned a foreign couple who’d had two kids here. One got a Namibian birth certificate, the other one didn’t, and they sued that both should get Namibian citizenship while the government said neither should. It’s not a clear decision, because the constitution says if you have a child in Namibia, it will get citizenship if you are “ordinarily resident”. Home affairs said that means permanent residence only, the court said it wasn’t that clear – and so these kids should get their passports. Mind you this doesn’t just concern this family. There are a bunch of people who have had Namibian passports for a long time, sometimes over two decades, who have recently been told that they are no longer citizens and their passports won’t be renewed.

So government didn’t like the ruling from the court, and set out to “correct” it. They were clearly in a great rush: the first draft was so full of typos (what is a “zitizen”?) that they withdrew it and came back the next day with a  fixed version. And then they passed it on Friday.


Why does this matter?

1. This bill could take away the citizenship of Namibians

If parliament just wanted to clarify that from now on, only permanent residents get citizenship for their kids, and all of you on work permits or student visas don’t get them even if you’ve lived here for decades, have built a house, etc — that would be one thing. But the bill makes explicit reference to the recent ruling, saying “no rights may arise” from it. It appears to me this could mean that people who have already been Namibian citizens their entire life — whether that life has spanned six months, or 25 years — can be told “nevermind, you’re no longer a Namibian”.

The motivational speech seems to indicate as much. Pendukeni Iivula Ithana said that:

I am aware that the Constitution prohibits our deprivation of citizenship to the extent that we render people to be stateless. I do however hasten to add that, in many cases these children would not be otherwise stateless as they ought to follow the non-Namibian citizenship/s of their parents.

in MANY cases people won’t be stateless. So are we fine with some people — Namibian citizens — becoming stateless because the Ministry couldn’t sort out its definitions in time and doesn’t want to follow the court?

Which brings me to my second objection

2. This bill could undermine the system of checks and balances in our country.

The Supreme Court has that name for a reason.It’s supposed to make the ultimate decision as to what is lawful and what is not. If they interpret the constitution in a certain way, that should be the end of the discussion for the vast majority of cases. The fact that the National Assembly was so quick to dismiss this court ruling, simply because they didn’t like the outcome, is very worrying indeed.

Last Friday, two lawers from the Legal Assistance Centre wrote an article in the Namibian called “A Constitutional Crisis?”. They write:

The memorandum accompanying the bill asserts that the bill is clarifying the ambiguities created by differing opinions from the attorney general, the High Court and the Supreme Court. But the ‘opinion’ of the Supreme Court on the meaning of the Constitution is not just one of many interpretations. The Supreme Court has the Constitutional responsibility, under Article 79, to interpret the Constitution. And, as the highest court of appeal in Namibia, its decisions on the Constitution’s meaning take precedence over those of lower courts and government officials

There is no doubt in this case. The bill currently before the National Assembly directly contradicts the Supreme Court’s ruling. If it is passed, it would subvert the separation of powers, which is the essence of Namibia’s Constitutional framework.

The subject matter of the bill before parliament will not affect many people in Namibia. But undermining the role of the courts and the supremacy of the Constitution would affect us all.

I’m going to emphasise their next two paragraphs because they matter so much.

If parliament can overrule any interpretation of the Constitution which it does not like, then the Constitution is no longer the supreme law of Namibia. If this bill is allowed to pass, it means that parliament is supreme, and the Constitution and the courts have become irrelevant. This would change the very nature of Namibian democracy.

Passing this law would take us back to the system which prevailed in pre-independence times when there was no check on the legislature. Even a democratically-elected parliament should not be all-powerful.

Doesn’t sound too much to ask for.


TL;DR: We shouldn’t assume that the relative success of the BIG pilot programme can be extended nationwide. But the evidence we do have, plus experience from other countries, suggests that cash transfers could have a great effect in reducing extreme poverty. At the very least we should have a conversation about whether we should implement  a BIG, and how this could be implemented.

Long version:

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Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, was not among the ones arrested. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, was not among the ones arrested. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty

The New York Times reports that several high-ranking FIFA executives were arrested in Zurich and are to be extradited to the US on corruption charges. Allegations of corruption have long surrounded the organisation. Specifically, awarding the world cup to Qatar raised eyebrows:

Even before  the vote took place, two committee members … were suspended after an investigation by The Sunday Times caught both men on tape asking for payments in exchange for their support. It was later revealed by England’s bid chief that four ExCo members had solicited bribes from him for their votes; one asked for $2.5 million, while another, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, requested a knighthood.

A whistleblower who worked for the Qatar bid team claimed that several African officials were paid $1.5 million each to support Qatar.

An official FIFA inquiry was never released to the public, and disavowed by the attourney leading the process. The American authorities seem to be little impressed.

For more on FIFA’s corruption, see this Grantland piece: Corruption, Murder, and the Beautiful Game: On FIFA’s scandalous history.

And of course, this John Oliver segment explaining it all is outstanding:

From Chris Blattman, citing an ODI study which I’m still tracking down:

The largest documented case of fraud in a humanitarian program providing money is from the United States. In the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) quickly provided aid through the Individuals and Households Program, which provided money for housing and immediate needs.

As of February 2006 more than 2.6 million payments were made totalling over $6 billion. The US Government Accounting Office estimated $1 billion of these payments were fraudulent from bogus claims and double registration (GAO, 2006).


I’m in the midst of finalising my Master’s thesis, so won’t be able to comment too much. But I’ll throw up some things about #NamSONA15.

First, Hage Geingob’s tweets before the speech, mysteriously skipping a few along the way:


In case you missed it, here’s the audio of the speech (my internet gave out at one point, so there might be a minute or two missing from the middle):



credit: the Villager

credit: the Villager

McHenry Venaani has a tough five years ahead of him.

Sure, he just won a cushy parliamentary seat with all the benefits attached to it. But make no mistake: campaigning is easy, being in Parliament is hard. As Mario Cuomo said in reference to American politics, you “campaign in poetry but govern in prose.” Elections are exciting, but governance is not.

Things will be tough for Venaani because he’ll have to tread a terribly fine line.In his concession speech, he said that “As leader of the official opposition-elect I will keep you on your toes.” But try convincing a party that just won 80% of the vote to let you have a say in decisions. If Venaani wants to have influence over laws, he’ll have to be conciliatory and make friends with Swapo.

But this won’t necessarily help him in the electoral realm, where many supporters want to see a robust opposition giving Swapo trouble. If you’re just going to cooperate with the ruling party, what’s the role of the opposition? The challenge is to strike a perfect balance — keeping them on their toes, as he said, but still cooperating enough to maybe have a say. Those waters are tough to navigate: the party will want to point to a record of achievements to set itself apart from Swapo in the next election, but can’t do anything without Swapo. This is not an enviable position to be in.