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.

Continue reading

Update: I added the DTA manifesto too. 

So I decided to generate a quick word cloud from the two biggest parties’ manifestos. Word clouds are fun because they can tell you at a glance what a document focuses on; which words crop up more often than others. Here we can use them as an informal way of looking at the issues these parties talk about in what is really their major declaration of their intentions, policy-wise.

Note though, they can be misleading and are by no means a rigorous appraisal of what these parties’ priorities are.

Here’s why: When making this word cloud, I had to pick to what extent I wanted exact matches for words or put similar ones into the same category: in other words, do “agriculture” and “agricultural” count as two different categories, or as one? What about “farming”? If a word has many different versions, it may not even show up in the count, while others seem large. So, for example, there are many ways of talking about business (industry, entrepreneurship, commerce, etc) while there is only one way of talking about HIV. Even if the focus is on the economy, not health, it may seem like HIV is the main issue because the attention on the economy gets ‘spread’ across different words. Just an example, but still, please don’t take these too seriously.

But still, they’re a lot of fun to look at. Click on an image to see an enlarged version.

First, here’s the one for SWAPO:




And here’s the cloud for the RDP:


Finally, the DTA:


Alternative, more colourful layouts: SWAPORDP, DTA.


More comparisons to follow.