SAR, Vol 14 No 1, December 1998
THE STATESMAN WHO BROUGHT HONOUR TO AFRICA
BY SAMSON NDEIKWILA
In her article on recent developments in Namibia featured in this issue of SAR, Lauren Dobell cites Samson Ndeikwila of the Council of Churches of Namibia as epitomizing in his work the efforts of "an earlier generation of activists and dissidents" now seeking to reclaim "not only the spirit, but the unwritten history of the [Namibian liberation] struggle, both inside and outside" the country. As she writes, Ndeikwila was "one of Swapo's first `detainees,' having, with eight other young members, fallen afoul of the exiled leadership in the late 1960s after charging [the latter] with being `oblivious to their own people' " (on this moment in Swapo's history see also Colin Leys and John S. Saul, Namibia's Liberation Struggle: The Two-edged Sword [London, 1995], ch. 3). More recently, notes Dobell, "Ndeikwila has been steadily working to clear the names of those detained or killed as `spies' while living in exile during the 1980s." This personal history of considerable courage and commitment gives added resonance to Ndeikwila's deft and illuminating parable, reprinted here with permission from The Namibian where it first appeared as an extended letter to the editor.
The president was born in a poor family in a remote African village. His country had experienced brutal colonial oppression, repression and exploitation. He knows what it means to go hungry, barefoot and in rags or half-naked.
It is this background which has shaped his world outlook. And it is his simple lifestyle which has had tremendous impact on the thinking of so many people at home and beyond. This is the man today whose mere utterances are echoed in different languages all over the world.
Many people do not know his real name. At home he has proven himself consistent in words and deeds to be called the Father of the Nation. In church circles they call him the Great Visionary of our Age. All over Africa and among the Afro-Americans they call him Our Pride. Somewhere else he is referred to as the Great Leader of Africa.
Scholars of different disciplines have all concurred that he is the most original thinker, most articulate speaker, most simple in lifestyle, and most organised and disciplined in time-management. He sincerely believes what he says and courageously says what he believes.
One reggae band in the Caribbean has released an album titled "The Statesman Who Brought Honour to Africa." The record praises the President's exemplary approach to life. It praises his government's policy guide and the revised constitution.
It recounts the priorities and initial achievements of his five-year plan. However, the last part of the record is very harsh with African leaders, dead and alive, who have killed, imprisoned, tortured, exiled and impoverished their own people. The record calls on the people of Africa never to be deceived again.
Then comes the "No More" and "Shame on You" part where solo voices shout the names of some notorious African leaders. The list is long and controversial. You hear the names of Idi Amin, Bokassa, Samuel Doe, Karume, Sekou Toure, Kamuzu Banda, Siad Barre, Mobutu, Mengistu, Abacha, Eyadema, Kabila and others. To the astonishment of some people, the record mentions several names of certain figures in former liberation movements in Africa who brutalised their own followers in exile.
Some of these people are now holding important positions in governments. This record has become so popular and fascinating that at times a person finds himself or herself singing or humming it spontaneously. Some governments have attempted in vain to suppress it by banning it from their state radios and television. One dictator President went to address the students at the university where he was also chancellor.
As he ascended the rostrum, ready to start with his speech, the students burst into the last part of this record. His own name was mentioned amongst the shouts of "No More" and "Shame on You." The chancellor started sweating all over, shivering and collapsing on the rostrum. The students continued to sing louder and louder until he was carried away into the ambulance by his personal guards.
Doing things differently
It would take pages to describe the character of the president or to enumerate what he has done in the first four years of his leadership. He is one individual who always does things differently. He speaks of the genuine second liberation of Africa. His first appearance in Addis Ababa at the OAU summit left the world without words. His was the smallest, cheapest but most effective delegation, consisting of himself, the minister of foreign affairs and a representative of the media. They made use of economy class tickets. They booked into a guest house on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. They made use of a taxi to and from the meetings and they were always the first to arrive. Throughout the meetings he dresses casually while other leaders changed clothes even three times a day. One dictator military leader had his whole chest covered with medals and his shoulders decorated with several golden stars. However, the president was the one who really went with concrete ideas how to overcome current problems facing Africa and how the continent should move with dignity into the 21st century and beyond. The part of the President `s OAU speech which was widely hailed and echoed was when he called on African leaders not to cling to power or tamper with their national constitutions unnecessarily. He urged them to follow recent examples set by respected statesmen like Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela and Ketumile Masire.
Prepares his own speeches
The interesting thing is that the staff in the President's office are not burdened with preparing speeches for him; they compile what the President has said and they enjoy it very much. When addressing people of whatever category, the president never reads out his speeches. He speaks from the heart, as he always says. He never shouts slogans, threatens or insults people at public meetings. He speaks of empowering and giving vision to the people. Thousands and thousands would flock to public meetings when they knew that the president would speak. He refuses to refer to the people as the "masses," arguing that the term was coined by the advocates of totalitarianism. At the beginning the president had difficulty in convincing the people to cease servile behaviour like dancing in front of him, carrying his briefcase, opening doors for him, etcetera. He reminded them to treat him like anybody else. Though the president has been given so-called special advisors and consultants, local and expatriate, he has a special ear and heart for the views and feelings of the ordinary people. With his locally-assembled Toyota Cressida, he drives freely wherever he wants to go, day or night. He refuses to have a chauffeur and bodyguards. He goes to weddings, barbecues, soccer matches, or to church. He eats, drinks, dances, sings and mixes with people like anybody else. During festive seasons, the President would go to his home village as is the custom with many people.
It is a known fact that the President has great difficulty with a host of protocol procedures, dull formalities and bureaucratic constraints. He dislikes figurehead titles. He refuses his photos being hung everywhere. He argued against being the symbolic commander-in-chief of his country's defence force. He refused to be chancellor of any of the four universities in the country. He argued that he believes in and upholds the principle of T and T (Train and Trust). However, the President is an honourary member of many organisations, clubs and societies. It is at social occasions where the President would draw material for his speeches. Ex-combatants would thank him that they had not been forgotten and left jobless as had been the case in some countries. Ex-refugees would urge him to encourage the nation to accord African hospitality to refugees, sojourners and visitors in their midst. Ex-criminals would tell him how they had been robbing, raping, housebreaking, smuggling, defrauding the previous governments, etcetera, and why they had decided to abandon criminality. Ex-prostitutes would urge him to deliver an inspirational speech against such a social vice. Even ex-beauty contestants would tell him of the dilemma of being paraded like animals at an auction.
The President would then address such issues so eloquently to empower and encourage the people to lead a simple and dignified life. He would even go to the extent of telling his audience that it is not a lot of money in the bank, a big and luxurious house or car, the latest fashion dress or a diamond wedding ring which would make life more meaningful or give a person real dignity in life. He would elaborate on the concept of "full pockets and empty hearts." He states that the secret to a happy and dignified life lies in self-denial and concern for other people's welfare and successes.
It is worth mentioning how the President had appointed a team of able and dedicated men and women, black and white, young and old, non-partisan politicians and technocrats, a quarter of the size of the previous cabinet and much cheaper in many ways. Before appointing this cabinet, the president gave a three-hour address to the nation explaining, amongst others, what true service to the nation means. He bemoaned people who aspire to go to parliament with the sole intention of enriching themselves and to pave the way for their families and next of kin. He emphasised that today a leader who is a combination of being most simple and humble, most truthful, most ready to admit mistakes and most hardworking is the greatest of all. This was the type of person he was looking for to work with in a team. He did not conceal the fact that the country has many such reliable people who just need be identified. He discussed the difference between good and bad leadership. He also explained, giving concrete examples in Africa and elsewhere, how corruption, nepotism, bribery, favouritism and squandering of tax-payers' money would lead to national disaster and bloodshed at one or other stage in the life of a nation. He warned the nation against bad leadership, using a famous African proverb which says: "When the fish gets rotten, it all starts from the head."
Dislike of grovelling
The President spoke of leaders who tax their people so heavily but use the money to pay themselves big salaries, build themselves expensive state and government houses, buy themselves most luxurious cars and airplanes. He spoke of leaders who are in the habit of hosting lavish parties and receptions with taxpayer's money. He elaborated on the debt yoke where leaders from poor countries borrow huge amounts of money which, in the end, their countries would not be able to pay back. He added that often this money does not reach the people in whose name it was borrowed. He also gave examples of leaders who stash vast amounts of money in foreign banks. In most cases this money has been stolen in one way or another. He categorised all such acts as institutionalised robbery and fraud. He went into some detail about the following as leading items of his government's five year priorities: education, water supplies to rural areas, primary health care, housing, local processing industries, etcetera. Addressing the future of democracy in Africa, the President identified ethnicity or tribalism and clanism as future threats with the potential to blow nations and communities apart if not handled with understanding and wisdom. He cautioned against monopolistic tendencies and encouraged civic societies, including trade unions, student organisations, women's groups, etcetera, to welcome differences and appreciate unexpected challenges from new quarters. For example, two or three student organisations in the country would serve the student population better if they saw the wisdom in appreciating, supplementing and enriching each other rather than embarking on futile and obsolete exercises of discrediting and undermining each other. The president called upon the nation, particularly the church and the media, to assist his cabinet, not through grovelling, whitewashing, flattery and bootlicking but by plain and candid criticism. He surprised some of his listeners when he praised and thanked one local newspaper which has been very critical of his government and which had exposed traces of malpractice in high offices. He challenged this newspaper to pick up more courage and call a spade a spade. He challenged all members of parliament, whether of the ruling or opposition parties, not to defend their parties but to defend the truth and the best interests of the nation. He warned against the danger of "comrades" covering up for "comrades." This was the malady of the OAU during the last 30 years of its existence. This was also the main contributing factor to the collapse of the socialist system. Finally, the president was explicit in stating that the problems facing many countries, such as unemployment, increasing crime, lack of educational and medical facilities, shortage of housing and skyrocketing cost of living were not natural catastrophes; they were man-made and therefore surmountable. Referring to a discussion he had the previous evening with a delegation of troubleshooter students from the four universities, the president concluded by saying that even if he would drop dead the following day, he would depart in peace and very optimistic about the future of Africa, including that of his own country.
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