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IT HAS BECOME a recurring theme in our post-independence polity that leading elders –– former freedom fighters –– use struggle credentials in an attempt to dismiss questions about good governance and democracy raised by younger Namibians, with remarks like “we died for this country, where were you?”.
No less a leading light than President Hage Geingob is the latest to draw on that defence mechanism. The President used a Swapo mass meeting at the southern town of Keetmanshoop last Saturday to delegitimise journalists he believes are too young to provide any critique of the way he and his comrades rule Namibia.
“Yes, I can listen to people like Gwen Lister [the founding editor of The Namibian newspaper], who have credentials of the country’s liberation struggle under the South African regime. Today, they [the younger journalists] come from every corner to become guardians of freedom, and to lecture us about democracy,” said Geingob. He questioned where these media “kingpins” were, ostensibly while his and Lister’s generation were at the forefront of fighting apartheid, adding that some of the critics were now only between 40-50 years old.
If this attack had always been reserved for journalists, it would have been a waste of this editorial space to spend time on, because the news media has long become used to bashing by politicians and other leaders as a tactic to deflect attention from their misrule.
The “where were you” defence sounds as if the erstwhile freedom fighters wished Namibia was frozen in a time zone. They seemingly do not want to believe that they have grown old, and that younger people have become more energetic, enlightened, and that their relative youthfulness may very well make them better leaders in this highly technically advanced world.
It is just a general fact of humanity’s physical and psychological development. As the earth revolves, life evolves, thus placing us in a competitive atmosphere where nimbleness and agility are crucial; and where old age can be a disadvantage.
It is no accident that our government’s general retirement age is 60.
Communities (read countries too) that have come to terms with the realities of human development, tend to reap the benefits as they willingly put succession plans in place to avoid old age from destroying the potential for advancement.
Most countries, communities and organisations that have made strides in human and technological advancement have entrusted a critical part of their leadership to younger people, especially below 60 years of age, even better below 50 years, perhaps because they understand that at too young an age, unguided exuberance and wanton risk-taking rule; whereas above 50, life’s experiences would have added wisdom. Yet, most of them are too risk-averse to venture out; but in-between, they could very well have benefited from the balance of the extremes –– an optimum level.
In fact, in most aspects of our lives, the general principles of life’s stages seem to function as normal. It is in the political spectrum where the old seem intent on disparaging younger generations, dying at the wheel, and taking their countries with them [literally to the grave, as Zimbabwe has been foolhardy enough to declare].
Namibians are now in the same category. Despite several schemes to ease elderly leaders into retirement, most refuse to retire and to rather serve as elderly advisers in their sunset years. Many of the retirement packages come at great cost to the country, as with the example of former Presidents getting retirement villas of N$20 million to N$40 million each, plus hefty pension packages, and other forms of state-sponsored largesse. Some even claim a veteran’s payout while remaining in active employment –– begging the question for how long Namibians must keep paying.
To be fair to the elders, they are not to blame. The socalled “40-50 year-old youths” are the main culprits. They become proxy fighters for the old men, mainly to satisfy personal greed for patronage handouts, instead of being at the forefront of advancing the public good.
If all Namibians won’t wake up to this problem, we shall soon find ourselves stuck in a cycle of a 70-year-old calling himself “young” to become the state president, just because the incumbent president and vice president are currently beyond the ages of 75 and 80.
Then, we may as well stop talking about “the leaders of tomorrow” when we speak of futures for our children.