On Namibia’s Heroes Day this year, President Hage Geingob stoked the revolutionary fire lit by the man known as the Apostle of Cuban Independence, José Julián Martí Pérez.
In his address to the nation on August 26, the Namibian leader was in fact addressing a wider international African community that is in desperate need – whether it knows it or not – of a reminder that political, economic and mental emancipation is not an outdated idea.
More so, the address also served as a contemporary touchstone on international solidarity. After all, Namibia’s liberation is the result of the untiring efforts of indigenous patriots, and the support of the international community. Which is why even the United Nations recognises Heroes Day as Namibia Day.
President Geingob, in part, said: “Without fundamental human rights, the pursuit of development would not be possible and that is why the Liberation Struggle was an absolute necessity, for as the Cuban revolutionary and poet José Martí said, ‘Rights are to be taken, not requested; seized, not begged for.’ Through armed struggle, Namibians decided not to request for their rights but to take them; not to beg for their rights but to seize them.”
Martí is best known to the world as a poet, essayist, journalist, teacher, publisher and poet. Few people recall that he was also something of an armed liberation fighter, and that his death at just 42 years of age on May 19, 1895 came on the battlefield.
This was at the Battle of Dos Rios, where Cuban patriots were fighting Spanish colonial troops. Finding himself almost alone after his compatriots had disengaged, Martí spotted one young courier riding nearby and rallied him saying: “Joven, ¡a la carga!” This translates to, “Young man, charge!”
Those were to be Martí’s last words, as he was fatally shot in that contact.
At a time when it is unfashionable to espouse Pan-Africanism and the politics and principles of sovereignty and economic empowerment, President Geingob’s message on Heroes Day should help us all pause, retrospect and introspect on the individual and collective journey traversed thus far, and in which direction we are charging.
Are we charging towards a future in which Africans are healthy, educated and have a real measure of control of their destiny; or one in which young people believe that they only way to “make it” is to lie, cheat and steal?
In this progressive charge forward, the aim is to quickly and meaningfully bridge the gap that currently exists between Pan-Africanism and the concept of an African Renaissance.
To bring Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance closer together, and so that they make sense to a generation of young Africans who never experienced the liberation struggles and who increasingly view it as ancient history, we need to very quickly ditch mere rhetoric and adopt bold action.
This is bold action that speaks to making it a priority to invest in our people first and foremost, and put the obsession with the trinkets of office on the back burner – if not in the junkyard!
Without bridging the gap between Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance, there is no way our young people can charge forward with the full confidence that they are equal and respected members of the international community, and that they need not play second fiddle in the global economy.
To charge forward boldly and sustainably, we need to immediately start investing in viable systems that promote food security and nutrition security. This alone will not only transform rural economies and living conditions, but will boost employment through direct jobs and by development of value chains.
And this cannot and should be done without a concomitant investment in access to clean water and sanitation, and scaling up public health systems.
It would not make sense to speak of developing food, water and health security without also developing the appropriate infrastructure, particularly as regards decent housing, sustainable energy access and transport.
Investment in these areas will engender social and political stability without governments having to resort to spending billions every year on beefing up armies, police forces and intelligence services for purposes of keeping restless youths and opposition parties in check.
Investment in bridging the gap between Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance is the surest way for politicians to guarantee them a peaceful night’s rest.
As things stand, what is to stop jobless, poorly educated, political and economically marginalised young people from being used by anyone with a few bucks to cause chaos? What is to stop them from turning against their homeland literally and metaphorically?
The only reason why Pan Africanism is treated as an outdated concept by our young people (with the full encouragement of a captured and neoliberal media) is because we have failed to invest in what is supposed to be a naturally attendant African Renaissance.
It is a matter of making the honourable, logical and progressive move from rhetoric to action. For our young people, for our future, we need to bridge that gap as a matter of urgency.