Swans Commentary » swans.com July 18, 2011  



Who Owns Papa's Land?


by Femi Akomolafe



Pic: "Herero girl crying" - courtesy Gallery Ezakwantu - Size: 4k
Herero girl crying
Gallery Ezakwantu



(Swans - July 18, 2011)   In the heydays of apartheid in South Africa when Africans joined forces together to contribute to uprooting the evil system the Dutch brought to our beautiful continent, the late Nigerian musician, Sonny Okosun, released his signature song, "Papa's Land," which became a blockbuster and a battle rally-cry for anti-apartheid activists in Nigeria.

Part of the lyrics read: "We want to know/We want to know ... / Who owns Papa's Land, Africa is my father's land / Yes, Africa is my Papa's land / Will you let my people go? / We want to rule from Cape to Cairo ... / Will you free my people's hands? / We want to rule our papa's land."

It took years of hard struggle but the last patch of African land under colonial yoke was liberated. The demise of the apartheid regime represented the physical liberation of Africa's geographic space. Sadly, the liberation of Africa's political, economic and, more importantly, the cultural space is yet to be accomplished; but that is a story for another day.

Sonny Okosun's "Papa's land" was one of my favorite songs, and I borrow the title for this article, which was inspired by a recent article I read in the influential Pan-African magazine New African, which carried a story in its June 2011 edition under the title "The Trouble with Namibia" (June 2011, pp4-44). The report by the magazine's editor, the irrepressible Baffour Ankomah, makes an engrossing if not heart-wrenching reading.

I consider myself a little bit knowledgeable about African affairs, but the story on the Namibian land showed the depth of my ignorance -- which left me totally flummoxed and very angry. It also left me wondering about the psychology of human beings -- those of us that pretentiously call ourselves "Homo sapiens" or thinking beings. Do we human beings really do any thinking at all? If we do, how do we end up being so callous, so greedy, and so unfeeling towards our fellow men?

According to the story, Namibia has among the worst land systems in Africa (even in the whole wide world) with a few thousand Europeans owning a whopping ninety (yes, 90) percent of the land. There would be little or no problem were the land to be in productive use -- producing food to feed the people, for example. But, according to the report, most of the land is owned by absentee landlords who live in Europe. These white Namibians inherited the lands from their ancestors, who massacred the indigenous people, stole their prime land, and drove the rest into destitution in the most god-forsaken part of their ancestral homes.

Today the modern-day slavers/colonisers just fenced off hundreds upon hundreds of miles of ill-gotten Namibian land whilst the indigenous Namibians are packed into ghettoes with no land of their own to farm and feed their families. Whilst white Namibians play the Big Boss landowners, black Namibians are consigned into the scraggiest part of what was once their own patch of the world. Today, the once-proud landowners face daily humiliation as they try to get employment from arrogant usurpers from Europe.

The question is: when will these Europeans abandon their colonial and imperial mindsets and realize that these types of behaviors are simply untenable and unsustainable in this age and time? When will they learn to start to treat people, I mean non-Europeans, right? When will the people who claimed to have invented rationality learn to start to behave rationally?

As an African who lived in Europe and still visits there, I feel considerable anger when I see the types of brazen injustices that Europeans continue to perpetrate against a people they have so thoroughly, so shamelessly, and so continuously raped for about six hundred years. It goes without saying that Europeans would not, even for one second, tolerate the types of atrocious behaviors and actions they continue to perpetrate against the Africans and their continent.

I have travelled around Europe and I know the type of premium they place on land there. Land in Europe is so well regulated that very few Europeans beside farmers and the landed aristocratic gentry own any piece; everyone else is consigned to small flats. In none of the places I visited in Europe did I see a single African owning a square inch of European land. Why do Europeans continue to think that we in Africa will find their outrageous behavior on our continent acceptable in this age and time?

With the permission of the magazine's editor, I shared an extract of the report on my Facebook wall, and the flurry of excited feedback I received was rather shocking if somewhat gratifying, in that it greatly opened my eyes to the happenings in that beautiful but sadly racially-stratified land. It also propelled me to pen this piece as a warning to those who continue to delude themselves that the time bombs they are planting in Africa today will not one day blow up in their faces; as it rightly will...one of these days.

I was both shocked and saddened as I read the great lamentations of many black Namibians about how their people lost everything during the German invasions and how, up till today, young German boys, who inherited their grandparents' looted properties, arrogantly and derisively prevent them from visiting their ancestral graves to pay homage or visit their sacred groves. I read accounts of massacres, genocides, rapes, humiliation, and other bestial acts committed by German forces trying to make a point with their European brethren. (See "The Herero and Namaqua Genocide," Gallery Ezakwantu.)

Fortunately, at least for me, this is not a situation we experienced in West Africa. Luckily for us, our gallant mosquitoes ensured that colonial land-grabbers could not plant themselves on our ancestral land. With my experience of life in Europe and its rampant racism, racial intolerance, and mindless arrogance, I cannot imagine how I will react if I see Europeans fence off hundreds upon hundreds of square kilometers of my people's land in the name of private property. What I know is that there is absolutely no way that I would be able to stand the sight of Europeans owning vast tracks of illegally-acquired land in my home town, whilst my own people are packed in ghettos.

To begin with, since land is not considered to be personal property in our traditional cultures, the sight of even an indigene -- much less a foreigner -- fencing off vast tracts of unused land would be quite intolerable, . Until recent times, lands were communal inheritances that were held in trust.

It is very sad and troubling to read the depth of pent-up anger among my Namibian Facebook contacts. What is equally troubling is that twenty-one years after independence both the "revolutionary" government in Namibia and the "international community" choose not to address this potentially explosive situation. Methinks that the correct thing to do would be to address the problem here and now before it blows up like in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Will those with ears listen?

The correct question to ask now is: to whom do we do a favour by pretending that all is jolly and well in Namibia? Truth has a way of emerging, however hard they try to suppress it and, however long, injustices have ways of blowing up in the face of their perpetrators. It does not require a revolutionary to know that Namibia will explode one day if this iniquitous land regime is not addressed.

According to the report in the New African magazine, five Western countries, the so-called Contact Group (U.S., Germany, France, UK, and Canada) aided the imposition of the unfair land regime in the Namibian constitution. As usual, the colonialists believe that Africans should be satisfied with mere political control whilst the control of their economies (especially their lands) remains firmly in the hands of foreigners.

Do the Western agencies, organisations, and governments that perpetrated and abetted this gross injustice hope that it will last forever? If they do, I think that they had better start to entertain another dream. Do Europeans truly believe that Namibians will somehow just forget about their ancestral lands or do they just enjoy entertaining unrealistic illusions? Doesn't Zimbabwe provide ample evidence on what will happen when we bury our heads in the sand and pretend not to understand that historic injustices need to be rectified lest it rear its head at the most inopportune time? Why are people incapable of learning from bitter experiences?

I was a great admirer of former President Sam Nujoma, whom I considered a great Liberation leader. Until I read the report in the New African magazine and spoke extensively with my Namibian contacts, I honestly thought he was more than just a populous beard and fiery revolutionary rhetoric. Whilst we can recognize and respect revolutionary leaders expediently signing agreements during their struggle for liberation, what I cannot fathom is why Comrade Nujoma would spend twelve years without seriously addressing his country, unjust, and very colonial land regime.

Now I begin to understand why the hand-over agreements departing colonialists signed with their heirs are kept secret. With the type of unjust provisions they contain, lthere is ittle wonder that the agreements are forever shrouded in great mystery. For example, I have searched in vain for a copy of the Colonial Pact France signed with its African colonies (note that I didn't write "former colonies"). We can contrast what happened in the colonies in Africa with what transpired after the second European Civil War when Germany was made to regurgitate everything she stole from her European colonies and also pay them handsome compensation. In Africa, they think that we should be satisfied with a flag and some wretched smiles!

The New African magazine report quoted a "SWAPO intellectual" talking about the incapacity of the government to act. I found this both incongruous and untenable. Laws are made by man and can be unmade by man. No constitution is forged in stone. If the correct political will to act exists, there should and must be something the government of Namibia could do to rectify the injustice of the land regime. It is time Namibian leaders advice themselves that they cannot postpone the day of reckoning indefinitely. The sooner they take the bull by the horn, the better. They should leave aside their tribal differences and act in the collective interest of the Namibian people and state. It is not going to be easy, but it simply has to be done.

I make no pretension to being a constitutional expert but I got hold of the Namibian Constitution and I found these relevant sections the Namibian government could use to get its land back from the absentee landlords.

Article 16: Property

(1) All persons shall have the right in any part on Namibia to acquire, own and dispose of all forms of immovable and movable property individually or in association with others and to bequeath their property to their heirs or legatees: provided that Parliament may be legislation prohibit or regulate as it deems expedient the right to acquire property by persons who are not Namibian citizens.

(2) The State or a competent body or organ authorised by law may expropriate property in the public interest subject to the payment of just compensation, in accordance with requirements and procedures to be determined by Act of Parliament.

There is no government anywhere that can claim impotence when it comes to overriding public interests. If the new elites in Namibia have the political will, I think they can do a lot to help their own people. Section 16:2 of the Namibian Constitution empowers the government to act in the public interest. If land does not qualify as public interest, then I don't know what will. If the land occupiers refuse to see reason and play fair, the government, through the parliament, can and should enact legislation to confiscate the land and pay the same compensation the landowners claim that they paid.

A referendum can also be called to determine a new land arrangement. That may perhaps be the best option since the sanctimonious Western nations that like to preach to the rest of us what they don't practice will find it very hard to shout "dictatorship," were the thing to be approved in a referendum.

The world can be spared another debacle like we have witnessed in Zimbabwe, but it'd require a much more matured approach and mutual understanding. Black Namibians should be willing to forgive and forget past injustices, but white Namibians should not expect to be allowed to keep all the loot illegally acquired by their forebearers. The two groups must prepare to meet each other half way; there is simply no other way out.

The history of the world is a sad story of black people doing all the forgiving and forgetting whilst white people continue to believe that they are entitled to their rape of other people's resources. It is only in Africa that thieves expect to be, and are often compensated. Let's hope that the leaders Namibia and other Southern African nations will put a stop to this.


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About the Author

Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published July 18, 2011