IN July 2016 the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) placed an advert in a local newspaper salivating those who dream of becoming officer cadets in the NDF. As requirement the NDF asked for 35 points for these posts. This requirement shocked many people including this columnist. In order to have wider debate and discussions, this columnist posted the following on Facebook on 30 July 2016; “By asking 35 points for recruits are we being told that Youth must choose between NDF and Universities (Engineering, Medicine, Political Science etc.)? NDF competing with Universities? If there was ever a time we needed breathalyser at the doors of NDF it is now”. At the time of writing, this post had attracted 725 comments. What appeared interesting is the comments from soldiers who concluded that we, the so-called ‘civilians’, do not understand the military and we did not read the advert well. Some argued that the army is not just for uneducated people (I agree). We spent several lines educating the soldiers that wearing a military uniform does not mean that you understand the military. We made it known to them – majority having joined the army either with grade 10, through family ‘dobol’ or as exile kids – that the evidence is actually to the contrary. The argument that the army needs doctors, pilots and engineers etc could also not hold. The NDF is not a tertiary institution and serious professions such as medicine and engineering are not matters of the barracks but those of laboratories and research rooms.
In fact, there are specific laws that regulate the training of these professionals. Despite logical arguments presented, soldiers still maintained that we, as ‘civilians’ do not understand. They argued that these officer cadets will be sent for ‘specialised training’. We cannot fault them; this is what they are told at parades by their generals whose words are the Alpha and Omega. This back-and-forth debate continued until the 3rd of August 2016 when we read this post by one young soldier who submitted the following; Let me advise you my fellow youthful young Namibians with those points you have plenty of opportunities in life to select from which will be worth your time and hard work. I’m a professional Marine Corp soldier whereby in the Namibian Marines (NAVY) there a lot of my colleagues that have even up to 40 points and only few have below 25 points but most of us are still low ranked and it was because of such advertisements that fooled us to join some have dropped courses from UNAM, NUST and VOCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS and were promised to do military course abroad but we have been in the system for a long time, my brothers and sisters ….. and if the reason is to eradicate poverty let them go back to our files to see how much we’ve wasted our time and how loyal we’ve served the government let them review our documents……and with your points someone that doesn’t even know how speak English well will be on top of you…. and commands you as if you’re dumb or worthless…..DON’T JOIN WITH THOSE POINTS PLEASE DO BETTER THINGS WITH THEM..”
This was a refreshing thought output that points to the core of the problem we will address later. Six days later, on the 9th August 2016, the NDF released a statement postponing the 29 July advert on recruitment of officer cadets “until further notice”. The NDF further sincerely apologised for “inconvenience this may have caused.” With high unemployment and the prevailing dominant mind-set of the NDF being the only opportunity for the thousands of uneducated, unemployed and unemployable dangerous masses of young people between the ages of 24 to 35 – whose numbers outnumber the all security agencies combined, it is not hard to comprehend the correct decision to recall the advert; irrespective of the reasons advanced But what are we to learn, analytically, from this quagmire? What is the underlined message and indeed what is cooking in the NDF? This is a very important question to address. The first point of call is the history of the NDF. We must explain to the youth that the NDF was created in 1990 and as the constitution of the Republic of Namibia states to defend our territory and national interest. At its formation the NDF consisted of the integrated forces of the then SWAPO’s military wing the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and the then Apartheid South West African Territorial Force (SWATF). To understand the NDF one need to spend sufficient time with the literature on civil military relations where it will emerge clear that the set up in Namibia is that what political scientists refers to as ‘civil supremacy’.
Unlike in countries like Nigeria, our military is not as autonomous. Our security architecture locates the NDF between political institutions and armed forces establishments. Some thinkers, such as Guy Lamb, argued as far back as 1999 that what we see in Namibia is Civil Supremacy. Civil supremacy involves these aspects; (1) a clear separation between civilian and military powers and responsibilities, (2) the accountability of the armed forces to civilian authority/government and (3) the practice of transparency in the conduct of defence and security matters. It is for this reason that those who understand the Namibian security architecture would understand the concerns and the debate above. The understanding of civil supremacy in Namibia is not a complex matter. One only needs to read the Defence Act (Act 1 of 2002) that puts a stop to the NDF or Commander-in-Chief to unilaterally declare war and deploy troops outside our borders. In terms of this act, Cabinet must be consulted and Parliament must be informed within a specific period of time. Parliament can actually decide to recall the troops deployed outside Namibia and there is nothing the Generals or Commander-in-Chief can do. He/she will obey. Such is the character of our security architecture
It is this setup that has generated part of the problems the NDF is attempting to solve using bonapatist methods. The civilians, Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Permanent Secretaries were able, over the years, to exert tremendous influence on the military and introduced a particular culture in the military. You only need to sit down with a General to learn how civilian authorities have introduced and inducted generals to corruption. Those who disagree must quickly be sent to the archives to learn about a billion dollar food tender and how generals ended up submitting quotations to supply food through various close corporations run by their relatives to the NDF. The NDF was thus unable to generate its own identity and philosophy. With the passage of time, it started to be a reflection of society in most problematic ways. The tribal fights, shebeen gossip and political jostling of positions in political parties easily entered the NDF headquarters. The civilian authority created a culture whereby the NDF is seen as a response to unemployment. When a local councillor is quizzed about plans they have to deal with unemployment their answers are simple and generally the same; “I spoke to comrade Minister and he confirmed that the NDF will soon announce recruitments”. Parents, when they are faced with the wrath of their problematic, uneducated, unemployed and unemployable thugs, the first thing on their minds is the NDF. When their children perform well and score, say 40 points, parents hardly, including Generals, think of sending their children to the NDF. This is a deep seated crisis which cannot be address by mere adverts. It can actually lead to serious unrest if not properly handled. Who can take up in numbers the dangerous mob of uneducated, unemployed and unemployable masses of young people if not the military and police? Ideally economic growth would be an answer but since we have had stagnant economic growth – a jobless growth – which will realistically absorb these youth knowing very well that not absorbing them is a danger in itself? The NDF, over the years have been recruiting professionals to join the force in effort to professionalise it. While it does so, it is still unable to keep them given that the culture has not transformed. Refer to the above quote of the professional marine soldier. These professionals soon get agitated and leave the force for greener pastures. The thinking with 35 points officer cadet recruitment is based on the view that once a person becomes a soldier first and later sent to school they are likely to stay with the force as opposed to professionals that are recruited already with degrees and they are not yet soldiers. This thinking is not based on any evidence and is not likely to succeed. The new soldiers, who have been joining the NDF since 2000, are different; he/she is not your typical PLAN or SWATF commandant whose mind and spirit aroused by songs and slogans. He/she wants to be on Twitter/Facebook and other places. A total rebellion against the culture of the new soldier, a culture that characterises all corner of his life, will not succeed. Charisma, tactical sophistication, intellectual fortitude and care for his economic circumstances – not fear – are what drives the new soldier. The NDF needs to address its culture and identity. It needs to develop innovative ways and strategies to deal with current dynamics including the New Soldier. There will be time to deal with all these aspects in future.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015