Land of the free and home of the brave?

The Time Traveler: Hugh Ellis

I have very mixed feelings about the new US Embassy compound currently being built on a large plot of land in my neighborhood.

On the one hand, the United States is a great nation. It’s the nation of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King. The nation of the Wright brothers, the humble bicycle mechanics who built the first airplane. The nation of Neil Armstrong and Katherine Johnson, and all the others who got men to the Moon.

My education would have been immensely poorer if it were not for the Americans who taught African history and geography at Windhoek International School. At least, it meant I left school knowing about the Herero Genocide and the Mutapa Empire, which it seems many Namibians did not.

On the other hand, you must be living under a rock if you think the US today is living up to the noble ideals it claims for itself. What about George Floyd, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and, and, and? What about systemic inequality that leaves black (and Hispanic and Native) Americans poor, poorly educated, and in poor health compared to their white counterparts?

Any other country would have sanctions imposed upon it for this kind of behavior.

The new compound in Windhoek – which will doubtless have ultra-tight security, guards at every corner, probably twice-as-regular Namibian police patrols on surrounding streets, and apparently will be self-sufficient to the point of having its own fuel station – seems to represent the worst of white America: the paranoid idea that ‘we must be under threat, so let’s knuckle down, stay together and in isolation, arm ourselves, batten down the hatches.’

There’s an African Fish Eagle, not an American Bald Eagle, on the cover of my passport, and some would say all this is none of my business.

Certainly, there’s more than enough racism at home in Namibia to fight against, and I am committed to doing that.

However, multiple things can be true at the same time. We all know the US Government doesn’t hesitate to pontificate about democracy and human rights when there’s, say, a disputed election in Zimbabwe, or violence in Somalia, or injustice in Hong Kong. So it’s only fair that we do likewise. Also, it’s hard, as a Namibian citizen, as a citizen of an African country, not to take the mistreatment of black people personally, wherever in the world it happens.

Of course, there’s little I can do except sign petitions. And should a Namibian Black Lives Matter protest ever need a base a stone’s throw away (er, guys, that’s a metaphor) from the US Compound, I guess I’m your man.

In the meantime, perhaps the Trumpian monstrosity will serve as a necessary reminder to the often-apathetic middle class residents of my neighborhood, including me, that our work right here is not yet done.

Namibia may not specialize in mass murder, but the enforcement of the Covid-19 restrictions and Operation Kalahari Desert have shown our police force and military need reform. Not to mention our private security industry, which seems quite prepared to beat a man to death over stolen glue.

White supremacy needs to be ended in all its outpourings, before black bodies are 100 per cent safe. We still have racist monuments that need to be torn down, an unjust land distribution problem to solve, and a business sector that pays only lip service to the noble concept of Affirmative Action.

There’s work for all us Namibians to do, if we’re not to end up like white America.

Hugh Ellis grew up on Coca-Cola and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and is a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow his blog at

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