Parliamentary bout – round two

…as both sides forget that democracy is not easy

Democracy is hard work. This week in Parliament, Speaker Peter Katjavivi, and LPM leaders Bernadus Swartbooi and Henny Seibeb forgot this. Each resorted to dictatorship, emotion and anger.

The Speaker told two elected leaders to get out of the building. The two, Seibeb and Swartbooi, engaged in a goal-less diatribe, hurling personal insults at a citizen. To what end? Did their outburst create a single job? How is the drowning Namibian economy saved by that clash?

In the Speaker’s case, there was a dangerous precedent set. Arguably, there was a misuse of his authority. This effectively silenced the representatives of the many angry people in Namibia today.

At the same time, the pointless nastiness by the leaders of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) was an unworthy cheap shot. They did a grave disservice to their constituents and supporters.

Swartbooi made unnecessary statements about Founding President Sam Nujoma. This led to his dismissal from the building by Parliament’s Speaker, Peter Katjavivi. Deputy LPM leader Henny Seibeb stated his belief that a book written by Nujoma is propaganda. He thinks that its author had not told the truth. He was thrown out too.

The Parliament of the Republic of Namibia is not a schoolroom lorded over by Headmaster Katjavivi. It is not a Swapo rally nor is it an altar for the praise of anyone. Every person there has been duly elected by their constituents. No one, not even the Speaker, has a right to silence an elected member of parliament.

It is difficult to listen to other points of view. That is what makes democracy the hardest, yet fairest, system of government. The Speaker had other options to control the debate other than pressing the nuclear button on two noisy politicians venting their personal demons. The two received the attention and headlines they wanted. They satisfied their angry constituents courtesy of the Speaker. Katjavivi over-reacted to the situation because he had no new ideas or innovative plans to handle it.

During the SONA last month, the Speaker roared out his indignation using the name of God (in a secular state) because someone dared speak while the president was talking. Now, we have the octogenarian schoolmarm Speaker throwing out unruly ‘students’. Next, will he use a ruler to spank their hands?

Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” A Speaker must reflect this level of commitment democracy or step down.

An adept Speaker will be quick-witted. He will be great at banter and repartee and a strategic planner. He will have a tactical mastery of conversation, tolerance, fair-handedness, and universally respected. Does this Speaker in 2020, still have this capacity?

Corporal punishment is a reflection of a teacher or parent’s inability to think of any other way to find a solution to a problem. A slap is easy. Networking, private dialogue, listening, cajoling, and commanding respect are hard.

Here is the real danger: Today it is an angry Katjavivi throwing out LPM members for saying ugly things about the Founding President. Tomorrow when another party takes over the Parliamentary majority, they will elect a different speaker. That person may get angry and throw Swapo members out for rambunctiously defending that very same founding president.

If there were a threat of physical violence in the House, an ejection must happen. But, short of that, a Speaker must be able to find alternative actions that serve democracy. Katjavivi lost control of the House and could think of no other way to get it back. So, he stepped onto the slippery slope and turned his back on democracy.

There is a new normal now anyone in government that cannot accept nor handle this, should step down.

Not all Namibians view the founding president as their ‘father’ (an antiquated, cult-like notion) nor do they find him unassailable. That minority public voice was voted into Parliament in the last elections. Katjavivi must make a plan or be forced to throw people out regularly.

At the same time, members of parliament who choose the battering ram when a knock on the door will do, are being reckless. Seibeb and Swartbooi getting tossed out means the debate went on in Parliament with no verbal representation from the LPM voters. The two young Parliamentarians must demonstrate that they have better ideas and new programs to offer. You cannot do that sitting outside.

Swartbooi and Seibeb will mature as lawmakers. They will realize that building bridges and engaging in fruitful dialogue are powerful tools. Combined with their anger, fire and urgency for change, they will be formidable as representatives of their constituents. For now however, temper tantrums do not further their cause; it only signals that they are not ready for the hard work of democracy.

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