Skip to main content
A convoy of coffins containing the remains of twenty-four Algerian resistance fighters killed during the French colonial conquest of the North African country heads toward El Alia Cemetery in Algiers.
A convoy of coffins containing the remains of twenty-four Algerian resistance fighters killed during the French colonial conquest of the North African country heads toward El-Alia Cemetery in Algiers. (AFP)

In a symbolic and widely publicized funeral ceremony, the remains of twenty-four Algerian resistance fighters decapitated for resisting French colonial rule in the nineteenth century were laid to rest on Sunday, July 5. The skulls had been held in France as war trophies for decades until a repatriation agreement was reached, part of an effort by France to make amends for its bloody, destructive colonial history.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune attended the interment of the fighters’ remains at El-Alia Cemetery in the capital Algiers, in a section dedicated to fallen martyrs, on the same day as the country celebrated its fifty-eighth year of independence from France.

 

One of two caskets draped with a Namibian flag, each containing ten human skulls, is taken from an airplane on October 4, 2011, in Windhoek. They were the skulls of Herero and Nama genocide victims taken to Germany more than a century before. (Brigitte Weidlich/AFP)
One of two coffins, each containing ten human skulls, is taken from an airplane on October 4, 2011, in Windhoek, Namibia. They were the skulls of Herero and Nama genocide victims taken to Germany more than a century before. (Brigitte Weidlich/AFP)

 

Reckoning with Colonial History

This gesture by France is reflective of a larger trend among former European powers to acknowledge their colonial histories. In 2011 and 2018, Germany returned the skulls of Herero and Nama people to Namibia, more than a century after a genocide carried out by German colonial troops. The skulls had been sent to German universities for “research” by scientists obsessed with measuring racial differences to justify white supremacy.

In a letter sent to President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the sixtieth anniversary of independence from Belgian colonial rule, King Philippe of Belgium expressed his “deepest regrets for the wounds of the past.” During Belgian king Leopold II’s rule of the Congo Free State from 1877 to 1908), millions of Congolese were killed and maimed. After an investigation into abuses, the Belgian parliament took over and ruled the Congo until 1960.

These acts of contrition are appreciated, but they fall short of a full apology demanded by the descendants of those brutalized by colonial-era powers.

 

Namibian flag

An adverse opinion in an audit report of the Namibian defense ministry has created a major political rift between the country’s auditor general, Junias Kandjeke, and defense minister Peter Hafeni Vilho. The latter accuses Kandjeke and other auditors of engaging in “daylight espionage” after demanding access to military bases to assess the fighting capability of certain military equipment.

 

He said publishing such information posed a threat to national security

 

Vilho made the serious allegation at last week’s gathering of the National Assembly, saying that publishing such information for anyone to see posed a threat to national security. He said of the US$34 million being probed, US$26.8 million worth of invoices had been made available to the auditors. To him, the adverse opinion implies the ministry had wasted millions and had refused to cooperate in the audit process.

In defense of his office, Kandjeke has denied any such allegations. He maintains the constitution gives him the authority to audit all state institutions.

His position is backed by Mike Kavekotora, the leader of the opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) party, who refuted the accusations that the auditor general’s report violated national security or that espionage was involved. Kavekotora said the defense ministry was using these charges to conceal the misappropriation of state funds and maladministration.

Kavekotora ran in the 2019 presidential election and obtained 0.4 percent of the votes.

 

 

Harvet of Pear Millet in Namibia
A woman harvests pearl millet, locally known as mahangu, near Rundu in northern Namibia. It is a staple food in the Southern African country.

 

Namibia is set to suspend imports of white maize and pearl millet in an effort to protect local farmers from foreign competition. The Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) announced that these imports will be suspended starting June 1 and June 30, respectively, and ending sometime in November, after millers had taken up the entire local harvest. This while Namibia’s agricultural sector is still recovering from a three-year drought. Grain stores were already depleted in late April, according to the executive director of the Ministry of Agriculture, Percy Misika.

Such a policy harkens back to an earlier economic era for developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa, using a strategy known as import substitution industrialization to reduce dependency on foreign goods in order to encourage domestic growth. 

 

Namibia’s dry, hot climate makes this import suspension gambit a risky one.

 

What makes this decision relatively strange is that agriculture contributes only about 5 percent to Namibia’s total GDP, yet close to 70 percent of Namibians are dependent either directly or indirectly on the agricultural sector. Nonetheless, the country’s dry, hot climate makes this import suspension gambit a risky one, and unlikely to be replicated any time soon. Heavier-than-usual rainfall may help Namibia reach its maize and millet quotas this year, but it cannot rely on abnormal weather patterns in perpetuity.

 

Photo black hole
An artist’s impression of the peculiar thin disc of material circling a supermassive black hole, released by the European Space Agency (ESA) on July 11, 2019. (L. Ho / ESA / Hubble / AFP)

 

An astrophysicist at the University of Namibia, Dr. Eli Kasai, is working on a project that would bring a millimeter-wave telescope to Gamsberg, a plateau mountain about 160 km south-west of the capital Windhoek. Known as the Africa Millimeter Telescope (AMT), this US$20 million facility will play a crucial role in the study of black holes, extremely condensed areas of space that form in the aftermath of a star’s collapse whose gravity is so strong that not even light can escape it.

 

The Event Horizon Telescope produced the first-ever image of a black hole.

 

The AMT, the first of its kind in Africa, will be linked to a global network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), effectively turning the entire Earth into one giant telescope. The EHT produced the first-ever image of a black hole.

 

Namibia to Benefit

Namibia’s generally cloudless night sky and minimal light and air pollution make it an ideal place for both amateur and professional astronomers to observe the southern constellations. The AMT could help the country benefit in terms of astro-tourism.

 

 

Emma Theofelus
Emma Theofelus (Photo from LinkedIn)

 

Twenty-three-year-old Emma Theofelus has been appointed as Namibia’s deputy minister of information, communication, and technology. The former youth activist has stepped into a leadership role at a difficult time, having to help communicate preventive steps against COVID-19 to the public. She also embodies a growing number of younger Africans taking leadership roles.

 

A Youthful Continent

Africa is the only region in the world where the youth demographic—those younger than twenty-four—is growing; it is expected to increase by about 50 percent in the next three decades. A report released by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation projects that Africa’s youth population will reach 945 million by 2050.

 

These leaders are largely out of touch with the present needs and concerns of their constituents.

 

The Elders Still Rule

Conversely, African heads of state continue to be well into their late sixties, seventies, and eighties, and many cabinet members are similarly picked from the older generation. Many of these leaders attained political prominence for their involvement in decolonization efforts or independence wars, as was the case for Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe and Angola’s former president José Eduardo dos Santos.

This preference for liberation heroes is understandable, but these leaders are largely out of touch with the present needs and concerns of their constituents, the majority of whom have no memory of the colonial era. And in a number of cases these leaders, driven by a desire to maintain their hold, resort to changing their countries’ constitutions to erase term limits or lift age restrictions for political office.

 

A Namibian woman exits a voting booth after electronically marking her vote during the Namibian Presidential and parliamentary elections, on November 27, 2019 in Windhoek. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP
A Namibian woman exits a voting booth after electronically marking her vote during the Namibian presidential and parliamentary elections on November 27, 2019 in the capital Windhoek. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP)

 

Rejuvenating Politics

It is time for young people like Emma Theofelus to take leadership roles in government. Fresh ideas, youthful energy, and knowledge of technology are essential for peace and sustainable development on the continent. And more representative of the young population, too.

Daily Picks
Nov 23, 2020