NAMIBIA: Parliament seeks partnerships with academics

The chief whip of Namibia's governing SWAPO party in the national assembly, Professor Peter Katjavivi, has called on academics to work with parliamentarians in select committees as the country moves to confront a myriad of social problems. He called for a multidisciplinary approach, given scarce resources.

Katjavivi is also an academic and founding vice-chancellor of the University of Namibia. He made the plea at a research symposium organised by the university's faculty of humanities and social sciences, at which researchers shared their work.

Listing a number of challenges the nation faces, he said academics should consider working with parliamentary committees set up to deal with those problems, in advisory capacities.

He emphasised that the social sciences have an important role to play in the social, economic and cultural development of all African countries.

"The social sciences ought to be directed towards addressing important social problems, and the research agenda in this field ought to be shaped by the constituencies in society that are most affected by those problems," he said.

Katjavivi told workshop participants, including the dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences Professor Kingo Mchombu, that the country's lower house of parliament, the national assembly, had various committees focusing on a range of issues.

"We should make it our business to become partners. Parliamentarians need to know what academics at the University of Namibia are capable of doing so that they become partners in addressing issues confronting our country."

He said the social problems Namibia faced included: HIV-Aids (its effects both on young people and production in various sectors); rural and urban poverty and income inequalities; youth unemployment; landlessness and poverty; corruption and erosion of social morals and ethics; poor performance of children in education despite massive government investment; low productivity in the agricultural and industrial sectors; climate change and global warming; service delivery; issues of regional integration and globalisation; and domestic gender-based violence, especially when it involved young people.

He said each of the problems cited and others need to be explored if Namibia was to achieve development targets. He proposed a multidisciplinary approach in tackling social problems.

"This is important given that we live in an environment with limited resources, hence the need to be strategic. I have told my colleagues in parliament that the time has come for us to have other people - including academics and people from civil society - to work with us and advise us.

"Why do we need to go [abroad] to get expertise when we have our own people who have a much deeper understanding of the social and economic set-up in our country right here?"

It is not common in Africa for governing political parties to embrace academics. Many are indifferent to or even suspicious of the views of academics, while others openly tell them to leave politics and national affairs to politicians.

However, some countries create platforms for people with bright ideas to share, for the good of the nation. In Britain the queen is advised by, among others, the Privy Council - a collection of hundreds of people with expertise, from all walks of life, which includes opposition politicians and foreigners.

The reaction to Katjavivi's invitation has been mixed but largely optimistic.

One academic said: "It is laudable. It shows that the Namibian parliament and indeed the government are change-oriented. They now want to base their decisions and policies on sound evidence. Evidence comes from research and best practices elsewhere, and there is no better way to tap into that evidence than by working with those who generate it."

Another said academics do not always tell politicians what they want to hear, and hoped the two groups would enjoy each other's company should they decide to join hands.

"Ultimately that kind of collaboration is good for nation building," she said.

This is a good initiative by Professor Katjavivi. It is time to make changes in our country and it is only possible if we have the passion and the love among others. Political agitation is the first factor we have to settle. Corruption is the habit that is cracking our land apart. Development does not happen in isolation and there is no single individual to figure out the needs of our country. Taking good ideas from scholars as suggested by Professor Katjavivi has a great pontential to our gradual development.

Weyulu W