What is independence?
The ability to do what you want whenever you want. The right to think freely for yourself. Freedom from the oppression of others who don’t always have your best interests at heart.
In the United States, Independence Day is a day of celebration.
For some citizens of other countries, Independence Day is not as pleasant.
On Saturday, March 21, Namibia will celebrate its 19th birthday.
I first became aware of the country, located in southwest Africa, when I traveled there for May Term last spring.
In 1990, the people gained their independence from South Africa, and shortly afterwards came an end to apartheid.
Namibians have struggled under foreign rule since the early 1900s, so independence should seem like a true accomplishment, and it is.
Except that the people are not free, not really.
They do vote for their elected officials, but their government is corrupt.
Freedom of speech comes with certain restrictions. No criticizing government officials or the way the country is run.
One organization we visited publishes a magazine educating the public about HIV/AIDS. The government must approve all of its content.
HIV/AIDS is another major problem that is crippling the country.
Approximately one in five adults is infected by the disease.
The life expectancy rate is only 43 years.
They are crippled by an economy that is virtually non-existent, but the government has been unsuccessful to jumpstart it. They simply don’t know how.
A majority of the money spent by the people goes to food and other necessities, which are purchased at grocery stores, which are owned by South African companies.
All of the money earned and spent in Namibia is literally flown out of the country the very same day.
Above all is the crushing poverty. Independence doesn’t mean nearly as much when you’re still relying on significant financial contributions from other governments and non-governmental organizations, as Namibia has had to do.
Each donation comes with its own set of guidelines and its own implications.
The jobless rate here is nearly 50 percent.
Without jobs, women turn to prostitution to earn money. People also turn to alcohol. There’s a vicious cycle that people can’t seem to break.
Women are dependent on their husbands, both socially and financially.
There’s little optimism in Namibia. A sense of hopelessness has settled over the country. It’s a sad thing to see and it’s scary.
The students there are not that different than us. They listen to the same music and follow the same celebrities, although many have never entered a movie theater.
Many have cell phones. They send text messages, known there as SMSs.
If there’s one lesson I learned in Namibia, it’s that we’re all part of something greater than what’s right around us.
We are global citizens, and as such, we hold a responsibility to our neighbors around the world.
It’s difficult to imagine what role we may have in improving the lives of people halfway around the world, but I think their success falls on our shoulders too, at least a little bit.
Awareness may be only one step, but it’s a step in the right direction.