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Indicators from Ju/'hoan Bushmen in Namibia

Namibia, formally called Southwest Africa, was once colony of both Germany and Britain and then part of South African until 1990. With Independence, the incoming majority-rule government faced a stiff challenge of establishing new democratic relations of power from the complex colonial legacy of racial the ethnic stratification. The Ju/'hoansi (!Kung, Ju/Wasi) Bushmen are a population of Khoisan-speaking former hunter-gathers residing in northeastern Namibia and the northwestern Kalahari Desert region of Botswana.

Traditionally, the Ju/'hoansi were organized as bands of individuals supported by the resources of a n!ore, the Ju/'hoansi word meaning, "the place to which you belong." In 1970, Bushmanland was established by the Government of South Africa as the homeland for the Ju/'hoan and other Bushmen. For the Ju/'hoansi, "it meant the loss of 90% of their traditional land of Nyae Nyae, and all but one of their permanent waterholes," according to Megan Biesele. As part of this process, many Ju/'hoansi moved to the administrative center of Tjum!kui where the Government of South Africa provided a school, a clinic, a few jobs and a liquor store. By the late 1970s, Tjum!kui had become a rural slum and was referred to by the Ju/'hoansi as "the place of death."

During the 1980s, the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN) was formed to aid Ju/'hoan efforts at self-reliance. It supported a "back to the land movement" by which the Ju/'hoansi would leave Tjum!kui to return to their n!oresi (villages). Today, there are some 37 decentralized communities in Nyae Nyae, each with a water source, usually a borehole with a wind-mill, kraals (corrals) for protecting their cattle and small agricultural fields and gardens. The communities range in size from about a dozen people to as many as 150. In collaboration with the NNDFN, the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative (NNFC) implements activities ranging from a village school program to health promotion, from running a shop to natural resource management.

The Ju/'hoansi face both the challenge and the opportunity of engaging in the new political process. Central to this challenge is how indigenous social organization can adapt itself to the recently independent nation of Namibia and, in the long-term, the wider global society. The Ju/'hoan culture of equality and tolerance has always underplayed individual, elected leadership in favor of participation of all sectors of the population in consensus decision-making. Yet the Ju'/hoansi are now faced with the necessity of selecting leaders, forming new structures and participating in a representatives system if they are going to participate in the new politics and compete with other segments of Namibian society for a share of national resources. The most immediate example is a recent government policy which aims to return to indigenous people the rights of management and benefit from tourism and wildlife. Part of this policy requires the Ju/'hoansi to form a Conservancy Committee that will be the executive body over the wildlife and tourism resources. As stated in the policy, the committee should, "consist of elected or appointed representatives of the community. The MET [Ministry of Environment and Tourism] must be satisfied that the members of the conservancy council are sufficiently representative of the community served by the conservancy." This also raises the question of who is best suited to judge the representation of the Conservancy Committee that is required by the government in order to grant to indigenous people the rights to benefit from tourism and wildlife. Evolution of the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative (NNFC)

The Ju/Wa Farmers Union, renamed the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative (NNFC) in 1990, was first constituted in 1986. The individuals in the Ju/Wa Farmers Union did not speak for others in the community; rather, they facilitated communication and decision-making by providing information within the community, maintaining "official" contacts with outsiders (e.g: government representatives; technicians; donors) and communicating the opinions and ideas of the local residents. The traditional egalitarianism and tolerance inherent in the Ju/'hoan system mitigated against individuals accruing power of authority.

In 1988-89, it became necessary to formalize the organizational structure and leadership system of the Ju/Wa Farmers Union as the number of n!oresi was rapidly increasing. There was also a need to facilitate an application for legal recognition in the soon to be independent Namibia. The Union drafted a set of statutes establishing a representative organization. (See Figure 1: Evolution of decision-making structures in Nyae Nyae, for a schematic representation of this and other structures of the NNFC.) The basis of this structure was the Representative Council. It was decided that each of the n!oresi would choose and be represented by two individuals, one male and one female. The members of the Representative Council, in turn, elected a Chairperson, a Secretary and one representative from each quarter of Nyae Nyae (at the time there were three) to form the five-person Management Committee. The Committee became responsible for the day-to-day management of the development program and services provided to and on behalf of the community, funded largely by international donors.

Megan Biesele characterizes the new representative structures as coming not from the people themselves, but as imported models and expectations. Taken a step further, the early approach focused on the products of democratization (i.e., creating representative institutions) rather than on the process of democratization (i.e., indigenous people defining and achieving their own appropriate models). This is not to say that international models of democracy and representative institutions as the products of that democracy are necessarily bad. Rather, when such structures are imposed on indigenous people, the very process of democratization is ignored and local people are denied the opportunity to develop their models for adapting traditional ways to a modern world. Early 1995: Institutional Dilemmas in Nyae Nyae

While the NNFC constitution and other documentation describes the externally-based leadership structures and communication roles the reality on the ground has continued to evolve. Between 1991 and 1995, the Management Committee became an isolated decision-making body, often speaking on behalf of the community, making decisions for them and rarely communicating the results back to the community. Ideas and inputs from the community for planning and implementation of the development program were rarely sought. Visits by the Management Committee members to the n!oresi had become all but non-existent by early 1995. Interviews in January 1995 revealed that most community members were not aware of the Management Committee's current activities. Community members expressed dissatisfaction with the Management Committee, frequently stating that the members should be replaced.

Interviews also revealed that, while a representative structure might be in place, the changes in culture and social organization necessary to make the structure effective had not occurred. Community members who were interviewed continued to believe that no one could speak on their behalf. Several respondents during interviews in January 1995 said that they had not "chosen" their representative to the Councilor and that they had no sense of one person having been selected to perform a representative role on the Council. Several n!oresi reported that a different individual attended almost every meeting.

Furthermore, the roles and responsibilities of the various parties in a representative structure were not clearly understood. Community members did not see themselves as having rights to demand information and accountability from their representatives. In discussions with ten members of the Representative Council, all agreed that they were not sure how to perform their roles and that they required training in representative governance.

A number of factors have been instrumental in the council's evolution. Rapid growth in population size (due to the return to the area of Ju/'hoan Bushmen from administrative centers and farms) and expansion of the scope of the activities of the NNFC have created enormous challenges for effective communication and participatory decision-making. Reaching the entire Ju/'hoan population of about 2,000 regarding a whole host of decision had become an impossible task for the Management Committee (now four members with limited transportation). In addition, given difficult logistics and the high cost of holding meetings, the Representative Council had generally met annually, rather than every six months as previously intended. The result was that the Management Committee began making decisions on behalf of the community. Outsiders, including government representatives, donors and other individuals began to view the Management Committee as representative of the NNFC. Given the difficulty of getting the Representative Council together on short notice, decisions were sought from the Management Committee on behalf of the community. Finally, there was a lack of a formal or consistent effort to educate people regarding their roles and responsibilities in this new system.

By early 1995, the NNFC seemed to have evolved from a participatory organization, built upon a tradition of decision-making by consensus, to one centralized at the Management Committee level with little or no participation by community members. It is certain that the imposition of a representative structure as a symbol of democracy contributed to this evolution by concentrating authority in a few select individuals, a concept disliked by the Ju'/hoansi. Given that this structure was not of their own making, the Ju'/hoansi did not have the insights or resources necessary to modify and adjust the model to the expanded scope in NNFC activities and population growth. Recent Developments and Options for the Future

It is against this backdrop that a group, which included the Management Committee, ten members of the Representative Council and eleven other community members, agreed that the current structure and operation of the Management Committee was inhibiting effective communication with all sections of the community. This group also recognized that changes in their social collective voice in order to participate in the new nation state, and the realities of receiving donor funds necessitated a revised structure that would allow decisions to be made in a timely fashion and with consensus, thereby maintaining some legitimacy in the eyes of the community.

In response, members of the Representative Council elected two Representatives from each of the four districts to join the Management Committee and form the Management Board, bringing the total to 12 members. The primary role of the Management Board is two-way communication at two levels: 1) between community members and the Management Committee as the NNFC implements the rural development program; and 2) between community members and outsiders (i.e., government representatives, donors and non-governmental organizations).

This board meets monthly, and then holds meetings bi-monthly in the board members' respective districts. The objectives of the meetings are to promote joint decision-making, problem-solving, and long the short-term planning; the increase community participation in managing and evaluating NNFC progress; and to provide a forum for intra-community information sharing and announcing achievements.

To improve communication and facilitate community participation in decision-making, the NNFC has also taken on a Community Ranger Program. The program was started in mid-1994 by an Australian, Neil Powell, and the original roles of the community rangers were to gather data on and monitor land and wildlife resources, and then communicate this information to the n!ore owners. The Community Rangers are appointed at district level meetings and are managed by the village leaders. Already, there has been constructive criticism of the rangers who have responded by expressing a sense of accountability to the residents of the n!oresi.

The Management Committee and Representative Council also have acknowledged that the scope of the community rangers' role is broader then natural resources. Their reports now include information on all of the development issues facing the community. Although the rangers have a critical communication role, they do not have a decision-making or representative function.

The January 1995 interviews showed that, in contrast to community members' lack of knowledge of the activities of the Management Committee, over 80 percent stated they knew about the local community ranger's identity, role and responsibilities. (It is important to note that it was the Ju/'hoansi themselves who modified the responsibilities of the rangers to include broader development issues and to reinforce the centrality of their communication role.)

To address the issue of outsiders who make random visits to the NNFC and do not allow time to visit the n!oresi to hear the opinions of community members, the Management Board has established the first week of every month as a time when all members will be available at the NNFC office. In this way, donors, government representatives and other individuals can easily meet with a broader representation of the community.

In July 1995, a series of workshops was initiated to enable to Management Board and Community Rangers to clarify their roles. The results of these meetings have been discussed with community residents at district-level workshops in order to educate and inform community members regarding governance issues and to seek their concurrence with the proposed roles. Further training and clarification of governance roles and responsibilities are required for the Representative Council and the community at large.

Problems of the lack of involvement of community members in program implementation, poor communication and centralized decision-making may still persist in the new Management Board structure. It could potentially be beneficial to explore a more "bottom-up" approach and expand the district organizational concept to include "village associations." Conclusions

What is so important about this new phase in the evolution of the Ju/'hoan socio-political organization is that now the Ju'/hoansi are themselves developing appropriate models through their own initiatives. They are building a structure that reflects their needs and perceptions and which also incorporates their traditional ways by allowing for consensus-building.

Further, it permits the Ju'/hoansi to speak with a collective voice. Just as external conditions will not remain static, neither will the structures that are developed. However, given that these models have been developed and chosen by the Ju/'hoansi themselves, it is more likely that they will have the insights and resources necessary to adapt their structures to changing situations.

There are certainly other governance issues, including problems of social equity in access to program resources, growing divisions between older and younger generations, as well as between women and men, and integration within the national society. But these must be addressed by the Ju'/hoansi themselves. As Megan Biesele writes, allowing traditional ideas and models to persist, or to be changed organically by the people's own initiatives, is a "pretty good indicator of democracy at work." Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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