Since the start of his presidency, our President, Dr Hage Geingob, has spoken of ‘building a Namibian House.’ He has stated that “Namibians want a house where everyone feels a sense of belonging, where everyone is presented with a fair opportunity to prosper in an inclusive manner and by so doing, ensure that no one feels left out.” I feel that Namibians in general agree with that sentiment, and have hope his Harambee Prosperity plan can build the house the President proposes. But while the plan has concrete goals, it lacks in one significant area – what we as the Namibian people need to be for the plan to succeed.
There are several values I believe to be crucial for our Namibian House, and one of these, is honesty. Honesty has many definitions, but the one I prefer, is that honesty is the refusal to fake reality. In other words, refusing to pretend that certain facts are different depending on your viewpoint. I’ve heard it described as the flipside of rationality – where rationality binds one to think and act while considering the relevant facts, honesty compels one to do so without choosing to distort or ignore facts.
Honesty frequently appears simple, and yet it is anything but. After all, if you apply for a job, and list your actual qualifications, you will be able to perform your duties, and keep your job and perhaps even be promoted. But if you lie, soon your lack of skill will be noticed, and you’ll lose your job. Similarly, cheating on a test might seem like an easy pass, but knowledge builds upon previous knowledge, and with each coming test, your ability to pass honestly becomes more difficult.
And therein lies the rub with dishonesty. It spread to infect your life like a multi-headed hydra, growing a new head every time one is cut off. A person who lies to cover up fraud at work, soon has to lie to her friends about where her extra money came from. They have to lie to their boss and falsify reports. Now they have to worry that the lies told to their work colleagues and friends are different, and that they don’t find out the truth. As people want to know more and more, additional lies have to be told to cover up previous ones. To avoid dishonesty being exposed, more and more lies have to be told – a veritable house of cards that can come crashing down at any moment.
The sad part is that while an honest person can afford to surround herself with competent people with good judgement, the dishonest person cannot afford that – after all, they might suss out the truth. They can only surround themselves with the gullible, and the foolish. Dishonesty can never be contained, and its effects never escaped.
After all, can you truly enjoy the fruits of dishonesty? If you stole a beautiful necklace to give you your partner, you might enjoy making him or her happy, but every time you see it, you’ll be reminded that you could not provide it yourself – you had to steal it. And every time someone else looks at it, that anxiety of being caught out will be there.
Perhaps the saddest thing about dishonesty, is that all that effort and mental gymnastics required to maintain a web of deceit, could have been used to obtain those rewards honestly! If all that time and effort had been expended towards productive goals instead of trying to feed this hydra of dishonesty, imagine what could have been achieved!
Honesty is especially important for our Namibian House, because dishonesty has a profound economic cost. Trust in strangers save on what economists term transaction costs – the price you pay for doing business. If people can trust one another to do what they say, and deliver what they promise, these costs remain small. But if such trust is not to be found, these costs escalate. Suddenly formal contracts have to be drawn up. Courts need to intervene in even the smallest affairs to ensure that justice is being served. Lawyers are therefore required, and soon these costs add up.
When dishonesty infects a nation – when the integrity of the average citizen’s word is in doubt – economic downturn is sure to follow. Research has shown that in societies where trust and integrity are paramount, their economic and political futures are much brighter than in those where they are neglected.
An easy measure of our honesty as a society is perhaps corruption. For a Namibian House that aims to combat poverty, it is clear where we need to focus our energy – after all, it is the poor who shoulder most of the burden of corruption in society. An increase of only 0.78% in corruption causes a corresponding drop of 7.8% in the income growth of the poorest 20% of the population, according to an IMF study.
Namibia has made some strides in this area at least, moving from 55th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2014, to 45th in 2015, giving us a joint 4th position in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Botswana (28th), Seychelles (40th), Rwanda (44th) and being alongside Mauritius. We still have a long way to go, but it is worth it. The World Bank states that: “countries that improve on control of corruption and rule of law can expect (on average), in the long run, a four-fold increase in incomes per capita. Similarly, such a country could expect, on average, a 75% reduction in child mortality.”
I believe honesty is a key ingredient we need to foster in ourselves if we are to build this Namibian House. It promotes authenticity, fosters courage, and shows you care. It shows maturity and self-acceptance, and fosters connections between us as members of the new Namibian House. It frees us as Namibians to be our true selves. And after all, how can we be true to ourselves, if we cannot be true to others?