Government Confronts Culture: The Struggle for Local Democracy in Southern Africa

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Government Confronts Culture: The Struggle for Local Democracy in Southern Africa


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STATES AND SOCIETIES DULA J.ESPINOSA, AND CONNIE L.MCNEELY, Series Editors PUBLIC RIGHTS, PUBLIC RULES SKILLED WORKERS SOLIDARITY Constituting Citizens in the orld Polity and National Policy edited by Connie L.McNeely

GOVERNMENT CONFRONTS CULTURE The Struggle for Local Democracy in Southern Africa by Bruce Fuller

The American Experience in Comparative Perspective by Joseph Antoine






Published in 1999 by Garland Publishing Inc. A Member of the Taylor & Francis Group 19 Union Square West New York, NY 10003 This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2002. Copyright © 1999 by Bruce Fuller All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or here after invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission from the publishers. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Fuller, Bruce. Government confronts culture: the struggle for democracy in Southern Africa/Bruce Fuller…[et al.]. p. cm.—(Garland Reference library of social science; v. 1185) (States and societies; v. 2) Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. ISBN 0-8153-1431-0 (alk. paper) 1. Democracy—Africa, Southern. 2. Africa, Southern—Politics and government—1994– 3. Africa, Southern—Social policy. I. Title. II. Series. III. Series: Garland reference library of social science. States and society; v. 2. JQ2720.A58F85 1999 320' .6' 096809049–dc21 99–38197 CIP ISBN 0-203-90682-9 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0-203-90760-4 (Adobe eReader Format) ISBN 0-8153-3080-4 (Print Edition)






























Much remains to be done…over and above the resolution of constitutional issues. Perhaps above all, South Africa has to develop a culture of democracy.Whatever the obstacles, we now have to try democracy to show that it will work. —Helen Suzman (1993:290)

A hot blast of controversy swept into South Africa’s democratic parliament, towards the end of the remarkably tranquil first year after apartheid. The contentious proposal put forward by Nelson Mandela’s young government, a plan to build houses and to provide cars and secretaries for a colorful panoply of tribal chiefs, spread throughout the land. One supporter, Prince Sifiso Zulu, argued, “You can’t expect traditional leaders to open up to democracy without some movement toward recognizing their importance and difficulties” (Eveleth 1995). The proposal seemed preposterous after the world had watched the African National Congress under Mandela calmly move to the political center, echoing the universalist and pro-market ideals of Western-style modernization.Yet the ANC continues to express a paradoxical set of policies and strategies for broadening its own legitimacy. This involves a centrist strategy aimed at advancing nation-building and the modest redistribution of jobs and income. The legitimacy of this fledgling state, and its technical ability to bring change in the provinces and townships, depends upon its political and organizational links with local leaders, be they black, white, coloured, or Indian. Choice and federalism are two words heard often in the New South Africa. These terms contain medicinal messages aimed at soothing ethnicrooted distrust of centralism following the death of apartheid in 1994. Centralized xi

efforts aimed at redistribution are met with glancing blows, predictably from white elites but also from opposition black leaders and upwardly mobile coloured communities. During these same weeks of parliamentary acrimony, for instance, Inkatha Freedom Party leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, came out against the central government’s land reform proposal: “The crux of this forced plan…is the abolition of the indigenous land tenure system and the undermining of traditional leaders as administrators of land” (Hartley 1996). Tribally held lands, controlled by the chiefs, were soon excluded from the land reform bill. But the chiefs were forced to accept, for the first time, that democratic voting must be held before communal lands are sold, including equal voting rights for women. Such is the tenor of the struggle for democracy in the south of Africa. Just when one seems to have spotted elements of Western democracy, fresh mixes of ethnic power and culturally bounded conceptions of public problems arise in unforeseen ways.The dilemma facing newly democratic governments in Africa—as with emerging democracies in eastern Europe and Asia—is that they eagerly want to look modern, for this buys legitimacy, foreign aid, economic development, and hopefully unity. Yet the central state’s legitimacy, often fragile and fleeting, is also interdependent with pluralistic ethnic interests—regional agendas staked out within local communities, sharply distinguished by their ethnicity, class, even gender memberships.As the state attempts to deliver development and local change, it runs headlong into thick cultural shells in which public problems remain firmly encased. This book focuses on how African policy makers, largely under Western conceptions of statecraft, eagerly attempt to address three deep public problems: family poverty, unequal gender roles that reproduce harsh and denigrating lives for many women and children, and poor schools that seem immune to the state’s attempts to boost quality and effectiveness. Together, these public problems reproduce stark social and economic inequalities that may, if left untreated, undermine democratic civil society. In the West, foreign policy leaders often resemble football coaches who choose to retire after a victorious season.Winning the cold war in 1989 was a big victory of sorts.The Soviet collapse and equally rapid demise of coldwar theater in Africa quickly fueled the birth of democracy in Namibia, Mozambique, and Zambia. South Africa’s negotiated Government of National Unity finally emerged in 1994. Declining faith in the centralized state and ascendent Western renditions of national development— characterized by open markets and integrated societies—jolted the ANC leadership toward the political center. Thomas Jefferson certainly never xii


dreamed of the colorful spectrum of cultural diversity and political pluralism that reigns in South Africa. But he would have embraced the ANC’s response on governance questions: a sudden advocacy for a decentralized federal structure, allowing home rule at the provincial level in many sectors, including substantial control of schooling. So has democracy truly come to the people of southern Africa at the grassroots—inside their workplaces, schools, in their daily lives? Approval of South Africa’s permanent constitution in 1996 on a 421 to 2 vote of parliament was a remarkable political feat. But does it really signal “official completion of this country’s transition to democracy,” as one New York Times writer dramatically claimed (Daley 1996:A1)? Like many foreign aid wonks and the media, should we sit back, savor a victory, and declare that democracy has arrived? Since the political institutions at the top of the mountain seem to resemble our own, democracy must have arrived down below in those vast uncharted valleys, dusty townships, and village enclaves. As tribal chiefs and policy makers well know, this “democratic makeover,” in Benjamin Schwarz’s (1995) words, does not guarantee that more participatory and empowering social relations are taking root on the ground. Political leaders on the mountain tops may enjoy the fruits of multiracial democracy. But far below, people’s daily routines—whether linked to how children grow up in poverty or how gender roles continue to narrow opportunity—remain largely untouched by all the folderal and celebration over what might be called, virtual democracy. THREE PUBLIC PROBLEMS EMBEDDED IN CULTURAL POCKETS

This book, and the country studies upon which it is founded, has been motivated by one crucial question: Can Africa’s central policy makers and their young democratic governments effectively democratize social relations at the grassroots? To date I remain doubtful. Many public problems besetting southern African nations—especially those linked to deep and pervasive poverty—are reinforced across generations through people’s cultural scripts and daily routines which are difficult to thaw out and alter. New and fragile governments, such as those found in Namibia and South Africa, are eager to unify, modernize, and transform starkly unfair societies. But political credibility is built upon respect for diverse ethnic and cultural interests articulated from below, democratic respect that was so scarce during the dark centuries of colonial and apartheid rule.These new governments thus must devise policy strategies, often counter to the West’s textbook version of integrated nation-building, which accommodate balkanized ethnic and xiii

class interests.We have seen this in the ANC’s pro-school choice positions, tolerance of almost any language of instruction inside schools, and very slow going on the reform of gender relations. Leaders in young central states must walk on eggshells. Public intervention into sensitive private spheres—the basic domains of life in which poverty and authoritarian social relations are reproduced—becomes all the more difficult. For two centuries now the West—its policy engineers, scholars, and their ways of organizing society—has viewed modernization as a linear and deterministic process. Marxist critics rightfully illuminate the inequities that stem from capitalist expansion and class stratification. Analysts focusing on institution-level processes emphasize how modernizing states purposefully erode local cultures, blur ethnic distinctions, and reify the individual—all in the name of national unity and higher rates of economic consumption. Scholars focusing on the broadening world economic system and its own cultural underpinnings suggest that the Westernized individual, effectively peeled off from his or her local community, must find a modern job role and social status within an increasingly homogenized and institution-ridden society. This debate over the antecedents and effects of Western-style “development” waxes and wanes throughout southern Africa. Yet one particular contradiction in this contested story line has become clear: the West’s “rational” way of organizing the state, replete with individualistic market rules and carefully devised government interventions at the top, often fails to penetrate and alter resilient cultural patterns found within local institutions. Especially immovable—and the focus of this book— are the social habits, power relations, and taken-for-granted rules of participation found inside families and schools. In the chapters that follow we observe this contest between sound state interventions (technically speaking) that run headlong into brick cultural walls, behind which tacit habits, entrenched labor roles inside households, and plainly exploitative gender relations remain largely hidden from the eyes of modern policy makers. Since policy crafters are unaware of these small-scale institutional habits and grooves, or underestimate their resilient strength, the bureaucratic state’s effectiveness at the grassroots remains slight. Here rests the pivotal dilemma: the new state’s legitimacy depends upon its ability to break through cultural boundaries (be they set by ethnicity, class, or gender) and bring democratic opportunity to groups at the grassroots. Yet this requires reordering social rules in largely private or insular domains—a challenging task that no Western state has met with much agility. The empirical work reported in this volume centers on these three facets of family poverty in southern Africa: the unfair distribution of basic xiv


literacy skills; the subjugation of women, who now head more than half of all households in poor villages and townships; and the non-participatory tacit rules by which schools are managed and pedagogy is organized. All three issues are public problems in that they manifest and reproduce severe levels of household- and village-level poverty. In turn, these forces drag down economic participation and growth, and require the fragile state to boost spending on basic education and welfare services. These problems clearly rest within the public domain.They were created or intensified by the prior policy actions of colonial regimes and economic elites.Well known are the corrosive effects of labor migration on the cohesion of African families throughout the region (e.g., Greenberg 1987). The dictatorial traditions of British headmasters and then the unabashedly authoritarian organization of Bantu education combined to engineer nondemocratic forms of social relations inside schools. It is the cultural or taken-for-granted social rules found inside such local organizations that reinforced pre-modern forms of organization at the grassroots. Many tribal chiefs, for instance, still exercise legitimate authority to approve new teachers coming into their region’s schools, or to okay local construction of a family planning clinic. Their historical authority in many cases was advanced by the apartheid regime via the manipulation of ethnic politics (e.g., Comaroff and Comaroff 1991;Vail 1991).The interaction of post-colonial institutional cultures, found in newly democratic states, and more indigenous local norms is a topic on which our research teams have focused over the past decade. A related force counters any presumption that a Western-style state will simply be imported into the richly pluralistic and contentious terrain of African societies.This force involves, ironically, the modern legitimation of pre-modern forms of political power. The entire conception of racial reconciliation—the founding political frame for Namibia and South Africa— essentially represents a peace treaty between conflictual tribes, be they Afrikaner, Zulu, or coloured. In South Africa the federal political structure negotiated prior to the 1994 elections enabled the Inkatha Freedom Party to retain considerable influence in KwaZulu-Natal province; a curious coalition linking the white National Party and the coloured middle class even won control of the Western Cape. The interim constitution—and its newly codified successor—advances pluralistic rights for individuals and ethnic groups. In Namibia, redistributional policies are difficult to find.The oft mentioned reason: a spirit of reconciliation and the quite material worry over the flight of white capital. Federalist tensions around states’ rights, of course, are not new. But when a central government formally legitimizes ethnic bases of political power xv

and charters autonomy for racial elites outside the state apparatus, we are witnessing a fundamental departure from the political pluralism and cultural homogeneity envisioned by rather tame Western federalists, such as Jefferson. The individual’s civil rights and economic opportunity remains nested in the legitimated group rights and boundaries of ethnic enclaves. The unsettling ability of ethnic forms of pluralism to rattle the government’s political and technical capacity is demonstrated almost daily in South Africa. In 1995 the ANC majority in Parliament was close to approving the first national education bill, advancing national examination standards and signaling a modest redistribution of resources to underfunded black schools. But the conservative National Party, the left-wing Pan African Congress, and the breakaway Inkatha Freedom Party joined forces to cast more than the necessary one-third of all parliamentary votes to block the legislation. The bill was referred to the Constitutional Court on two grounds: it would allegedly violate the constitutional authority of provinces to run their own schools, and the legislation had been tabled only in English.The interim constitution guarantees that all bills must be available in the country’s nine official languages. President Nelson Mandela responded sharply, arguing that the National Party was “racist,” one of several “Mickey Mouse political parties who lost the election and who represent mainly whites.”The Nats, Mandela argued, were “rising against democracy” (Business Day 1995:4; Schimke 1995). Young and fragile states must tread very lightly on the cultural mores and hierarchical forms of power instantiated in the political culture. Otherwise the fledgling government’s own legitimacy is subverted from below. During the cantankerous 1996 legislative session the ANC killed a land reform proposal that would have allowed villagers to override their chief and form their own communal property association (similar to collective bargaining rights). But in return, the ANC convinced the chiefs’ lobbyist to accept the provision giving women a full vote in deciding local land issues. These legislative controversies came to a boil after traditional leaders in the eastern Cape sold coastal property to hotel developers requiring eviction of several hundred families (Hartley 1996). Here the central state displays a politically interdependent relationship with local institutions and forms of authority. Yet penetration down into the grassroots, aimed at reordering social rules and forms of power, becomes a very risky business. POLICY REMEDIES THAT BOUNCE-OFF CULTURAL WALLS

The modern state—when thoughtlessly imported into culturally diverse settings—often experiences frustration as it tries to democratize local xvi


institutions.This futility felt by politicians and bureaucratic leaders is rooted in a massive form of cultural miscommunication. The rationalized culture and implicit assumptions of government “interventions” rarely connect with, or even respect, the logic and resilient cultural patterns that give order to local schools and families. The frustrating irony is that just as the region is celebrating independence and the promise of activist government, more sobering assessments have arisen regarding the state’s limited capacity to dismantle the conditions and causes of poverty. My aim is certainly not to provide evidence or comfort to conservative opponents of strong and efficacious government. Yet my work with colleagues does suggest that policy makers will win neither legitimacy nor organizational effectiveness until they come to see how the tacit assumptions made within their bureaucratic institutions rarely succeed in building from the cultural tenets that cast the day-to-day order and rhythms found inside grassroots institutions. Modernizing agencies have been so obsessed with transforming local communities that they fail to look inside them—especially their schools and families—to understand their foundations, implicit habits, and local rationality. Our analytic approach involves three steps. First, several chapters detail how public problems related to family poverty are segmented within cultural or ethnic borders. These boundaries may be very explicit; for instance, the apartheid state’s manipulation of race and ethnicity by the artificial creation of “homelands.” At times, more indigenous cultural patterns interact with institutional manipulations.Two chapters in this book examine how literacy and school attainment are segmented within gender boundaries and circumscribed sex roles. The contemporary economic and social roles of women found in contemporary southern Africa stem both from pre-modern cultural norms roles and from the apartheid state’s labor practices and enforced separation of male wage earners from their native villages and townships. The economic and moral norms of modern nation-building require that cultural walls—including both ethnic and gender boundaries—must come down. Integrating an economy and unifying a nation-state require the dissolution of particularistic forms of social membership and identity. But the modern state’s post-war ability to integrate peripheral or diverse groups into an idealized social unity has been, to say the least, limited, even in western Europe or the United States. No matter how vile the institutional origins of racial and ethnic differences, the regional and cultural balkanization that persists in southern Africa means that problems of family poverty and poor schooling will vary across regional and ethnic situations. Detailing the xvii

economic and social variability found across ethnic communities—between and within racial groups—and how the problem of poverty is conditioned by ethnic borders is the first major aim of this book. We will see how literacy levels vary dramatically across ethnic groups in South Africa—not only between black and white families but among different ethnic communities within diverse black and coloured communities. The rates of early learning among young children in Namibia are similarly segmented by historically set ethnic boundaries and the grossly unequal provision of basic schooling which still maps against this ethnic geography. In Botswana and South Africa, we will explore how regional economies, gender roles, and maternal practices result in quite variable odds of staying in school and becoming more literate, often benefitting young females more than males. Thus unless we grasp the ways in which public problems are conditioned by ethnicity and gender borders—and how local institutions like the family and school reproduce differing pathways—the local effects of uniform and secular state policies will continue to be disappointing.We must recognize that the form and extent of social participation depends on a child’s or parent’s cultural milieu, not simply upon the trickle-down of democratic abstractions and a government that sits high above looking down from a distant mountain top. Second, our analytic frame recognizes that central policies at times are felt locally. The democratic breakthrough in southern Africa means that governments are assertively seeking to reduce inequalities in school attainment and literacy, to equalize gender relations, to broaden social participation in many domains. Several chapters empirically illuminate how and for which specific groups policy can boost literacy, reduce racial gaps, or advance the relative economic and social positions of young women.We will see some successes, even under rather tentative post-colonial governments in Namibia and South Africa. In many cases the state is not effective in disrupting the reproduction of family poverty across generations.The first step in this disappointing chain is the eagerness of young governments to borrow centralized and technocratic forms of public policy from the West. In this light, mass schooling becomes a pivotal institution as these fresh and progressive policy makers manipulate levers at the center in their attempts to change the motivations, allegiances, and behavior of local peoples.The school intervenes into radically heterogenous cultures with universalist promises of how to get ahead, a fair political and legal system, and shared social foundations built on a single modern language (English). But, of course, the forces underlying why some children get ahead and others don’t—and the predictable role of class and xviii


gender memberships—are deeply embedded in local cultural practices. This involves how much parents push their child to do well in school versus requiring them to work in the garden or about the homestead. Cultural habits drive the differing social and economic roles of young girls and boys. And the tacitly authoritarian beliefs of many teachers inside the school’s deep culture rebuff attempts by “rational” policy engineers and international consultants to mechanically deliver reforms to the grassroots. Paradoxically, technocratic forms of uniform policy—building more schools throughout the land, pushing for new examination standards, preaching at parents to pledge greater loyalty to the modern school—may become even less effective as African political structures become more decentralized and societies come to respect, not stigmatize, ethnic diversity. With South Africa’s constitutional sanctification of cultural pluralism under the social contract of reconciliation, policy makers face the challenge of how to penetrate diverse cultural settings. They also are confronted with the predictable political challenge mounted by federalists who aim to constrain central government’s overall authority. And when fragile central governments boldly push into the private spheres that host family poverty— like grossly unequal gender roles—they walk into the jaws of the conservative federalists. This brings us to the third element of our analytic approach, one that involves difficult pragmatic and moral questions. If many policy interventions are being met with resistance or simple indifference by local peoples— inside the deeply cultural institutions of school and family—can we not devise central policies that pursue a more balanced agenda? This agenda might retain essential elements of modernization, especially in making a fragmented job structure more inclusive, free of gross wage inequalities due to ethnic and gender discrimination. Yet it remains unclear whether the imagery of modern nation-building, replete with promises of unification, homogenized social rules, and one uniform language, will become tenable. Do we really want the state to beam down such a strong light that it erases the cultural rainbow? The constitutional sanctification of decentralized governance and the vibrant ethnic pluralism of southern African societies, fueling political pluralism, requires a rethinking of how we conceive of nation-building and the role of educational policy. The tensions inherent in centralized formulations versus policies aimed at strengthening local, pluralistic communities continue to unfold in the region. The fight for foreign aid resources, pitting central regimes against non-government organizations (NGOs) has become strident and devisive in South Africa. English-language instruction, pushed by xix

Namibia’s first minister of education, continues to face resistance and lack of interest among village teachers and parents. White communities throughout the region push hard to maintain higher government appropriations for “their” schools.The ANC has committed itself to providing instruction in any mother tongue that a parent demands. In short, democracy promises choices. Given the colorful pluralism of southern Africa, a policy agenda promising only mechanical forms of nation-building and the homogenization of social life will no longer buy the state much legitimacy. As we rethink what government can do well, a central objective of our work is to focus on how political authority can be used to advance more democratic social relations at the grassroots. We are at the edge of a new frontier when it comes to the democratization of local institutions, be it the school, inside the classroom, or the family. This is a long-term project for the state. When I speak of local democratization two particular facets are emphasized: (a) widening the participation of diverse people in the operation of local organizations, the thickening of small-scale civil society in townships and rural villages; and (b) more cooperative social relations that focus on the collective good, rather than individualistic interests that have become tied to getting ahead, under meritocratic rules in a capitalist economy. Wider participation in local institutions includes more equal access to community institutions by a variety of ethnic and gender groups, from female youths who often leave secondary school to township parents who shy away from their local school.And once inside pivotal local organizations— from the school to the health clinic—the issue is whether less authoritarian and more participatory social relations can be crafted over time.Throughout southern Africa local institutions are becoming more inviting, more inclusive places. But once youths and families enter these organizations, they often face the same stultifying, patronizing, and authoritarian forms of social rules they grew to recognize under apartheid. In this book’s final chapter, I return to the pragmatic question of how this more penetrating and democratizing policy agenda might be constructed and what examples of politics for pluralism have shown some success. I also frame—and fail to answer—a crucial moral dilemma.As government attempts to democratize local social settings like the school and family, whose culture should define the character of “democracy”? As faith in universal remedies fades into history, who can legitimately push a single form of democracy for human-scale institutions? It’s easy to sell macro forms of democracy: everyone wants to vote; most people believe that a free press is a healthy force. These macro foundations of democracy are obviously essential. The



backslide into feudal and autocratic politics, witnessed with Daniel arap Moi in Kenya, or the ongoing civil strife in the Congo, Liberia, and Somalia. Yet even when macro democratic institutions are in place, efforts to spur popular participation and thicken civil society often slow as soon as the “democratic state” is installed and the technocratic or sluggish bureaucracy settles back in. When earnest policy makers start to mess with the social rules and power relations found in local institutions—as they must to remedy poverty, alienation, gender and class inequality—advancing democracy locally becomes infinitely more controversial. And who holds the moral authority to define democracy with a small “d” for pluralistic ethnic groups? We are getting ahead of our story.We begin in chapter 1 by asking why Western forms of government and policy have so rarely attempted to penetrate into the cultural guts of local communities, especially their families, schools, and classrooms. And when policy makers do attempt to address the deepseated local forces that reproduce poverty and social inequities why do they often fail? I argue in chapter 2 that a major part of the problem lies in how we tacitly conceive of credible action by the state. Western political theorists have rarely confronted, or recognized and respected, the diversity of cultural communities and local institutions that have finally been acknowledged (or grown to be politically respected) in many nation-states over the past half-century. We in the West look to the Balkan states, to South Africa, to Israel and argue that these are “transitional states” on some linear glide path which leads to real democracy. But the demographic and economic diversity that now blossoms in many societies brings us to the question of whether a Jeffersonian version of political pluralism will be sufficient for this unprecedented level of diversity and the accompanying political power which is dispersed across different ethnic and religious groups. It remains to be seen whether a bureaucratic welfare state or a technocratic “development state” can adequately respond to pluralistic pressures from below, demanding real signs of material progress. And at the same time, will Western-defined versions of statecraft and policy making convince colorful local communities that this bland and uniform medicine called “modernization” will truly enhance their collective spirit and enrich their lives? ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This book stems from a series of studies conducted in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa over the past ten years. My intellectual partners in this endeavor are listed on the book’s cover page. There the term “with” is an xxi

understated attribution which fails to capture their crucial participation in this long project. I did help to initiate and coordinate each study included in this volume. Yet these efforts were carried out in close collaboration with colleagues in southern Africa and associates at Harvard University. Each piece of research, in large part, has been motivated by the question of how well-meaning policy makers try to make local parents, children, and teachers achieve and behave in more modern and participatory ways. Indeed these empirical studies were most often carried out with attentive policy makers and senior bureaucrats who were eager to make local institutions more fair in who they served and more effective in boosting youngsters’ life chances and modern mobility. If it were not for the hard work and spirit of camaraderie that I have enjoyed with these government leaders and those who appear on the title page, this volume would never have taken shape.These friends have dug tirelessly into these questions with me through surveys and deeper qualitative studies, taking us into village homes, urban townships, far-flung schools, and fascinating classrooms. The designation of coauthorship at the beginning of individual chapters recognizes the work of specific associates on particular country studies. I remain especially indebted to five dear friends.Wes Snyder has been a constant colleague, offering insight into the nature of African classrooms and a steady dose of skepticism regarding the workings of governments, aid agencies, even fellow scholars. Our work on the tacit cultural norms governing Botswana classrooms was led by Wes over a five-year period, working from Gaborone. I was blessed when teaching at Harvard to work with serious and stimulating African students. I have learned much from Bekukwenza Gumbi and Roseline Ntshingila-Khosa about the inner workings of township schools in South Africa. Chapter 6, building on their qualitative research in Soweto and KwaZulu-Natal, illuminates the deep cultural patterns which continue to characterize didactics inside classrooms, as well as the contested forms of authority and organizational chaos that continue to beset school principals. The school’s culture under apartheid was shaped to enforce authoritarian, race-based social relations. Democracy, up in the heady heights of government, only incrementally changes these cultural habits found inside schools. How I think about educational policy and its inconsistent local effects has been influenced enormously by Linda Chisholm’s work at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. She has been a leading theoretician in the democratic movement for twenty-five years. The anti-apartheid struggle has been won.Yet Linda continues to question whether, and when, government can bring progressive change within local schools and townships. She has been a supportive intellectual mentor. Haiyan xxii


Hua, now at Harvard’s international institute, has been an essential team member and friend over many years. He was the one who stayed up late at night organizing and analyzing voluminous amounts of data from all three countries. I have come to greatly admire Haiyan’s character and discipline. He contributed an abundance of both to this project. Additional colleagues and students have assisted our work over the years. Special thanks are due Sue Grant Lewis, who coordinated field work in Namibia during our four-year study of young children’s early literacy development. Ndeshi Nicodemus, who grew up in Namibia, provided important research assistance and constant coaching on the everyday realities of schools in black townships and the impoverished North. Her own thesis on how teachers are struggling to implement SWAPO’s aggressive Englishmedium policy will make a further contribution to the field of policy implementation. John Mendelsohn provided insight and humor throughout my time in Namibia. Chapter 3 draws on Bekett Mount’s ethnographic work in Namibia. Pundy Pillay, then an economics lecturer at the University of Cape Town, helped to lead our first-ever study of literacy levels among all South Africans (reported in chapter 5). Neeta Sirur, working from the World Bank, organized the literacy study within an ambitious household survey. Much of our data collection in Botswana and Namibia was coordinated by Elizabeth Blake and David Cownie.Working with university students and young researchers, Liz and David labored long hours in villages far off the tarmac to collect reliable data—from parents and daughters for our study of girls’ school attainment, and from teachers and children for our classroom research. If it were not for their commitment to the region, and to improving the quality of social research, we would have been unable to execute these studies. We were assisted by Nakiso Kubanji, Matilda Mangole, and Boineelo Mokgothu in our five-village study of gender roles and daughters’ school attainment in Botswana reported in chapter 7. Back at Harvard, Judith Singer and Margaret Keiley have been steady colleagues, pushing forward on inventive methodologies, especially in devising a way to assess the simultaneous influence of policy and family-level forces on daughters’ school attainment over a long stretch of time. Invaluable research assistance was provided by Brunhilda Forlemu, Xiaoyan Liang, and Mark Mariotti. I am indebted to Allen Caldwell for his friendship and all his help on this volume. Sitting down to craft this book’s skeletal structure, I decided to author first drafts of all the chapters.The core argument took shape as our country case studies proceeded. I wanted this central line of reasoning to be clear, drawing on the empirical work that was collectively carried out. Coauthors xxiii

appear on certain chapters to properly acknowledge their crucial work on data collection and analysis; they played an equally important role in sharpening the analysis and refining each chapter. Sustaining this line of research would have been impossible were it not for the commitment of a several individuals within the foreign aid community who are wise enough to realize how little we actually understand about the local settings into which we lob new policy interventions. Richard Shortlidge, formerly a mission director for USAID, vigorously supported our work in Botswana and Namibia. Other USAID staff and intermediaries lent their backing on key elements of our research program: Barbara Belding, Jim Hoxeng, John Hummon, Bob Morgan, Chloe O’Gara, and May Rihani. World Bank staff members Don Holsinger, Emmanuel Jimenez, Elizabeth King, Marlaine Lockheed, Roger Grawe, and Michael Ward have been constant supporters and engaging colleagues over the years. Steve Heyneman got me into all this many moons ago. Seminar invitations are enormously important for researchers, pushing one to sharpen basic arguments. In this regard thanks are due to Aaron Benavot, York Bradshaw, Linda Chisholm, Sue Grant Lewis, Changu Mannathoko, Himelda Martinez, and Roseline Ntshingila-Khosa. The roundtable discussions they organized have been tremendously helpful, held at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, Harvard’s Women in Development Program, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Indiana University, University of Botswana, USAID Washington,Witwatersrand University, and the World Bank. Journal editors and reviewers have been equally cantankerous and encouraging. Our technical analyses would have suffered if not for these journals. Special thanks are due to reviewers and editors of the American Journal of Sociology, Comparative Education Review, International Journal of Educational Development, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Social Forces, and Sociology of Education. My deepest appreciation goes to my family—Susan Holloway, Dylan, and Caitlin. We have spent months of our lives apart so that this work could continue. They often came home to discover me staring into my computer terminal or sending faxes.Their support and patience can never be repaid. But as a down payment, with heartfelt thanks, this book is dedicated to them. In receiving this gift Caitlin will be quick to clarify that she’s not impressed.Thank you all. Bruce Fuller Berkeley, California







Cruising across the brown African savannah at nightfall before the rainy season’s opening days can be, well, uneventful. Sand tracks are well-worn and deep: attempts at steering out of dusty ruts prove futile. Junctions are well marked. Places to bed down for the night with access to fresh water still are discoverable. But once total darkness overtook the unbound grasslands on a moonless night, my Land Rover bounced upward, leaving these well-traveled grooves. Close to a wide and lush river, I rounded a corner, headlights sweeping across the scrub and baobab trunks, poking illuminating rays into the blackness. Suddenly 20 or 30 pairs of large, deep blue marbles stared back into my own startled eyes. For a long instant, these warm blue spheres, miniature aqua globes hanging in space a meter from the ground, pulled me in. As the imposing contours of these grazing hippos came into focus—having risen from the river in the safety of this infinite darkness—I swerved back around, still holding my breath, frantic to find that sandy track and the odd sense of comfort it provided, guiding me through the bush. Nelson Mandela’s campaign speeches—just two weeks before South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994—reminded me of this episode. Mandela had fallen into a similarly predictable and dry sound track. But halfway through one particular talk, in yet another impoverished black township, he rounded a rhetorical corner and shocked his audience, as if a herd of hippos had suddenly stepped up to the podium along side him. With crisp frankness he expressed fear over the possibility that the African National Congress might win more than two-thirds of the popular vote. If the balloting were to deliver the ANC such a mandate, leftists in his party would push for substantial changes in key provisions of the transitional constitution so painfully negotiated with the predominantly Afrikaner National Party. I kept playing back Mr. Mandela’s words in my head to be 3

sure that I had understood this startling admission. This courageous man, who spent 26 years tracking the deaths of comrades and advancing the ANC’s terrorist activities from a prison cell, now valued pluralism over raw political power for his own party. He was not following the predictable, well-worn path. A fortnight later the ANC, in surprisingly peaceful elections, won a large plurality with 63 percent of the vote nationwide, while losing two important provinces. The National Party took the Western Cape, and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party received a razor-thin majority, 50.7 percent of all votes cast in Natal. One month earlier in Cape Town, a top ANC policy analyst had expressed the identical concern over the likely legislative fallout if the ANC’s popular vote pushed past the two-thirds mark. After a throat-burning Indian meal and two soothing beers, our discussion of politics had become very candid. My colleagues were optimistic, yet cautious and even agitated over how the party would move following the elections. They candidly elaborated Mandela’s fear. An excessively strong ANC would give license to militant activists to move against key policy planks aimed at racial reconciliation, economic stability, and the careful targeting of social-welfare spending. With black, coloured, and Indian activists sitting around the table, their animated emphasis on pluralism was brought to life.They soberly predicted that the Western Cape would fall to the National Party—since the ANC had failed to address the economic and class interests of the fledgling bourgeoisie comprised of coloureds, Indians, and liberal whites who had aided the ANC’s half-century fight against apartheid. Only in part were my colleagues articulating a shrewd strategy for building a governing coalition under the banner of reconciliation. The ANC’s popular strength in most provinces proved not to require the construction of such a bloc. Their argument was really a morally grounded pitch for an authentic commitment to pluralism, a post-apartheid government that would listen and speak to South Africa’s ethnic rainbow. In the education arena, this accent of local culture and pluralism has resulted in surprising policy mandates. The ANC’s first set of educational policies—put forward in the hot and deadly summer leading up to the April elections—was surprisingly pro-choice in basic philosophy. Parents, for example, are now entitled to ask the local education authority to provide instruction in whatever home language the family prefers. School officials must find a teacher and school in the local area that can provide this chosen medium of instruction. For all students, instruction in home languages must be provided in the early grades—a curious reversal of the ANC’s 4


post-Soweto opposition to the white regime’s attempt to downgrade English instruction in black schools, although the concilatory motives are now quite different. The new South Africa’s permanent constitution, approved in mid-1996, explicitly recognizes “single language schools,” code for schools that maintain instruction in Afrikaans.To advance political stability and the fledgling state’s own credibility the new ANC has opted for an emphasis on cultural pluralism and family choice, rather than universal and homogenous remedies imposed by central government. This opening chapter sketches the swift crosscurrents in which the postapartheid state is being tossed about. Popular demands for development and change placed upon newly democratic governments in southern Africa are enormous.The institutional culture of the state, inherited from colonial and apartheid administrations,remains steeped in centralized and standardized policy remedies. But the resurgent political strength of ethnicity and regional interests, especially in South Africa, represents a counterforce to post-colonial centralist habits. And this paradox grows more intransigent as we realize that public problems—family poverty, gender inequities, and nondemocratic social relations in schools—are largely encased in private and tacitly organized local cultures. How central agents of political-economic change—whether state activists or market advocates—bring democratic social rules to the grassroots remains elusive. In short, the post-colonial state’s centralized institutional culture is at painful odds with resilient and often resistant local cultures. I begin by outlining these broad and forceful contradictions.This chapter focuses on key elements of this dilemma that can be empirically studied. I also describe how our country studies in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa flowed from our fundamental questions. Chapter 2 examines why these conflicts between a centralized pro-development state and the school and family’s deep cultural scripts have rarely been acknowledged. We will see how Western theories of political action and policy implementation have failed to see how the tough boundaries surrounding these humanscale institutions serve to condition whether the state’s instinctive drive to modernize is accommodated or rebuffed at the grassroots. THE END OF MODERN, CULTURELESS NATION BUILDING?

Startling sights abound in Africa, be they in the natural or political sphere. But these recent developments in South Africa are striking, even difficult to fathom when put up against basic tenets of the modern state—sacred features of government ironically brought by the colonial powers and partially mimicked by black nationalist leaders from Africa’s independence era forward. 5

To act modern newly emergent African states were expected to exhibit strong central regimes capable of thawing out tribal differences and divisions, reconstructing plural ethnic societies into a unified and secular nationstate.A large bureaucratic apparatus, modeled after colonial Administration, was normatively required to plan economic development, run parastatal companies, mount transport and infrastructure projects, and manage (from the capital city) schools, health clinics, and other local organizations. Nation building requires capital formation and central government was assumed to be the organization at the center to consolidate and channel capital for development projects: controlling the inflow of foreign aid and privatesector investment, managing the prices and marketing of basic food stuffs, extracting sizable shares of the gross national product through taxes. While renouncing Western forms of statecraft and neo-colonialism, postindependence political leaders really only knew this particular form of government. Democratic forms of social relations within the state or civil society held few indigenous roots; hierarchical forms of authority had grown deep into African soil, into African political consciousness.The fundamental political question was who would control the state, not whether its essential administrative character was appropriate for Africa’s colorfully diverse societies. Centralized socialism was tried in several important cases, including Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. But these regimes foundered on economic failure, a loss of political legitimacy, or both. Most recently, Zimbabwe seems to have drifted from it leaders’ earlier commitment to democratic-socialist or Western democratic principles. Government in Europe and North America has been historically energized by big public ideals. Borrowing from these presumably shared public values, post-independence African governments focused on the process of national development—the crafting of nationwide economies and the homogenization of nationwide languages and “culture.” All members of liberated African nations should commit themselves to this society-wide development project, entrusting Weberian managers and Western trained technocrats to bring modernity, even though many communities had never seen themselves as linked politically or socially to a nation of any kind. Indeed, we would soon come to see that the very notion of a unified “society” was yet another foreign import. Allegiance to the local village, family, or church came to be stigmatized as “backward,” as stultifyingly “traditional.” The merit and value of children soon came to be linked to school performance, rather than to a prior set of virtues stemming from socialization within the household or village. Development implies growth of cash-earning jobs, and education is the 6


ticket into the wage sector. The family’s earlier obligation to, and efficacy in, raising their children to fit local forms of authority, obligations to kin, and economic production were quickly discounted.Assimilation and getting ahead based on meritocratic rules, not ascriptive characteristics of the individual—demonstrated through school performance, effort, experience in the wage sector or the civil service—became the modern mechanism for reducing tribal affiliation and pursuing more equitable ways of distributing jobs and income. The state played a pivotal role in building the school institution that would now allocate young adults into high- or low-status jobs. The modern state shifted attention toward economic expansion and the role that each individual should play in the Great Modernization Project. The first step was to forsake membership in traditional, local organizations and their “backward” forms of authority which, until the dawn of modernity, had provided coherence and meaning day to day. To oppose these major public ideas and modern forms of social organization was to remain primitive, to act pre-modern.1 Most colonial regimes, of course, had acted from pre-modern conceptions of how to exercise political control and extract economic resources from foreign lands. In the southern African nations of Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana, ethnic groups were deliberately kept apart from one another to reduce the chance of unified resistance and, in some cases, to maintain tribal political structures. The very construct and meaning of “race” and “ethnicity” was manipulated to reinforce a caste society that furthered the state-protected interests of the white minority. Colonial regimes left behind no tradition of democratic political institutions, except South Africa’s preposterous device of having three separate legislatures: one each for whites, coloureds, and Asians, with only the first possessing any real power. More importantly for this book, colonial regimes left behind an elaborated and centralized Administration. Under modern rules of nation building it is the president and the bureaucracy that play central roles inside government. Indeed, the development agenda—and its institutionalized forms of project design, implementation, and local penetration—proceed in most African countries independent of which president or political party currently holds power.The state’s Great Modernization Project is bigger than any particular actor. And political leaders try to get bigger by endorsing the Project. These resilient remnants of colonial administration have come under attack over the past decade. The corporatist African state, bolstered by the absence of an independent civil society and scarce local activism, is being challenged by the jolt of political pluralism and the rekindling of ethnic commitments. Advocates of these latter forces push for a better way of 7

organizing central political authority, challenging the West’s basic tenets of what a modern state should look like. Thus we arrive at the question:What can the state do well in its struggle to reduce poverty or improve schools, and where is it likely to fail? Can fragile states—struggling to build legitimacy and not appear alien at the grassroots—effectively address the private facets of public problems? The state is searching for how to be effective technically without eroding its own institutional legitimacy.This is the tandem challenge as post-apartheid states address issues of family poverty and school reform. Stepping into the Modern State’s Pathway: Framing the Central Questions There are good reasons for suggesting that the modern age has ended. Many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble.The distinguishing features of transitional periods are a mixing and blending of cultures and a plurality or parallelism of intellectual and spiritual worlds…when consistent value systems collapse, when cultures distant in time and space are discovered or rediscovered. —Vaclav Havel (1994), president of the Czech Republic, speaking at July Fourth festivities in Philadelphia The sharp counterforce of cultural pluralism has pushed back recently on post- colonial versions of the modern state, often with a vengeance, at times with tragic and deadly results. In Africa, conflicts between ethnic groups spark civil wars and the destruction of civil societies. Tribal and political rivalries among black groups, at times involving white conservatives, led to the killing of thousands of township residents in the year prior to South Africa’s 1994 elections. Every election season has brought more political strife and killings, observed once again in the contested Kwa/Zulu Natal province just before the 1996 local elections. The 1989 collapse of the Soviet empire and the Cold War has brought some relief.Yet older ethnic conflicts persist, flaring up in Angola, Burundi, Chad, Nigeria, Rwanda, and the Sudan during the past decade.The oppressively marxist state in Ethiopia was defeated militarily by outcast ethnic groups, then replaced by a federal regime that awarded a particular regional government to each cultural enclave. More salient in the West, the heartbreaking demise of the formerYugoslavia and ethnic violence in parts of the former Soviet Union offer still more 8


evidence of the rekindled strength of cultural pluralism in the post-Cold War era—and the enormous human cost that results when the modern government apparatus suddenly crumbles and falls into dust. Some analysts argue that this revival of ethnic loyalty after the fall of colonial empires is the force that undercuts modern government. After two centuries we can no longer expect broad states, acting as benevolent umbrellas over diverse cultural groups, to hold much civil authority. As political sociologist Charles Tilly (1992:329–330) argues, the rise of exclusive small states for relatively small populations of Eritreans, Bosnian Serbs, or Namibians “might fortify the illusion the we are finally entering an era in which each people will have its own separate State—the antithesis of the nation-state.” I side with Tilly in that pluralism parallels a longer-term erosion of trust in central government’s capacity to address fundamental problems and aid in the building of more coherent local communities, that is, to craft greater cultural cohesion locally. In turn, as the legitimacy of central political authority slowly dissolves, the relative communitarian appeal and authority linked to ethnic unity keeps rising. Tilly again: “Many leading indicators…point beyond the current spate of nationalisms toward a general collapse of the large, consolidated, centralized, sharply-bounded state that began to dominate Europe in the eighteenth century and became the model for the entire world after the second world war. The day that any state can…guarantee its cultural homogeneity is fast disappearing” (p. 330). But in southern Africa a counterposed populist tension pushes back with equal force. Demands on the central state to bring change are escalating unabated, even as skepticism over government’s efficacy inches upward. Fragile states are paradoxically pushed to improve the quality of life locally, while simultaneously facing criticism over the ineffectiveness in solving culturally rooted problems: poverty, the family’s precarious condition, oppressive gender inequalities, eroding levels of school quality. Each step into these local spheres leads to little real change and often a loss of faith that government can work. This brings us to one crucial question, plucked from this broader swirl of challenges to the African state—a pivotal issue which can be informed by empirical evidence. It is the driving question that motivates the studies described in this book: How do local cultures and human-scale institutions—the school and family—undercut government’s attempts to penetrate and alter social relations inside local communities? To jump ahead in the story, I believe that it is the deep and tacit scripts of township schools and families operating with quiet strength that relentlessly buffet policy makers’ earnest and seemingly rational attempts at local reform. Many inside government and international 9

agencies intuitively feel this to be true: we continually see how family planning programs yield disappointingly small changes, “school reforms” fail to alter teaching practices, gender inequalities and the poverty of singleparent households are reproduced from one generation to the next. But we rarely take the time and invest in research to assess the community-level processes that manifest this indifference or resistance. Nor do we identify precisely how government policies succeed when they do advance social innovation and community-level gains.We term these local behaviors and social rules as “cultural,” since they are taken-for-granted scripts which lend order and social membership to individuals in townships and villages. This brings us to a basic corollary, the moral and technical problématique that has risen over Africa’s political horizon to beset governments and development agencies: Can political leaders, under accepted rules of the modern state, craft policies that effectively address the deep-seated local problems associated with family poverty and unequal education while building from the strength and fabric of local communities? Put in the negative: If central government continues to ignore the internal logic of local cultures and grassroots institutions, will not the state’s political credibility decline and its interventions continue to fail? Our work has focused on two aspects of democratizing life at the grassroots. The first relates to extending access to and membership within local institutions, such as the township or village school. Policy makers once assumed that when children from low-status ethnic or gender groups walked through the school’s front door, greater equality of achievement and social mobility would soon follow.The democratization of institutional participation would be closely followed by more equal life chances and economic participation. This proved to be naive. Progress on this dimension of local democratization has been extremely slow throughout the region. The rapid expansion of basic education has provided upward mobility for many, as we detail in later chapters. But low and unequal quality of schooling for the masses has served to reinforce class and ethnic inequality. We also look at the special case of gender inequality. Southern Africa is fascinating on this score, for in many communities girls stay in school longer than boys, only to then confront narrower economic and social opportunities after leaving school. The second facet of democratization on which we focus pertains to the character of social rules and participatory norms found inside humanscale institutions, particularly the classroom and the family.These are two principal settings in which young children are socialized—not only skilled with literacy and cognitive proficiencies, or on the receiving end of a blizzard of testable facts— but ideally empowered to act in cooperative and proactive ways. All three countries in the region have literally spent millions of Rand or Pula trying 10


to make classrooms more active and participatory, to thaw out the hierarchical and syllabus-driven conception of learning that continues to characterize most classrooms. But here too, progress has been slow. These tandem issues speak to how deeply policy makers want democratic social relations to trickle down into local institutions, such as the school and the family. Whether development projects succeed or fail depends upon changing basic social rules, altering fundamental norms of social participation at the grassroots. This is true whether the aim is to democratize land ownership and farm production, to change the nature of classroom teaching, or to encourage daughters to stay in school longer. This requires political leaders and technical bureaucrats who are simultaneously trusted and able to build from local cultural rules.The scarcity of this mix largely explains the failure of most development programs to take into account the cultural scripts of local communities and their humanscale institutions. Policy makers repeatedly embark on costly development projects with no thoughtful assessment of the local processes and institutional context into which program interventions are beamed. In effect, we are trying to reform the unknown. In turn, development projects fail, government spending climbs, and public faith in the state continues to spiral downward. The conditions present in post-apartheid societies are putting Western conceptions of the state organization and policy making to the test. The “racial geography” of Namibia or South Africa—marked by a horizontal array of ethnic minority groups with fairly equal and culturally rooted bases of power—leads to enormous contention over how to unify the nation-state around shared public interests. This speaks to the struggle in South Africa to build and institutionalize democratic forms of governance, from the nation’s capital down to the township (e.g., Sayed and Fletcher 1995; Sisk 1995). When newly democratic nations rush toward a federal structure, as we have seen in Namibia and South Africa (but not Botswana), the segmented racial geography is reinforced. Ethnic groups may bring forward shared political agendas, such as how will the state create more jobs or relieve family poverty? But divisive communal interests also are legitimate to place on the state’s policy table, including the language of classroom instruction, resistance to altering gender roles, and which local ethnic leaders will influence the management of township schools. In short, cultureless conceptions of policy making are no longer sufficient. At the same time, fledglingand fragile states must look and be effective.This implies common conceptions of how the state will display or allege local effects, especially 11

what are agreed upon signals that the state is lessening the burdens of family poverty and widening access to mass schooling. Why Is the Democratization of Schools and Families So Difficult to Advance? Taking the bus from an African town’s modest center to the outer edge, you can step off at the last stop and see villagers fanning out, striding down a countless number of beaten-down trails, disappearing into the trees and out across the bush. As before, the dry clay pathways are well-worn, leading to a distinct shantytown or village. The modern state, for two centuries now, has promised dispersed villagers a universal promised land, a shared destination that would feature economic expansion, a common language, a universal set of social rules and values. Under conditions of cultural homogeneity or effective domination by a single cultural elite, the economic elements of capitalist modernization have been realized by some, while social inequalities have been essentially papered over. Even when economic gains come to some, the denigrating effects—shattered local communities, alienation, environmental destruction, and more vile forms of family poverty—have outweighed the benefits of a corrosive and largely individualistic version of modernization. Why have African states found the democratization of grassroots institutions—especially the school and family—so difficult to advance? Our research, working inside governments and inside villages over the past decade, suggest three major constraints. First, fragile governments must push hard on the first facet of democratization introduced above: inviting peripheral groups to participate in formal organizations which are situated either within the modern state apparatus, such as schools, or within the modern economy.The Western form of nation building requires that class, ethnic, and gender groups previously kept on the periphery of organized and commercialized civil society be invited to join this more affluent, higher status club.A wider range of groups become citizens with equal civil rights. Any youth’s first steps in getting ahead in the modern sector must now involve entry to formal schooling, more years of schooling, and achieving at higher levels (Boli, Meyer, and Ramirez 1985; Durkheim 1956). The problem arises when we come to believe that a government apparatus that allows for political pluralism will automatically take care of the conflicts that are rooted in ethnic or cultural pluralism. Policies of racial reconciliation and the constitutional crafting of representative parliaments are necessary first steps in making civil society more inclusive, giving heretofore peripheral groups a political stake and presence at the highest 12


levels of governance. The inadequacy of Western thinking about the state arises when fragile democratic regimes attempt to move from inviting participation to pushing for equitable results—most notably, pursuing policies that would equalize the quality of education and the performance of children inside schools.This involves redistributional policies which ignite class conflict.And within culturally pluralistic societies how the state defines achievement and the rules for getting ahead is rooted in language and forms of knowledge that vary sharply across ethnic and class groups. In South Africa, the predominantly white National Party won in 1996 a provision in the permanent constitution to continue schools in which Afrikaans is the medium of instruction, despite the ANC’s insistence that English is the new national language. A political fire still rages in Namibia over the new SWAPO government’s decision to scrap the “cape curriculum,” imposed by Pretoria during its 75-year occupation, and move to a European examination at the end of secondary school. The shift to democratic government in Africa has been breathtaking over the past decade. In Namibia, a democratic, multiparty state was created following extended negotiations in the 1980s between the United States, South Africa, Angola, and Cuba (the latter bringing troops into the region to backstop the Angolan Government). Following independence from South Africa, the South West Africa Political Organization (SWAPO), the leading resistance force against Pretoria since the 1950s, won the first democratic elections held in 1990. Then came the tense yet hopeful wind-down of apartheid in South Africa, resulting in the 1994 democratic elections. This brought the number of democratic governments to 26 out of 48 countries spread across sub-Saharan Africa. Fully 20 of these 26 democratic regimes have emerged, through free and multiparty elections, since the mid 1980s. The end of the Cold War and the revival of independent ethnic-based nations in much of Eastern Europe has clearly boosted democratic movements in Africa. But prior to the Soviet Union’s collapse, pluralistic and modern pressures (including rising educational levels) already were pushing autocratic regimes to democratize, either incrementally or with a big bang. We should not lose sight of the importance of this sea shift in how governments and societies are organized at the top. Nor should we confuse progress on the political front with the more difficult task of bringing democracy to the grassroots. The degree of ethnic pluralism in southern Africa is difficult to fully grasp when viewed from the West. Rich and colorful signs of cultural pluralism are abundant within each of these three nations. Namibia is a nationof just 2 million people. But in our study of literacy and school 13

achievement, children sampled came from fourteen different language groups. South Africa has eight major ethnic or language groups, each with over onehalf million members.The largest groups are made up of Zulu speakers, 9.1 million; Xhosa speakers, 7.4 million; Tswana speakers, 3.2 million; Sotho speakers, 3.7 million (Education Foundation 1994).The diversity of churches and spiritual systems is equally intriguing. For example, over 3 million South Africans identify themselves as Muslim. Many people throughout the region still believe in and try various means for fending off witchcraft while attending Christian or Zionist churches.2 And the caste system, manifest in horizontally segregated black groups that were forcibly split among particular “homelands,” also enforced a vertical social-class structure that kept blacks at the bottom, coloureds and Indians well below whites.This segmenting of ethnic groups represented a state-enforced regimen of pluralism; indeed it required that (except in urban townships) ethnic groups remain intact and often isolated from other groups.The infamous pass laws controlled migration and movement in and out of segregated townships and ethnic reserves. Distinct cultural membership can spark political expression and violent conflict. In 1996, for instance, a massive demonstration by Zulus protesting a new law banning the public bearing of traditional weapons, such as spears and clubs, ended in a round of shootings and death on the streets of Durban. This brings us to the second major constraint on why new democratic governments have such difficulty in democratizing local institutions: not all ethnic families nor their influential leaders want to join the modern club. Western conceptions of statecraft assume that all class and ethnic groups want to be incorporated into an integrated nation state.This may be largely true in southern Africa with regard to participation in local institutions that lead to positive economic outcomes,like having one’s children obtain school credentials. But contradictions arise in culturally pluralistic societies.This book focuses on two cases: Do parents in townships and rural villages want their daughters to leave traditional gender roles behind and enter the modern structure of work and social status? And how does the use of indigenous language in the home constrain the acquisition of English, which has become the “language of liberation” in the minds of progressive political elites? The successful rise of political pluralism and a democratic governing apparatus legitimates and reframes serious civil discourse over questions of inequality.This represents a necessary but insufficient condition for addressing the non-democratic elements of entrenched local institutions, such as the school and the family. The third constraint on advancing grassroots democracy is the bureaucratic nature of the state, also tacitly imported from Western thought and how “reform” tends to be engineered by technical experts sitting in 14


air-conditioned government offices. Young and fragile states are under enormous pressure to deliver modern progress: more tarmac roads, new housing for the poor, more and better schools. Post-apartheid regimes also struggle to engineer redistributive programs: strengthening basic income support and job creation for impoverished families, moving school inputs from rich to poor communities. When well managed, bureaucrats can get bridges built, classrooms renovated, advance the more equal distribution of inputs necessary to boost the quality of health clinics or primary schools. But state engineers are rarely adept at encouraging more democratic participation at the grassroots. Many times they even redefine the nature of public problems to fit engineered and technocratic remedies. In chapter 6 we discuss the fascinating example of how South African policy makers reconstructed the meaning of “the culture of learning”—a rallying cry in the 1980s linked to the democratization of local schools—to now simply connote the need to repair classrooms and install modern latrines at schools. Political activists continue to talk much about a “pedagogy of liberation,” purging schools of the old autocratic chains of Bantu education that characterize the educational system, from the hierarchical habits of school inspectors to the didactic drilling of facts into the heads of students so they can pass the matriculation exam (Nkomo 1990). But are the policies emanating from Pretoria and provincial education departments aimed at these core social rules and forms of participation that still characterize schools and communities? In several chapters we illuminate how policy makers, working deep within the bureaucratic state, rarely grasp how their well-intentioned “interventions” are rebuffed by the tacit scripts and beliefs that organize the daily actions of school principals, teachers, and parents. But political strength and technical efficacy are signaled by engineered interventions, often “launched” with fanfare and sizeable doses of faith. States struggling for legitimacy must mobilize organograms, information systems, and technical specialists as symbols that the bureaucratic apparatus will bring change. The fragile state’s own legitimacy teeters on the thin edge of this illusion. In short, our empirical work aims to push beneath this surface-level life of policy talk, illuminating the organizational levels introduced above: How do central policy initiatives attempt to penetrate into the local institutions of school and family? How do the cultural elements of these local social organizations lead to disinterest in, or outright resistance to, earnest central reforms? Macro democratic reforms have expelled the pre-modern, apartheid structure of government. But deeply entrenched cultural practicespersist in language practices, gender roles, and the classroom’s social rules—whether 15

we focus on the 30-year-old democratic nation of Botswana or the fledgling democratic state in South Africa.The organizational processes operating between eager policy makers and local actors inside schools and families remain quite hidden, seen narrowly as murky barriers to “successful policy implementation.” Policy makers get nervous when talking about how local ethnic groups may differ, even resist secular forms of modernization. Students of southern Africa typically highlight the negative and violent downside of tribalism and ethnic segmentation (Adam and Moodley 1993). Yet beneath these salient macro conflicts the hidden, though powerful cultural norms held by local actors, such as parents and teachers, are denied or underestimated by many policy makers. These elemental and unspoken forms of daily order are conceptually disconnected from how the West has thought that efficacious policy should be formulated, instead emphasizing physical infrastructure, cultureless inputs, and engineered interventions. To help thaw out these assumptions about high-status statecraft, I next review the evolving way in which political leaders and international agencies have conceived of culture and pluralism in the context of modern nationbuilding.This includes major lessons from the field of comparative politics. My emphasis is on how, since the independence era of the 1960s, we have come to realize that government policy bumps into local culture and community-level institutions in ways that hold serious implications for the state’s long term efficacy.We then arrive at our three local sites of cultural conflict—literacy acquisition and multilingualism, unequal gender roles, and social participation in classrooms—within which cultural or tacitly held commitments at the grassroots collide with universalist state policies. On the Blunt Cutting Edge: Shifting Meanings Attached to Culture and Pluralism Guinea’s political leader, Sekou Toure, at independence in 1959 boldly declared: “In three or four years, no one will remember the tribal, ethnic or religious rivalries which, in the recent past, caused so much damage to our country and its population.”3 The comment seems so naive in retrospect, even humorous if not for the three subsequent decades of civil war and ethnic violence that rocked the African continent and proved Toure so dead wrong. To set our approach in historical context, let me briefly review how dominant thinking on the politics of ethnicity has evolved since Africa’s hopeful heydays of colonial independence. Lessons have been learned about the power and resilience of local culture and its advancing manifestation, political pluralism. Yet immediate dilemmas remain for how modernizing governments can best respond to ethnically charged pluralistic pressures. 16


Ethnicity as enemy of modern unity. Following Africa’s initial era of independence, from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, “tribalism” was branded the number one enemy of modernization. Post-colonial governments—whether socialist, authoritarian, or capitalist in character— imported from the West highly institutionalized expectations for how a modernizing state should behave. The political and technocratic emphasis was placed on how elites must push nationalism and the linear process of nation-building. Modernizing governments assumed that they must rapidly build the basic physical and institutional infrastructure necessary to integrate national markets, create new industries, push forward a single lingua franca, and advance a feeling of national identity, a pan-ethnic sense of nationalism. The modern state, since the series of nineteenth-century republics emanating from Paris, aimed to reduce the legitimacy of local collectives, village leadership, the church, the family, the private school. Instead, the new social contract between the “liberated individual” and the state promised newfound civil rights and mobility within a commercializing wage sector. In return, modern government would deliver political enfranchisement, social mobility based on fairness and one’s technical skills, and jobs in a now nationwide economy. In the 1960s, African leaders and development gurus decried the evils of tribalism and ethnic loyalty, stigmatizing this cultural order as backward and retrograde, serving only as a distasteful drag on the pace of modern progress (Young 1965). Managing ethnic pluralism. The political risk of ignoring pluralistic interests, or serving one dominant ethnic group, soon became apparent in young African nations. A second, more politically pragmatic view emerged which was more respectful of ethnic loyalties. In Kenya, for instance, Jomo Kenyatta artfully built from his base, the Kikuyus, developing support from tribal leaders beyond the central highlands. But his successor, Daniel arap Moi, chose to favor a coalition of smaller ethnic groups, challenging the Kikuyu’s earlier influence in civil society. As government’s role has shifted toward serving particular ethnic clients, a shared commitment to nation-building has eroded and popular support for the regime has narrowed. In December 1992 Kenya held its first multiparty elections in 26 years; Moi received just 37 percent of all votes cast for president. Each of three opposition candidates with differing ethnic bases garnered at least 1 million votes. But by all running they ensured Moi’s victory. Or take the case of Ethiopia. After four decades of sporadic resistance, military forces led by the Eritreans, dissident Oromos, and other minoritygroups finally entered Addis Ababa and seized power in 1991, defeating what many agreed was a centralized and repressive socialist regime. 17

Soon thereafter, the Eritreans formed their own separate nation. The bulk of Ethiopia, a country of over 55 million people, was then divided into eight largely independent federal regions corresponding precisely to the location of major ethnic groups. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front remains very much in control, but holds ethnic-based federalism as a core tenet of its political philosophy.These regional authorities wield independent authority in a variety of economic and social sectors, including the content of basic schooling and the medium of classroom instruction. Ironically, the marxist Mengistu regime struggled to serve multicultural interests, including an ambitious literacy campaign that distributed materials in 15 languages, including Amharic and Roman scripts. But this was not democratic pluralism: rural peasants were coerced into joining literacy circles and teaching remained directive and didactic. This fueled dissatisfaction with centralized responses to obviously diverse sources of pluralism.And when the legacy of political centralization is so distasteful or disastrous—as in Ethiopia,Tanzania, or South Africa—a new generation of political leaders gains legitimacy by pushing decentralization or a federalist scattering of political authority, funds, and local institutions. Incorporating community organizations into the modern agenda. A third view of cultural pluralism emerged by the mid-1970s, focusing on how diverse elements of civil society—small-scale entrepreneurs, ethnic-based political parties, and service-providing NGOs—might be empowered to contribute to the modernization agenda. It is telling that in many third world societies where government is the major organized actor, the best label devised for voluntary cum professional NGOs denotes that they are not government agencies. Within the southern Africa region, all three elements of civil society, including small-scale businesses and political parties, limped along from the 1950s to 1980s, developing independently of the central state and economic elites. These sectors now have come into the open, gaining as the fresh air of political pluralism has swept into many parts of the region. But remember that the ANC became a legal political organization only in 1989. In Namibia, SWAPO and allied political groups, while born in the late 1950s, were engaged in armed resistance against Pretoria’s colonial administration until their negotiated settlement in 1988.These organizations were subverting, not reconstructing, the pillars of civil society Strong economic and institutional forces have converged since the mid1980s, quite inadvertently, to help strengthen post-apartheid elements of civil society. These dynamics have not always aimed at advancing cultural pluralism, although this has been the unanticipated result.



First, the conservative anti-state era of the 1980s—led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—fueled rising skepticism over the efficacy of central government.This, in turn, led to shifts in foreign aid programs and bolstered the position of development banks, notably the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which had long preached the virtues of private markets and petit capitalist firms over ambitious government intervention. Two effects were felt within the foreign aid establishment. Economic adjustment programs were pushed hard throughout the decade, aiming to reduce government spending, sell off inefficient parastatal firms, and liberalize currency exchange and trade rules. But as political protests and empirical research signaled that impoverished communities suffered the most from these structural “adjustments,” the World Bank and other donors began to fund so-called “emergency social funds.” These ambitious efforts channeled millions of dollars directly into local NGOs to create jobs, build schools and housing, and capitalize small-scale craftspeople and entrepreneurs. By the early 1990s the development banks were pushing the decentralization or privatization of some social services, including schools, hostels, private housing, and transportation, at times aiding NGOs and small firms who were well positioned to respond. At the same time many on the political Left were growing skeptical about the post-colonial bureaucracy’s habitual limitations: its strong tendency to restrict local participation; ongoing struggles within the state apparatus to develop organizational capacities for implementing development programs; and unequal provision of civil service jobs, high-quality schools, and health services to urban elites while offering low-quality services to the poor. Essentially NGOs came to be seen as an alternative route to deliver much needed social services and economic support to impoverished communities (Hirschman 1984). As the anti-apartheid movement gained momentum in the 1980s, major foreign donors boosted investment in South Africa’s NGOs, which numbered 49,000 in 1994. NGOs and small firms sprang up as a way to organize local neighborhoods in townships, creating schools and health clinics, building housing in the townships, providing job training, and fielding taxis and combies. But note that the aim was still instrumental in character: to modernize urban centers and to transform the lives of rural peasants. Nonetheless the more efficacious means for doing this was now linked to local organizations and actors, not to uniform programs mounted only by central government. Political pluralism in southern Africa interacts with advocates for the NGO sector and for the thickening of civil society in general. Unlike the procapitalist attack on the central state by allies of Reagan and Thatcher, 19

the anti-statism flowing from political pluralism is aimed more at government’s post-colonial and bureaucratic incarnation. It is less a right-wing inspired debate over the legitimacy of political authority—central and local—to articulate a public interest or to attack deep social problems. Instead the argument is advanced that NGOs, nestled among local institutions, are better positioned to collaboratively coach them toward improvements and democratization. If the aim is to widen and deepen popular participation in and around the school and family, distant and bureaucratic agents of the state may do more harm than good. On the other hand, a clear and present danger arises when African governments and their foreign benefactors bolster NGOs and pluralistic groups within civil society: even though the original intent is to functionally employ NGOs as local instruments of modernization, they may in reality advance particularistic cultural and political agendas. Indeed this is a contentious issue in Namibia and South Africa. Some foreign donors and domestic foundations alike believe that the development of civil society, not the bureaucratic state, should remain the primary long-term objective. This means continued support for political pluralism and NGO-provided services and economic activities.The Ford Foundation’s Johannesburg office if one visible case in point. Others argue that the task now is to consolidate civil authority and the administration of national development within the state apparatus. Only a strong and technically competent state can reform local institutions and effectively attack inequalities. This, of course, is the habitual posture of most foreign donors, implicitly loyal to Western conceptions of the state. I return to this important debate, and how it plays out within education and family policy sectors, when we come to the initial chapters on the political culture of Namibia and South Africa. Ethnic and cultural cohesion as the foundation of central policy. As civil society becomes more gelatinous, populated by ethnic political parties and NGOs, a fourth interpretation of cultural pluralism has begun to explicitly drive public policy, both in the West and the Third World. Adherents of this framework see local ethnic communities and their modest organizations— manifesting embedded forms of authority, cohesion, and economy—as a source of strength. Policies and programs are built by scaffolding up from these local institutions, including from within the neighborhood school and the family. This goes beyond a political calculus at the center, that is, narrowly reacting to ethnic demands or channeling funds through NGOs for functional and political reasons. This framework acknowledges that tacit and cultural scripts found inside schools and families may filter out modern signals and practices. Emphasis is placed on figuring out how to 20


introduce economic and social innovations within the context of these local norms and social rules; building from their resilience and strength, rather than attempting to stigmatize local practices and organizations as “backward,” simply to be bent and fit into the Great Modernization Project. Some policy makers are taking this less instrumental view, departing from modern tenets of nation-building, arguing that government’s role should focus on equalizing resources available to pluralistic groups—so that they can advance their own social agendas and local institutions.We see this shift in the ANC’s pro-choice school language policies.We see it when governments privatize elements of their educational system, as Tanzania is now doing by moving state funds to NGOs that operate local schools. In the Sahel, where Islamic influences are strong, secular government has been supporting madrasa schools that blend Koranic and secular curricula, often attracting girls to enter and remain in school (Bellew and King 1993).In Botswana,the education ministry and development agencies have supported church efforts to enliven classrooms by creating learning centers involving more active and cooperative methods of instruction. In each case, central government may not endorse or even be savvy to how these NGOs are altering social rules and institutional cultures on the ground. Yet policy makers and inventive bureaucrats have decided that the benefits outweigh the risks of furthering pluralistic interests and social rules. Post-apartheid societies are testing the stress limits of the pluralist state. Political pluralism in South Africa has long included the concept of “group rights,” challenging the West’s fundamental building block, the individual’s sacred civil rights. In this “nation of minorities,” Giliomee and Schlemmer (1989:166) emphasize how individual identity and political expression remain inextricably linked to one’s ethnic membership.Then, take the fact that no one ethnic group any longer dominates the political structure. And finally, “communal demands” rooted in ethnic, language, and cultural concerns commonly rise up into policy circles (Sisk 1995).These forces combine to place ethnocultural interests at the center of the policy-making table—with a frequency and intensity forseen by few Western political theorists, with the possible exception of Hegel. Certainly the Western state is neither uniform nor static over time. In the United States widening support of pro-choice voucher and tax credit schemes—in education, preschool programs, health care, and low-income housing—manifests a similar shift in government’s basic role. Rather than expanding centrally organized services, public funds move directly to impoverished or working-class families.They decide the type of service they want to purchase.This has led to the growth of ethnocentric schools, such as 21

in Milwaukee where families can use their voucher from programs focusing on African-American topics, or in San Antonio where children pursue Latino cultural studies in Spanish. Here the shifting tide toward central political support of local pluralism is more complete. Government plays a role in equalizing public resources allocated to impoverished communities; then, these ethnically segmented locales are free to craft their own institutional or economic agenda.4 Whether southern African governments will move toward these policy mechanisms for strengthening the family and neighborhood organizations remains to be seen. Experiments are occurring with allocating vouchers to parents who successfully keep their daughters in school and grants to NGOs who team up with schools to engage in school-improvement projects.5 Equally telling, as civil society becomes more densely populated by public-spirited NGOs and activists, economic and social problems previously confined to the private sphere are now pulled into civic circles and political debate.6 We see this throughout southern Africa where daily newspapers openly discuss women’s proper role in society, sexual behavior and resulting health risks for men and women, or social rules found within the workplace. Issues of authority and human-scale democracy constantly bubble up. One of the hottest educational issues in Namibia and South Africa is whether school principals should be able to beat misbehaving students. NGOs and political parties are well positioned to pull sensitive and previously unquestioned issues onto the civic stage. In turn, these political actors seek more public funding to address family planning, child care, AIDS education, or teacher training programs—all services which NGOs eagerly provide. The circle is then complete: public support of non-government organizations rises to address previously private issues; in turn the public domain expands as civil society becomes more crowded with a panoply of local organizations trying to address these problems. Previously private topics are manifest in local cultural scripts which are deeply embedded within insular local institutions—illustrated by tacit forms of gender relations, language, and authoritarian social relations inside formal organizations, like the classroom. These pockets of taken-for-granted culture are evident but remain disrespected by the modern state. The Political Lessons and Dilemmas of Cultural Contention This progressive shift in how policy makers and activists interpret cultural pluralism has unfolded against the backdrop of steadily eroding trust in central government and standardized bureaucratic remedies. During the 22


continent’s first wave of political independence, evolutionary assumptions about nation-building and the modernizing state were unquestioningly imported by African leaders from the West. This model of industrialized society implies rising complexity, technical and productive efficiency, and clear state involvement in building infrastructure, from constructing tarmac roads to nurturing human capital. I return in chapter 2 to how these basic tenets don’t neatly fit the less than linear path of development in highly pluralistic African societies. The point to highlight at this juncture: three decades ago most political leaders assumed that this Durkheimian vision of a more differentiated and technically specialized array of organizations and individuals was desirable. These modern shifts would be led by a central state committed to economic rationalization and productivity, and a more effective civil service that would oversee an infrastructure that acted as a public utility (from building roads to schools). Diverse ethnic groups, many of which had never traveled to the capital city, were to place their faith in this elegant nexus of modernizing controls. But since the 1960s, even in less diverse Western societies, skepticism over government regulation and the homogenizing influence of big institutions has risen steadily, spurred by political action from the Right and the Left. Trust and faith is reverting back to local organizations and forms of social cohesion: local schools, familiar ethnic sources of solidarity, well-known gender relations, churches, private relationships. Mobilizing broad support around a public agenda—to combat poverty, to desegregate schools, to improve health care—becomes more difficult. This is the rub. Just as we are finally recognizing how the roots of immediate civic issues— poverty, illiteracy, harsh gender inequalities—grow deep into cultural soil, and private spheres, central government holds less political capital to mount remedies, in part due to the growing disdain for standardized policy antidotes that only rarely seem to work.7 All four ways of interpreting ethnic and cultural pluralism and its political ramifications remain alive.You can hear and touch them in Africa: articles in the daily newspaper talk about tribal chiefs challenging the state’s authority, or sitting with government planners designing mechanical policies. Dominant thinking has generally moved along the sequential path described above. Yet the story is not so tidy. And several other political lessons have been learned about cultural pluralism, which hold implications for how we study the formulation of state policies aimed at changing community-level institutions. Let me close this section by articulating historical lessons that highlight comparative differences in the political cultures and local contradictions observed across Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. 23

Nations and civil societies vary in their forms of cultural pluralism. Societies are pluralistic in different ways and with variable degrees of intensity. The dimensions of diversity are set over long historical stretches, by the migration of indigenous ethnic groups and by institutional change, as old social organizations (including the school and family) evolve or assimilate with novel modern forms. The number and proportional size of different ethnic groups within national boundaries obviously makes a difference. Botswana is a relatively homogenous society, with 90 percent of its population being members of the Tswana tribe. In contrast, South Africa and Namibia each have over twelve sizable ethnic groups. Each group speaks its own language and, with the exception of integrated townships, remains engaged with segmented economic activities and social institutions. The ways in which social groups are bounded—along ethnic, religious, caste or social-class lines—also define nation-specific forms of pluralism. Later chapters detail how this holds implications for relative levels of literacy, family structure, and the range of roles that women can legitimately enact. These patterns are tacitly founded upon deep cultural scripts which modern state policies attempt to dislodge. Under apartheid, race was the institutionally sanctioned category of social status. But within this demarcation, families and individuals still varied in terms of their ethnic group, income, and social status within their community. And the extent to which different groups actively participate in politics—in civil society and Government—contributes to the pluralistic character of the political structure. Civil societies can be characterized by localized and parochial groups; for instance, the politically active coloured population around Cape Town, or the historically vocal and cantankerous Caprivian leaders active in the far northeast of Namibia.8 Formal political institutions also define and segment the arenas within which different ethnic groups are more likely to participate in the public realm. South Africa’s new federal governing structure and proportional representation in provincial parliaments legitimizes the strength of large and small ethnic groups that capture electoral support.The Inkatha Freedom Party, bolstered by support from many of the nation’s 12 million Zulus and situated in KwaZuluNatal Province has become a large and renowned case in point.9 Resistance by local institutions and ethnic groups can be mobilized either when government is obtrusively strong or visibly weak. In Namibia we will explore how local communities and teachers are resisting the SWAPO government’s mandate that all teachers must teach in English, not Afrikaans or a local language.This is a forceful and precise policy change from the top, backed by foreign-aid dollars and loads of technical assistance (parenthetically, 24


rejected by the ANC in South Africa). Only 15 percent of all Namibians actually speak English, and this share is no higher among primary school teachers. In contrast, South Africa’s post-apartheid Department of Education and Training (DET) has yet to clearly distinguish itself from its apartheid predecessor, especially since white bureaucrats were able to keep their jobs for five years under the constitutional terms of reconciliation. Given this perceived intransigence inside government, domestic foundations, foreign aid agencies, and even government reconstruction funds are moving to local NGOs to energize local school reform. Modernization implies novelty and change for local communities—making life better in basic ways. But if the state acts either too forcefully or too ineffectively in pushing change locally, political legitimacy erodes at the center. A pivotal problem is that many African states already are quite fragile, due to economic conditions, rising social expectations, or both. In the West, renewal of ethnic commitments and organized pluralism leads to new demands, but within stable government institutions. In Africa, many states are simultaneously pursuing two directions: struggling to modernize economies and build national institutions, while bargaining with and responding to competing ethnic groups. Some argue that once central government becomes more capable and economies more robust, policy makers can then think about diverse cultural interests. But the organization of ethnic interests—from NGO development to armed contention in the townships—will not allow governments to be thoroughly modern now and culturally pluralistic later. The flipside of cultural pluralism—secular assimilation through homogenizing institutions—must be pursued by a modernizing state. But within which pockets of civil society should coercive assimilation versus more democratic social rules be attempted? To act in a just and effective manner, post-colonial government must reduce the influence that ascriptive personal characteristics—ethnic origin, social-class background, and gender—exert on the individual’s success in social institutions (the school) and in the workforce. This modern imperative is particularly strong within the postapartheid states of Namibia and South Africa where their historically dictated raison d’etre is to disassemble institutional practices that reproduced a racist, caste-like social structure. But many societies since the 1960s, both in the north and the south, have learned a painful lesson: integrationist and assimilation policies gain popular support only when carefully applied to certain sectors of civil society, otherwise they fuel conservative cries to constrain the overall role of government. Encouraging racial and ethnic 25

diversity in formal job settings, arduously pushed forward via affirmative action, has gained brittle political acceptance. Intrusive attempts to integrate schools through forced bussing have met with colossal political failure. Even ethnic groups that are well aware that their schools are of lower quality, at times vocally oppose bussing and aggressive means for advancing assimilation.10 Such remedies are seen as undercutting parents’ ability to control how and where their children are schooled. We have returned to the stressful paradox facing the modern state: central policy makers are expected to change fundamental social rules that aim to reduce cultural differences and pluralism—often under the progressive goal of reducing inequality. Yet standardized remedies that undercut local cultural ideals or ignore the civil cohesion provided by ethnic particulars are increasingly ignored, even resisted. Our empirical chapters explore this aching dilemma. As the state attempts to democratize local institutions it becomes more difficult to define one uniform gauge of “effective” public policy. The Western state’s foundational pillars, detailed in chapter 2, emphasize the importance of building national unity, meritocratic forms of merit and mobility, more equal achievement outcomes for individuals moving through standard social institutions (like schools). With uniform rights and expectations extended to the individual and standard institutions provided to help the individual compete for homogenized economic and social outcomes, it is relatively easy to assess whether government programs are yielding intended effects for individuals. But what happens in pluralistic societies when citizens, tiring of modernity, “demand for a return to civil society…a return to a manageable scale of life.” Indeed, where ethnic forms of solidarity are arising anew we see a yearning for an unmodern shift toward local governance, such that “decisions should be made locally and should not be controlled by the state and its bureaucracies” (in the words of sociologist Daniel Bell, 1976). How then does the central state play such a more imaginative role? And how does government define the “effectiveness” of its programs and policies? We are in the habit of articulating outcomes that serve shared goals: boosting the nation’s GNP, reducing poverty, equalizing levels of school achievement. Central states worldwide must gauge progress along these universal benchmarks. The next challenge is to articulate how we can assess the effects of public policy in advancing particularistic cultural agendas pursued by local institutions, be it the school, literacy circle, or the family.



BIG POLICIES COLLIDE WITH SMALL CULTURES: FRAMEWORK, BUILDING BLOCKS, AND DEFINITIONS Against this backdrop let’s move to this book’s center stage and sketch in greater detail the central characters and forces that we illuminate empirically. First I want to map the locations of key actors. Then, I review the major events on which we focus, with specific attention on how state policies attempt to penetrate into the local school and family as key sites for reforming social relations. The basic model portrayed in Figure 1.1 serves to locate each of the empirical studies detailed in the book. As we walk through the basic story line, I will define key terms and conceptual building blocks.

Figure 1.1 State Policy Making Pushes into Local Institutions

The lateral push by a nation’s political culture and organized elements of civil society on to the state is represented by the left-hand block in Figure 1.1. Political culture denotes those forms of political mobilization and state action that come to be expected and are normatively accepted within the nation’s civil society. Following the Soweto riots in 1976, for example, it 27

became more legitimate over time for teacher unions to undertake labor actions of various kinds: walk-outs to protest proposed wage increases, strikes against matriculation exam fees, or simply canceling classes to attend local union meetings. The rising legitimacy of these actions against the apartheid regime corresponded to the accumulating strength of the democratic movement. South Africa’s overarching political culture and forms of organized expression that came to be accepted (even begrudgingly by the white minority) evolved over time.Then in Part III the dramatic changes in the post-1994 political culture are described.A remarkably centrist ANC government has formed a pro-capitalist alliance with business and key elements of labor to advance market-oriented economic policies. In turn, education is brought in line around providing human capital and skill priorities for this sector. Schooling is no longer designed to be the site of local consciousness raising and popular participation; it is expected to help young individuals acquire skills and plug into the wage sector and capitalist economy.The foundations of the political culture have shifted—even among former ANC militants—in a short period of time. The term “culture” is added to “political” since these forms of political action, while certainly not static, come to be taken for granted over long stretches of time, the constitutive rules under which discrete policies must be devised and implemented. Certain formal political organizations seek a charter from the political culture and leaders of civil society to formulate and implement certain policies, regulations, and programs which are legislated. These formal organizations involve basic political institutions at independence; for instance, the prime minister or presidency, the parliament, and rules embedded in a constitution. In modernizing states the bureaucracy and ministries also gain authority and resources under the rules of modern nation-building.This is indeed expected in post-colonial states that assume strong central and technical administration. Foreign aid agencies typically endorse a strong state apparatus, especially with regard to making social and educational institutions more effective and efficient. The rationalization of economy and local institutions requires a “development state” bent on effective institution building and the construction of free markets.The more complex federal structure in the new South Africa, driven by ethnic and cultural segmentation, means that development agendas will be split between central and provincial bureaucracies, including the education sector. I refer to “bureaucratic” in the classic Weberian sense: policy goals are broken into simpler parts; the task of and tools for implementation are assigned to specialists who are organized both vertically (for management 28


purposes) and horizontally (recognizing the importance of technical expertise). Bureaucracies—following the tacit dictates of the Western state— tend to devise policy and advance regulatory tools in uniform and standardized ways, regardless of how diverse the local arenas of implementation may be.This reduces uncertainty at the top and may signal equity when implementing new policies uniformly. Policy makers then put pressure on local communities, intending to alter the behavior and beliefs of local actors found within local institutions, such as the school and family. Linkages between central policy makers and community-level actors occur along two principal paths. First, policy may attempt to modify elements of the local organization’s formalized rules or practices. Mandating that teachers instruct their pupils in English or that principals no longer beat errant students are controversial examples in Namibia. In South Africa, the DET spent considerable energy pushing school principals to restrict teacher leaves as the democratic movement sought to disrupt government schooling. Or the minister of education may purposefully attempt to change the content or sponsorship of national examinations, as minister Nahas Angula did when he abolished the Cape curriculum immediately after Namibia’s independence.This involves central policy that directly alters codified rules, knowledge, or regulations which influence behavior inside a local institution. Second, policy makers occasionally dig beneath surface rules and attempt to alter the cultural scripts of local actors (sometimes unknowingly). By cultural scripts I mean taken-for-granted routines, beliefs, or sequences of behavior that provide meaning and order for an individual’s everyday life, including scripts typically followed by classroom teachers, parents, even policy bureaucrats.11 These tacit beliefs and institutionalized practices can occur in formal community-level institutions, such as classrooms where teachers implicitly assume that didactic forms of instruction and highly restricted social participation is the only way to teach. Cultural scripts have been more traditionally studied in less formal social organizations, such as the family, or within peer groups. But policy makers and international bureaucrats, if lent sufficient legitimacy, can obtrusively push into the cultural underbelly of local institutions, including even the family.The international community’s recently attained consensus that the West has the legitimate “right” to alter women’s social roles in developing countries is a fascinating case in point. Since gender roles, female school attainment, and fertility choices are no longer solely in the private domain in the West, they automatically have become government’s business in Africa. The cultural scripts and tacit beliefs found inside families are no longer sacred.They are 29

taken up by elements of civil society and are squarely in the public domain. Chapters 5, 6, and 8 explore how education policies with gender implications are felt inside schools and families across Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana.12 Formal organizations (schools, churches, village councils) differ from less formal social units (the family) in the degree to which surface-level, codified rules govern the behavior of individuals residing in clearly demarcated organizational roles. In recent years, a great deal of research has been done on cultural-level processes found inside formal bureaucracies: how norms and unquestioned expectations come to define a legitimate range of behavior within a social role, utilizing accepted, taken-for-granted technologies and involving rituals and interactions that verify membership in the group and loyalty to its goals and means.13 Formal organizations are held together not only by codified bureaucratic controls but also by agreed upon scripts, rituals, and symbols.This provides a sense of shared membership, importance, and meaning to the everyday action of organization residents. Educational policy makers, for instance, come to share sacred assumptions about how to “maintain standards” or raise achievement in the schools, from lower class sizes, to encouraging children to ask more questions in class, to coupling the curriculum more tightly to questions on the national examination. School principals come to believe that beating disrespectful youngsters is a necessary part of student discipline. Within ministries many tacit assumptions about the structure of local institutions are rarely discussed. Curriculum writers in Pretoria or Windhoek, for instance, see their role as determining which facts must be covered in the curriculum via set syllabi and approved textbooks. Teachers’ didactic methods and the basic structure of the national exam are rarely questioned; they presumably fit into curricular goals (that is, the elements which are interdependent and highly institutionalized). Fiddling with the surface rules and signals does little to modify the deeper cultural norms regarding authority, knowledge, and the processing of children within the deeply institutionalized school organization. As this book’s chapters dig deeper into the local arenas of policy conflict, we will illuminate how the basic cultural tenets from which policy makers operate, often conflict with or simply never connect to the cultural foundations of post-colonial classrooms and local families.14 Local or “micro civil societies,” also displayed in Figure 1.1, are plentiful and diverse within most African nations. Leadership structures remain intact among many ethnic groups, notwithstanding the apartheid regime’s manipulation of ethnic boundaries and leaders. South Africa currently has 20 kings, paramount chiefs, and queens; more than 800 chiefs; and 2,209 30


registered headmen (Maloka 1995).These traditional leaders are not simply anachronistic ornaments hanging on local civil society. They have long played crucial economic roles, for instance as links between the male tribesmen and labor recruiters (Greenberg 1987). Similarly they now are key actors in facilitating local development projects and in mobilizing political support for national political parties. In villages and townships we also find church leaders, school headmasters, and teachers, as well as local chiefs who determine what issues are pressed with district government offices, provincial councils, and local party organizations. Many policies emanating from central government are so legitimate, they rarely raise the ire of local leaders or enter the politicized civic arena. Petit civic elites, for example, often are unified over the need to have more textbooks delivered to the school, to expand farmers’ market facilities, or to improve roads. But other policy initiatives, violating local cultural scripts, lead to politicization and mobilization on a small scale. We will see how resistance to Namibia’s aggressive English-language mandate recurs within civic circles, and how public debate over gender roles has surfaced in Botswana villages as more girls persist into secondary school. Here central policy bursts out from the narrow bureaucratic pipelines linking government and local schools, out into civil society at the grassroots. Disentangling culture from pluralism. One final definitional note. I prefer to use the terms culture and pluralism as separate nouns, rather employing the former as an adjective, as in cultural pluralism. One reason should be obvious by now: cultural scripts and deeply embedded assumptions are rampant within the state’s surrounding political culture, bureaucratic policy circles, and even within small-scale institutions, like the school and the family.The most powerful rules and forms of order found in each are never written down; they are tacit, taken-for-granted, and cultural in this sense. The extent to which these implicit assumptions and social rules are pluralistic varies independently of the degree to which they are truly tacit in nature. In Botswana, for example, ethnic interests that rise up within the state are usually not pluralistic, given tribal homogeneity within the society, although the tacit norms and institutionalized practices found in policy circles and in local villages are thoroughly cultural. In contrast, South Africa represents a more complex case where coalitions within the young state and at the grassroots are both plural and cultural in character. As you read about our three country cases, the independent variability of a social problem’s cultural character and the extent to which it is shaped by plural ethnic practices will become more clear. Both facets of grassroots problems— including inequities in literacy acquisition, gender relations, and the 31

democratization of classrooms—hold implications for the extent to which consensus can be reached on the nature of “the problem” and whether available policy tools are likely to make a dent locally. Finally, I should delineate the three local arenas in which we observe how policy interventions confront local culture. Within each site, we will explore the clash and reciprocal accommodations that occur between policy makers and local actors, as foreshadowed in the general model. Empirically Studying Collisions between Central Policy and Local Institutions How does this book illuminate conflicts between the state’s policy action and local institutions? Our story begins at the community level, centering on how individuals residing with the school and family experience government’s attempts to change their daily routines, normative commitments, and forms of authority. This heart of the local collective is situated within ethnically bounded communities. An earlier generation of former colleagues at Harvard University—notably Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan—has written much about the resilience of ethnic solidarity and shared commitment, including the ability of ethnic groups to politically challenge secular, bureaucratic governments (centrally and locally). Most recently, Moynihan has explored the civil pandemonium that results when ethnic commitments outweigh the legitimacy of the central state, witnessed repeatedly in eastern Europe, central Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa since the 1989 detonation of the Soviet empire.15 We know much less about how policies and programs aimed at local institutions—especially the school and the family—are stymied and eroded by cultural sources of resistance. It is this less visible form of subversion that is more quietly undercutting the state in many settings. Our empirical story begins with three public problems, each spurring lively debates among and program interventions crafted by African policy makers: •


How can basic literacy be extended to ethnic groups located on the periphery of the modern polity? This issue relates to two complex questions:Which literacies should be developed and encouraged for which local communities? And, how can the state best advance basic literacy and numeracy skills for poor children? How can girls and young women be encouraged to stay in school and be afforded a wider range of adult roles? This problem is linked to a broader quandary facing many governments: How can families—often headed by women in African societies—be strengthened in ways that raise income while minimizing social disintegration?


How can social relations inside classrooms become more stimulating, more participatory, even more democratic? “Democratizing” local institutions remains a salient goal of the now-centrist parties that came to power in Namibia (SWAPO) and South Africa (ANC). Educational reformers have long talked about moving teachers away from didactic chalk-and-talk pedagogy, even a “pedagogy of liberation.” But can the state’s policies and programs change the social relations found inside classrooms and recast how children are socialized for allegedly democratic societies?

Our empirical chapters shed light on how the countercultures lodged in local families and schools tacitly undercut the ideological and technical paths pursued by central government, quietly refusing to passively conform to modern forms of social organization, the sandy ruts habitually expected by modern policy makers. Economic and social problems in diverse local communities, under the modern state’s rules, are typically diagnosed in one universal way: they are viewed as constraints on the individual’s or family’s ability to assimilate and blend into the modern sector.This may be useful for the easily engineered elements of technical interventions, such as shipping more textbooks to schools or more condoms to health clinics. But newly democratic societies and their political leaders are more concerned with changes in social relations and human skills: altering language patterns, widening social roles available to young women, enlivening classrooms.These issues are intertwined with foundational cultural norms regarding language, authority, moral behavior, and accepted ways of learning and raising one’s children.Again, the essential character of these problems and contradictions in modernizing societies is cultural in nature. And the new pluralism sweeping developing countries is powered by rising skepticism over whether assimilation into a monolithic culture, requiring the uprooting of particularistic communities, should be the unspoken goal of public policy. In short, my goal in crafting this book is to describe the powerful ways in which pressing social problems—their diagnosis, policy remedies, and local resistance are culturally organized.We will illustrate how ignorance of these cultural forces subverts the policy and program strategies mounted by earnest social engineers found in government and foreign aid agencies. Our work in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa since 1988 has been both descriptive and focused on causal forces. Or, more accurately, we keep asking why the causal processes embedded in well-intentioned policies are rarely felt or accepted by local actors at the grassroots. We have been studying medicines that usually don’t work or which symbolically treat 33

symptoms.This strategy is rational, for it advances the state’s legitimacy. But only signalling the coming of modernity may erode earlier forms of social cohesion. Somewhat similar to those enigmatic scientists in white coats who smash atoms and track the resulting debris, we have been observing the collisions between government policy and local institutions and trying to describe how local actors make sense of these intended reforms. Organization of the Book Over the past 25 years—whether serving as a policy adviser, international bureaucrat, or scholar—I have been fascinated by the implicit motivations of, and methods employed by, central policy makers as they attempt to influence the learning and socialization of children. Beginning in 1988, I began working on what became a series of empirical studies that have pushed into these core questions. In Botswana, we began a four-year inquiry into how teachers organize their classrooms and the implicit precepts that pattern pedagogical behavior and children’s learning. Curious over why adolescent girls begin to fall behind the achievement levels of boys in some subject areas, we extended our classroom study to see whether social rules varied between female and male students. We also initiated a study of peasant households in five villages, focusing on mothers’ perceptions of socialization and schooling for their daughters. Botswana is a much acclaimed success story in the foreign relations world: it has been politically stable and democratic since independence in 1966. But why do actors inside local institutions often “resist” democratizing social relations when more visible institutions of government appear to be so democratic? And why do gender inequalities persist even as mass schooling and educational opportunities have expanded rapidly? In 1992, we began a longitudinal study of primary school achievement in post-apartheid Namibia, looking at early learning effects that stem from children’s ethnicity and home language, family practices, and school characteristics. Namibia is a fascinating case for studying whether revolutionary change in the political culture leads to substantive reform of grassroots institutions, particularly the social rules found inside schools and families. Namibia gained its political independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990, following a bloody guerilla war which lasted for almost three decades. Despite diplomatic and electoral victories by the left-of-center SWAPO party, most elements of society remain organized around ethnic and cultural lines, from segregated housing and regional settlements, to schools and churches. SWAPO in Namibia, borrowing from the diplomatic discourse 34


that arose in South Africa during the 1980s, negotiated a deal with the apartheid regime that pivots around racial reconciliation.That is, civil society should be tolerant of, and provide equal opportunities for, members of all races and ethnic groups. Beyond the moral appeal of this pluralistic plank of democratization, Namibia and South Africa also have tried to learn from Kenya and Zimbabwe where tragic civil wars and political independence were followed by the flight of whites, their capital, and their technical skills. Reconciliation in both countries also means that bureaucrats, mostly white, can retain their posts for five years. While SWAPO continues to talk of the need to redistribute income and jobs, and to democratize local institutions, the reconciliation structure constrains how the political culture can develop. This includes the state’s limited ability to penetrate or reorder local ethnic groups and their institutions (including the Afrikaans-speaking community).With fragile authority at the center, the state has yet to address a starkly unequal school system that remains organized largely on a regional basis with little attention in Windhoek to redistributing educational resources to the impoverished North where the majority of people reside. Most recently, our research group has been studying ethnic variability in family economy, social structure, and literacy in South Africa.The culturally segmented character of public problems contrasts starkly with the Western way in which the educational policy agenda has been reconstructed, ironically by ANC-dominated national and provincial education departments. Since the rise of student strikes, school closings, and township violence—following the Soweto riots over Bantu education in 1976 and intensifying throughout the 1980s—literacy levels appear to have declined among some youth cohorts within particular ethnic communities.The utility and acquisition of literacy also is linked to the family’s structure and position in the cash economy, a contextual issue addressed in our work.We will show how the problems of family poverty are bounded by ethnic and gender memberships. For example, chapter 6 details how school attainment and literacy levels are relatively high among young women in Tswana and North Sotho areas of the North, relative to other African populations. More work is required to explain these intriguing ethnic differences.We delve into how distinctive forms of family structure and variable local institutions (church strength and school supply) may explain this gender-related advantage. Our starting point is to recognize that facets of family poverty—and the modest institutional building blocks for advancing educational outcomes— may differ across ethnic group and locales.The public policy establishment, whether on the Right or the Left, has importantly focused on black-white 35

inequality. But local differences inside families and schools also exist among communities sharing the same racial and class characteristics. During the apartheid regime’s final year, 1993, two members of our research group initiated studies of schools and classrooms in Soweto township and Natal province.This research delves into how the surrounding political culture is linked to core cultural elements of the school organization and life inside classrooms. Here again, we see variability across schools that are situated in similarly impoverished townships.These small success stories offer starting points and tools for more widespread reforms. Next, in chapter 2 we back up and ask why policy makers only now are seeing and feeling cultural forms of resistance to their policies and their attempts at local penetration. Why have Western conceptions of statecraft and bureaucratic forms of policy making blinded us to the power of local cultural scripts and institutionalized practices that so thoroughly subvert policy reforms? In short, why has the modern state been taken by surprise with regard to the rising political and less visible institutional challenges put forward by local cultures? Somehow the conceptual pillars of the Western state lack the versatility to meaningfully respond to the grassroots resistance or disinterest that increasingly answers new policy action. We can usefully pause to reveal Western explanations for what motivates policy makers’ and their habitual tools for intervening locally.This helps to explain why Western and bureaucratic forms of policy remain so resilient—even when ineffectual in making local schools and families more participatory, fair, and effective. Until the state moves past conventional Western thought on how to organize policy making, local players inside the micro institutions of school and family will continue to reproduce, rather than reduce, the daily burdens of poverty.

NOTES 1. Boli, J., J.W.Meyer, and F.Ramirez. (1985). Explaining the origins of expansion of mass education. Comparative Education Review 29:145–170. 2. See, for instance, Fuller, B. (1991) for data on teachers’ beliefs in witchcraft in Malawi. 3. Toure, S. (1959). Toward Full Reafricanisation. Paris: Présence Africaine, p.28. Crawford Young cites this passage and discusses how African leaders’ views of ethnic pluralism have changed since the independence era. See: Young, C. (1976). The Politics of Cultural Pluralism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 4. The largest antipoverty initiative in the United States, for instance, is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program. For review of pro-choice social policies and the repositioning of the State’s strategy, see Fuller, B. (1996). School choice: Who chooses, who’s hurt? Issues in Science and Technology, Washington DC: National Academy of Sciences.



5. For example, USAID’s highly acclaimed project in Malawi that appears to have encouraged more young girls to attend and complete primary school. 6. For a discussion of how issues from the private sphere of social life have historically moved into the public and political sphere, see: Seligman, A. (1992). The Idea of Civil Society. New York: Free Press. 7. S.N.Eisenstadt and colleagues have discussed how post-independence African governments, and their Western benefactors, drew implicitly on classically modern assumptions about how societies would become more unified yet differentiated and specialized as industrialization took hold. That is, the evolutionary development of capitalist economy and the division of labor, a history described by Emile Durkheim and later dissected by Talcott Parsons, would deterministically be followed in African nationbuilding. See: Eisenstadt, S.N., M.Abitbol, and N.Chazan. (1988). The Early State in African Perspective: Culture, Power and Division of Labor. Leiden: E.J.Brill Publishers. Naomi Chazan has described how trust and social loyalty to the central State has broken down in many parts of Africa. See: Chazan, N. (1988). Patterns of state-society incorporation and disengagement in Africa. Pp. 121–148 in The Precarious Balance: State and Society in Africa, edited by D.Rothchild and N.Chazan. Boulder: Westview Press. 8. The Caprivi Strip, jutting out from northern Namibia in between the Botswana and Zamibia borders, has supported independent groups for centuries, from migrating ethnic groups to Christian missionaries. A nagging contemporary issue for the SWAPO government centers on how much political authority tribal chiefs should retain, for example, over recruiting and hiring new teachers in local primary schools. Some local chiefs prefer new teachers who are native to the Caprivi (now called, the Katima Mulilo region) while the central ministry prefers to retain control over teacher allocation in order to more equitably distribute teachers between formerly white and black schools throughout the country. 9. Varieties of cultural pluralism and links to politics, civil society, and formal government are discussed by Young, C. (1978). The Politics of Cultural Pluralism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Migdal, J. (1988). Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Seligman, A. (1992). The Idea of Civil Society. New York: Free Press. 10. For one recent review of the political resistance that often arises with strong integrationist policies, such as school bussing, see: Traub, J. (1994). Can separate be equal? New answers to an old question about race and schools. Harper’s Magazine, June, pp.36–47. 11. On the power and prominence of tacit scripts within local institutions, such as the school and family, I have been influenced greatly by the work of anthropologists Robert and Sarah LeVine (LeVine et al. 1994), Naomi Quinn and Dorothy Holland (1987), and Clifford Geertz (1983). 12. Social anthropologists have struggled to devise a discrete description of what “culture” means. For example, see Geertz’s (1983) emphasis on the taken-for-granted beliefs, routines, and actions that give order and meaning to everyday life. African writers have focused on how language is the glue that holds ethnic identity together. Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986, p.14) writes: “There is a gradual accumulation of values which in time become almost self-evident truths governing their conception of what is right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, courageous and cowardly, generous and mean…over time this becomes a way of life distinguishable from other ways of life. Culture embodies those moral, ethical and aesthetic values, the set of spiritual eyeglasses, through which they come to view themselves and their place in the universe…their sense of particularity as members of the human race. Language as communication and as culture are then products of each other. Language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orator and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world.” For North American readers I should explicitly distance my analytic framework from the “culture of poverty” debate that rages on within the United States and much of Europe (Katz 1989; Wildavsky 1993). To be sure, there is an abundance of destructive elements and common practices within many impoverished areas of southern Africa,


perhaps most stark in chaotic urban townships, including alcoholism, desertion of young families by fathers, and high rates of crime (e.g., Mathabane 1994). But our work inside schools and families primarily focuses on basic social rules and cultural norms that provide cohesion, predictability, and meaning to everyday activities. 13. For reviews of recent work about organizational sociology and political science and the cultural and institutional elements of bureaucratic action see March, J. and J.Olsen (1984). The new institutionalism: organizational factors in political life. American Political Science Review 78:734–749. Powell, W. and P.DiMaggio. (1991). The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Much of this recent work on cultural and ritual processes within formal bureaucracies stems from Emile Durkheim’s original work on how new “social facts” are invented and legitimated by formal organizations. For example, colonial governments imposed the idea that one national examination enforcing a standard set of facts for all students would advance national culture and aggregate human skills available for the economy. Even to raise the question of altering centralized national exams is viewed as sacrilegious or simply politically stupid in a political culture that is eager to bolster any signal of “educational quality.” Absent any evidence, this kind of exercise centers on reproduction, or disruption, of accepted social facts that give meaning and purpose to formal institutions (for review of the Durkheimian perspective, see: Collins, R. (1994). Four Sociological Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press). 14. The processes by which schools implicitly or culturally reproduce their social forms have been described extensively by institutional sociologist John W.Meyer and his colleagues. Meyer, J. and B.Rowan (1977). Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology 83:340–363. Meyer, J. and B.Rowan (1978). The Structure of Educational Organizations. Pp. 78–109 in Environments and Organizations, edited by M.Meyer. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Meyer, J., W.Scott, and D.Strang (1987). Centralization, fragmentation, and school district complexity. Administrative Science Quarterly 32:186–201. The distinction between surface-level controls and deeper symbolic ways in which individuals come to believe and act in similar ways stems from Durkheimian sociology (for recent review, Collins 1994). The extent to which clan-like forms of social cohesion operates in formal organizations is discussed in more detail by: Ouchi, W. (1980). Markets, Bureaucracies, and Clans. Administrative Science Quarterly 25:129–142. 15. In an early book by Nathan Glazer and Daniel P.Moynihan (1962), the liberal instinct to build homogenous social institutions, push assimilation, and even out ethnic differences was challenged directly, showing the sources of cohesion and community present among New York City’s ethnic groups. See: Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Cambridge: MIT Press and Harvard University Press. Moynihan (1993) has pursued this theme in analyses of ethnic cohesion and contention within international settings, for example: Pandemonium: Ethnicity and International Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.





The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself. —Daniel P.Moynihan (1986)1

One warm and still summer night in Johannesburg in 1996, an audacious spectacle flashed onto the TV screen. The revamped government channel, the new SABC, was staging a loud and colorful celebration inside a huge airplane hanger, an electronic coming-out party signaling a radical makeover of public broadcasting. The camera whirled around to show a huge 747 sitting inside the hanger.The plane’s door opened slowly and out descended, waving and prancing, an impressive cast of characters: Stevie Wonder, Blair Underwood from the Bill Cosby show, and Johnny Cochrane, yes, O.J. Simpson’s lawyer.Welcome to the New South Africa. When Nelson Mandela walked to the podium, dressed in one of his bright tie-dyed shirts, he joked about how he had ignored the new SABC director’s advice that he wear a necktie and jacket. Only the president seemed aware of the absurdity of this riveting flurry of modernizing symbols. A week of controversy and debate followed the event.Two interpretations surfaced in the press. The first is obvious: many South Africans see black American personalities as symbols of the affluent West—delivered by a jumbo jet and transmitted by the new, more slick government media. The second is more intriguing: since the 1920s, several black religious groups, such as those linked to the Marcus Garvey movement, have long believed that salvation and change would come from the West, arriving from the sky. Thus the SABC’s production signaled the nation’s new-found membership in the Western world, transmitting pre-modern symbols of salvation for the masses and the possibility of being rescued from poverty and subjugation. 39

This chapter explores the paradox around which our work has turned. On the one hand, fledgling states in Africa are eager to bring about modern change, defined in terms of economic liberalization and growth, political participation and reduction of stark inequalities. Post-apartheid governments, found in Namibia and South Africa, borrow heavily from the West as they shape policy interventions aimed at piecing together a more modern society. But material change—from raising economic productivity to democratizing participation at the grassroots—is extremely difficult for new and fragile governments. Political legitimacy often is challenged; the state’s organizational and technical capacity to implement policy and program interventions, even when soundly conceived, remains highly constrained. Thus newly democratic governments resort to looking modern, signaling that modern progress is on the way. States arrange American media stars to descend from the Western heavens and offer salvation. Flashy signs of modern deliverance, after all, bring little political contention and it’s a lot cheaper than controversial attempts at economic redistribution or complex programs aimed at democratizing social institutions in the townships. Do Central Policies Matter? Why have new African states become trapped in this paradox: faced with the political imperative of looking modern, but so uninventive in responding to the cultural forces below that constrain the felt impact of policy initiatives? A big part of the answer rests with the limited ways in which we have conceived of action by government; that is, how central policy is formulated and implemented. Given the West’s particular political history and the typical bureaucratic apparatus, we have come to assume that policy makers are energized by certain motivations and will manipulate certain technical levers in their efforts to alter life at the grassroots. Most fundamentally, how politicians and bureaucrats attempt to improve local schools or bend the ways parents think about the upbringing of daughters, involves policy tools that are embedded in broader assumptions about how the state should behave, how policy takes form and moves down into local schools and families. Let’s begin by asking three particular questions about the West’s conception of how the state should organize itself and carry out central policies: •


What forces motivate government policy makers—under the Western logic of statecraft—to centrally initiate local reforms? How do these forces lead to predictable policy devices and implementation tools?


Are certain policy forms and implementation tools more effective in penetrating into local institutions and the culturally scripted behavior found within? We focus empirically on policies that attempt to penetrate into schools and families. How does the post-apartheid struggle to build an efficacious state and a more democratic civil society challenge the Western model of government? Why is the arrival of democratic government at central levels so slow to trickle down to enrich local participation and equalize the achievements of poor children?

Contemporary thinking about the modern state—indeed why we study it—stems from its recurring ineffectiveness and moribund character. Government historically has looked efficacious when it successfully wages war, builds things (such as, roads, power plants, schools), or moves cash benefits to the elderly. But when it comes to improving the quality of life within societies marked by ethnic pluralism, contentious regional rivalries, or culturally bounded local institutions, central government too often remains ineffectual. When policy makers fail to implement local reforms, they often redouble their highly rationalized strategies: children’s school achievement remains linked to the family’s ethnicity and class background, so school reforms are mounted; pedagogical practices remain authoritarian in character, undermining dreams of a participatory “culture of learning,” so teacher trainees are required to spend more time in preservice colleges; or, young girls are leaving secondary school in large numbers, so policy makers create scholarships to nudge parents to keep their daughters in school. The symptoms of family poverty and inequality require that fledgling states engineer mechanical forms of intervention. But it’s questionable whether such policy remedies truly connect with the underlying causes and subtle ways in which poverty is reproduced. The thawing out of gender roles inside villages and townships, for instance, is difficult to achieve via rational policy intervention. Embedded social rules inside the classroom and the family remain largely immune from centrally engineered remedies. Do the roots of family poverty run too deep to be uprooted through central policy? Or is the state institution as borrowed from the West illequipped to push through the cultural membrane that surrounds local institutions such as the school and family? We argue the latter. Proponents of the Western state believe that it has the moral right to penetrate into local cultures and modernize them. Debate is over the means of doing so. But the forms of policy and program implementation that inhabit the Western state 41

are not appropriate for the deeply pluralistic and culturally diverse groups found within southern Africa. The cultural norms and tacit social rules of families and classrooms are rarely discussed in policy and program design discussions—be they in Botswana, Namibia, or South Africa over the past decade. It’s easier to simply borrow a policy or program model from a Western consultant or in-country technician, likely trained in Britain or the United States. There’s a paradox in how demands for modernization are played out in southern Africa. When the central state does successfully push into local townships or villages, breaking through the borders of tribal leadership, the family, or the local school, it can erode the state’s legitimacy. In Namibia, we will see how the SWAPO government’s aggressive drive to have teachers instruct children in English is resented by many local educators. In Botswana, we explore how a progressive government’s effort to encourage girls to stay in secondary school raises moral concerns and confusion over female roles in the minds of many mothers. In South Africa, we detail how the democratization of school management represents a foreign and unsettling idea, given the disorder and organizational chaos that still reigns in many townships. In this chapter we first consider the West’s basic conceptions of how the modern state should behave. Over the past two centuries, the views of theorists and political leaders have, of course, differed over the state’s aims and ways of organizing modern change. New governments pull pieces from these multiple models of what modern statecraft is supposed to look like. Yet shared institutional pillars are borrowed from the two-century old canon of how the modern state should behave. Second, we ask: How can the modernizing state in Africa develop a more coherent strategy for defining what it means to govern effectively. In pluralistic African settings, where civil society is highly balkanized, arriving at a credible definition of “effective government” becomes difficult. In the following review, I emphasize how these Western conceptions of “effective government” cannot fully respond to the intensity of cultural and ethnic pressures that have arisen in regions like southern Africa.



Two basic frameworks have emerged in the West that capture how one thinks about policy formulation and the state’s discrete influence on institutions and individuals. The first, society-centered models of state action, 42


stems from the argument that strong actors in the broader civil society shape the actions of policy makers. Political leaders and bureaucrats essentially act as instruments of interest groups and individuals acting within the broader polity. In contrast, state-centered models, emphasize how actors inside government exert influence over society and local communities with significant independence from the electorate or civil society. This relative autonomy from economic and cultural elites in society may vary over time, across different regimes, and by government sector (economic versus education policy, for instance). I will return to how this dichotomous sorting of policyformulation frameworks may limit our thinking when we focus on why government is often so ineffective vis-à-vis local communities and local institutions.2 Claims about what motivates government to act—particularly the motivations and interests which we attribute to political elites and policy makers—remain wrapped up in the West’s pre-1989 desire to distinguish between the good guys (democratic and free-market leaders) and the bad guys (Soviet-aligned leaders).The Cold War raged in southern Africa from the 1950s until the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989. During these years, the two super powers vied for advantage and influence, feeding older forms of civil strife long linked to ethnic differences and post-colonial inequalities. The dialectic between two models of government—democratic and freemarket oriented versus centralized and authoritarian—seemed so simple and telling. Some post-independence African leaders, such as Setsekhama in Botswana, encouraged economic growth through free-market policy and democratic political institutions. Jomo Kenyatta, although fervently committed to building civil society at the grassroots through the spirit of harambee (pulling together), also built a post-colonial administration that encouraged capitalist development, both large- and small-scale. In light of the instability that characterized this period, the West came to support strong states that could maintain order and combat incursions by Soviet aligned neighbors. State strength and anti-Soviet sentiment came first. Whether governments at the top were democratic or encouraged a participatory civil society, was of secondary concern to most Western capitals. The dictatorships of Banda in Malawi, Moi in Kenya, and the policy of “constructive engagement” with Pretoria during the Reagan Administration offer clear examples. In addition, development banks encouraged strong and technocratic central governments and continue to do so. The proper and efficient execution of development projects rests, in large part, on strength and organizational capacity at the center. 43

Thus while Western governments like Britain or the United States can be seen as society centered, fairly responsive to exogenous pressures emanating from civil society, their foreign policies long encouraged state-centered regimes, stemming directly from concentrated forms of governance that descended directly from colonial administrations. It is within this institutional framework that we still judge the “effectiveness” of newly democratic states such as Namibia and South Africa. But other ways of thinking about the state’s position and influence are available, including new forms of statecraft found in the multicultural incubator of southern Africa. Society-centered Models of Government Action and Effectiveness The state that advances the (modern) common good. Pro-market African leaders subscribe to the eighteenth-century modern tenet that government can define a “common good” for all groups in society and build an integrated infrastructure to pursue nation building and economic expansion. This model emphasizes the virtues of free consumer and labor markets, and their ability to reward those individuals who display merit, productivity, and moral virtue. Government is to focus on sculpting from disparate provinces the nationwide infrastructure—both physical and human capital—necessary for building nationwide markets and boosting production. Economic and cultural groups, spread throughout the land, may be pluralistic in their interests. But they normatively must come together within shared political institutions, such as pluralistic parliaments, to pursue a shared commitment to national unity and economic expansion. Differences among ethnic or social-class groups are to be set aside; the commonwealth is to be built by the functionalist state. The liberation rhetoric of African nationalists, pre- and post-independence, reflects a classically liberal agenda, descending from the French or American revolutions: the individual possesses inalienable political and economic rights; oppression by caste-like structures, introduced and enforced by colonial powers violates, these individual rights. Post-colonial vestiges, such as apartheid or one-party political regimes are seen as violating these civil rights,“entitlements” rooted more in European history than in the arrangement of power and social membership in indigenous African groups. Indeed, this conception of individual rights and human action free of state coercion derives directly from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ideals of John Locke, Jean Jacques Rosseau, and other classic liberals. The model is founded upon important departures from pre-modern or feudal assumptions about the motivations of individuals and legitimate forms of political authority.Workers 44


were indentured to feudal lords in premodern times, with any exit or movement from these labor bonds controlled by kingdom authorities. Male landowners and lords comprised the formal civil society, and were the only individuals enfranchised to participate in governance. Peasants, and even the burgeoning commercial class, remained on the polity’s periphery with few political rights or economic privileges. Several African leaders in the post-war era expressed sharp concern with the negative side of unregulated capitalist growth. Indeed, they perceived that capitalist interests, though of crucial import for the task of job creation, could potentially advance inequality and limit political participation of subordinate groups. From this marxist or centralized socialist critique, an even more forceful role was required of the central state. Liberation from capitalist elites required a strong nexus of authority, sufficiently forceful to democratize access to wage jobs and mass schooling, and to bring about a modern shift in basic social relations at the grassroots. Political and social cooperation on a national scale—in contrast to an order based on ethnic and local cohesion—requires a universal lingua franca, common forms of merit and mobility linked to a monetized economy, and corporate forms of organization that allegedly raise the efficiency of production and the delivery of social services. Both common-good proponents of a state that focuses on building infrastructure to aid free markets, as well as their socialist adversaries, argued that local and ethnic forms of power and loyalty must be disassembled and replaced with allegiance to the greater good: the unifying project of nationbuilding. Until quite recently, how the West thought about the effectiveness of government in Africa was linked to its ability to integrate disparate groups into a more homogenous whole.This required detaching the individual citizen (a reified construct so central under the modern scheme) from traditional collectives and forms of authority: the church, village leaders, “backward” family structures, old ways of demonstrating merit and virtue. In their stead, the individual would be fused to the central state through the modern social contract: the newly ordained citizen was granted political or civil rights, a chance at demonstrating merit in mass schooling, and a pathway to a wage-sector job. In return, post-independence youth pledged attentiveness and allegiance to the secular state and modernizing polity. Playing by particularistic tribal rules was to be replaced by forms of status and merit that are encased in modern organizations (Boli, Ramirez, and Meyer 1985). Under modern rules the politically defined “common good” is inevitably wrapped up with a functional division of labor and technical specialization. Industrial expansion requires more complex technology and specialized 45

forms of training and education. Social institutions need to be constructed and honed to ensure that the best and the brightest technicians move up based on their technical merit, not based on pre-modern forms of status or ascriptive characteristics.The state is placed in the pivotal position of creating the front end of the meritocratic system where children receive positive incentives, primarily through a mass school system, to achieve and move up in the educational hierarchy. Allegedly the most able and productive individuals are filtered into specialized, high-paying jobs.As parents see that investment in their children’s human capital pays off in higher earnings, parents push to keep their children in school for longer periods of time. The leading development thinkers in the 1950s and 1960s drew heavily on these technical-functionalist postulates of nation-building and statecraft, including Rostow (1960), Schultz (1961), Inkeles and Smith (1974).3 Durkheimian assumptions of functionality remain deeply ingrown within Western conceptions of the state. Education plays a central institutional role in transforming traditional archipelagos of ethnic enclaves into a unified nation-state. The expansion of mass schooling comes to be defined as a liberal reform on two counts: it enfranchises marginalized social classes, those parents whose children were previously denied access to basic social institutions; and it addresses the accumulation of human capital, the individual development of utilitarian skills. Most studies of government implicitly assume tight linkages between the state and society. But our own empirical studies—reporting on how teachers in South African townships or mothers in Botswana households view action by the central state—reveal that policy action is usually seen as a blunt and blurry message, not a surgically precise “intervention” as assumed by earnest policy technicians. In the absence of a dense civil society through which local issues are politicized and debated, policy making by the rational state may be driven by forces that are disconnected from the day-to-day dynamics of local economy and culture (Tilly 1992). The puzzle: a “common good” pieced together from ethnic pluralism? Let me foreshadow why I believe that the Western conception of statecraft is insufficient for the intense ethnic pluralism of southern Africa. Defining the “common good” has never been straightforward since the modern state’s emergence two centuries ago. From the 1960s forward the decentralized American state has emphasized a seemingly cultureless commitment to markets and a liberal tolerance of various versions of morality, what many have come to term secular humanism. Thomas Jefferson, if alive today, would object to this movement away from an agrarian way of life and economy that he saw as morally superior, one that reinforced local 46


governance and an active civil society. But today the American version of the Western state expresses the belief that optimal government is one that sets the conditions for individuals to make their own choices. The state should not legislate morality or private values; the state should simply ensure free markets and tolerant social conditions, allowing free decision making by the rational individual. Sandel (1996) calls this soulless version of government the “procedural state.” Even redistributive policies for the poor pivot on rhetorical conceptions of “choice” and “individual empowerment.” Centrists throughout America now push “school choice” as the marketoriented remedy for mediocre public schools. Western aid agencies push the third-world state to become ever more technocratic, obsessed with building infrastructure, from constructing bridges to skilled graduates. Nation building takes on a hard and cold agenda, one that development planners believe should avoid political debates and ethnic or cultural contention. National development is redefined as a technical activity, apparently accepted universally, without any core values or morality. This leads us to the crux of why the Western state, when transplanted into pluralistic settings, fails to connect with the historical and ethnically rich conditions found in southern Africa. Engineers of state interventions devise policy and programs that they believe will promote universally accepted goals and can be implemented through mechanical means. But due to the historical strength and, in post-apartheid societies, the prior manipulation of ethnic communities, central interventions are distorted on the ground or subverted by local actors. No government in southern Africa can simply mandate English-only instruction in classrooms, or order parents to keep their daughters in school, and expect all ethnic and social-class groups to respond in the same manner. But these local variations in how the problem differs and how centrally crafted remedies will be met with resistance or indifference at the grassroots are rarely considered by development experts. Nor until recently, and still only sporadically, were these local variabilities of any significant concern to the Western state. As Greenberg (1987:6) summarizes: “Perspectives that emphasize a ‘normative integration’ or ‘common belief system’ [a la Talcott Parsons] as a prerequisite to social order choke on the South African example.” The young state in South Africa is struggling to define a unifying “common good.” Predictably, the recently dissolved Government of National Unity emphasized the goals of “reconstruction and development:” building houses, electrifying townships and rural villages, putting up more classrooms. But as soon as central government or the provincial bureaucracies attempt to penetrate into local institutions, cultural forces are met. For example, the 47

ANC has long stood behind the principal of cultural pluralism and family choice. Parents can choose to send their child to any school they prefer. However, many schools serving primarily Indian children, schools that are among the highest in quality, conduct religious classes. Some liberal white schools have tried to use an English entrance exam to select new students, which serves to screen out poor black applicants. Many township schools after the Soweto riots in 1976 came to use the neighborhood mother tongue as the language of classroom instruction, rather than Afrikaans.Will this slow the acquisition of English, the language of assimilation? Can a mechanical state apparatus, aided by the West’s development establishment, grasp these deeply cultural and moral questions which characterize ethnically plural societies? In addition, some leaders of the ANC and the Democratic Movement in the 1970s and 1980s, many of whom now have gone into government, have come to realize that their core ideology and moral commitments are not always shared by diverse local peoples. The Movement pushed to racially integrate all economic and social pockets of society, to democratize governance of local schools and communities, to advance the status and power of women. But local ethnic groups do not always agree. A narrowly defined “common good” is not acceptable across very diverse groups. Indeed, the ANC emphasis on delivering concrete changes—houses, electricity, jobs— represents the tentative crafting of a common good that avoids ethnic contention.Yet the central state’s ability to improve the quality and content of schooling, or to advance the attainment of young women must involve challenges to the particularistic and ethnically bounded ideas of local institutions and cultural norms. As the southern African state, struggling to advance its own legitimacy, pushes into the ethnic and moral heart of diverse local peoples, Western conceptions of the commonweal become simplistic and unworkable. Class conflict model. A second society-centered model of government action gained many adherents during the post-independence period. Several African leaders emerged on the Left, from the 1950s forward, who boldly tried to swim against the dominant ideological current: the West’s faith in capitalist modernization. Countertheorists—such as Julius Nyerere inTanzania, Sam Nujoma in South West Africa, and Nelson Mandela within the ANC— applied Marxist and Maoist precepts to post-colonial and apartheid realities. The roots of their thinking came from Karl Marx’s class-conflict view of how elite interests “captured” the state’s policy-making apparatus. According to this framework, government does not define a “common good” which serves all individuals equally. Instead, the state is controlled by 48


and advances the interests of the capitalist class.The construction of physical infrastructure and human capital may well contribute to economic growth, but the benefits are distributed unfairly among different social classes. Postindependence moves to collectivize farming in Tanzania, and later in Ethiopia and Mozambique under socialist regimes, stemmed from a belief that individualistic models of production would reinforce class inequality and be inefficient. The nationalization of key industries—agriculture, mining, and power generation—was justified as taking ownership of the means of production and encouraging a communal orientation toward economic organization. Of course, at times, the nationalization of petroleum and export commodities was sustained for less idealistic, more corrupt motivations as in the cases of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and successive military regimes in Nigeria. Class-conflict theories of state action hold renewed importance as postapartheid governments become free market oriented and less concerned with redistributional issues. Of central importance is how Marxist theory sees the influence of mass schooling and government’s underlying attempt to socialize children toward particular ends. First, elite groups must find ways of legitimating an unfair capitalist system. One enormously successful method is to invest heavily in the expansion of low-quality mass schooling. Mobility and status under modern rules are linked to achieved skills and secular forms of merit, not ascribed characteristics linked to ethnic affiliation, gender, or caste origin. Under the official rules of schooling every individual, regardless of class background, has an equal chance of succeeding. Postcolonial African states even try to level the playing field by shifting toward a language of instruction which is viewed as neutral, not unfairly giving some groups a head start. Thus in Namibia and South Africa, English has become the “language of liberation.” This modern, meritocratic system appears to be equitable. In this way, government policy makers may gain some independence from elite interests to address equity concerns.Yet by claiming that mass schooling is the optimal remedy, rather than direct means of redistributing jobs and income, the state advances the credibility of the capitalist regime (Poulantzas 1973). Second, the cultural rules and forms of authority inherent in mass schooling socialize youths to accept the hierarchical social order that predominates in economic organizations. Kids of elite families may attend private or high-quality public schools, where they are taught to think critically and creatively. But the masses send their children to mechanical and bureaucratic school organizations, usually of low quality.This is purposeful from the capitalist state’s viewpoint: it ensures that working-class and poor 49

youngsters are prepared to fit into hierarchical work organizations. The social rules and limited opportunities for participation that children experience in school corresponds to their family’s class position and their likely occupational destinations (Carew and Lightfoot 1979; Cross 1992; Fuller, Snyder and Hua 1994; Nkomo 1990). The state plays a pivotal role in legitimating these institutional tracks and the factory like forms of organization and hierarchical rules faced by children of the masses. Witness the debate in South Africa over Model C schools, formerly white segregated schools that still receive higher per pupil support from the new government.And battles between provincial education departments who seek to desegregate high-quality schools in Indian and coloured communities essentially reflect a progressive state’s attempt to disassemble organized tracks that separate middle-class and poor youngsters (Russell 1996).The identical struggle is playing out in post-apartheid Namibia. Within schools, according to the class-conflict framework, children of the masses learn that authority is concentrated in actors who hold foreign knowledge (the teachers); these actors also control who participates in group settings and when. Students learn that they will be judged according to their individual performance, mostly their ability to recall this “high cultural knowledge.” Their merit and virtue are judged along narrow criteria, linked to conformity in the classroom and performance on exams, no longer linked to more complex knowledge of the individual’s character. Chapters 5 and 7 detail this basic reality as observed in South African and Botswana classrooms. The corporate form of schooling teaches youths that formal organizations have the authority to link upward mobility to universal, secular forms of school achievement.4 In this way, government policy matters a lot—but only in terms of whether the state’s schools can effectively socialize youngsters to see the capitalist political-economy as legitimate (Althusser 1971; Gramsci 1971). Marxist theorists emphasize that government policies aimed at, for instance, boosting the status of home languages, equalizing gender roles, or making classrooms laboratories for participatory social rules will not succeed until these conflicts among competing social classes are resolved within economic organizations. Until political power and democratic participation becomes more widely distributed within economic organizations, the state and the school will have little influence in bringing democracy to the grassroots. After left-of-center nationalist movements successfully expelled apartheid regimes in Namibia and South Africa, the earlier Marxist critique and its recognition of distinct class interests has largely disappeared from official 50


circles. During his reelection campaign in 1994, Namibian president Sam Nujoma talked of the three major accomplishments during his first term: achieving peace and stability, restructuring the educational system, and improving preventive health care. He then went on to say: “SWAPO successfully brought about the independence of this country. Now we are facing completely new enemies, such as poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance, and crime” (Shivute 1994:3). As we will see in Part II of this book Namibia remains sharply divided along class lines, and demands upon the state to lessen gross inequalities continue to be pressed. But sharp representations of class conflict, so powerful in their mobilizing efforts during liberation struggles, are now less useful in broadening the SWAPO government’s popular support—among the capitalist classes. Even when new centrist or socialist governments assume power and focus on impoverished groups, the state’s capacity to penetrate into these communities and alter behavior does not necessarily rise (Migdal 1988). While rural villagers continue to vote overwhelmingly for SWAPO, participation in local institutions (like schools) and the social rules found within have changed little. Basil Davidson (1992) argues that while the class-conflict ideology of liberation was useful in mobilizing the break from colonial control, it has had little utility in strengthening social and economic organization at the grassroots in the post-colonial era. Finding a government that will speak to class interests and focus on poverty is a crucial first step; Marxist theory tells us less about how to raise the state’s effectiveness locally on the ground. Political theorists in this tradition have pushed forward on two questions relevant to our question of how central policy makers might come to respect and understand local institutions, such as the school and family: How do some governments gain increasing levels of independence from economic elites and their material interests? Can the state advance social rules and cultural practices that run counter to individualistic (market) and hierarchical (bureaucratic) forms of social organization? As pointed contradictions of capitalist modernization emerge in developing countries, government comes under recurring attack from both the Right and the Left. In Namibia, for instance, the SWAPO Administration is attacked from the Left for not moving white education bureaucrats out of their jobs (through transfers or retirement) to open up more jobs for black university graduates.Then, ethnic-based opposition arises from Afrikaans-and Englishspeaking groups to what they define as an unwise form of affirmative action which will lower the quality of the civil service. Policy makers within the state must mediate these divisive pressures. Similarly, white communities are 51

most fearful of what they see as deteriorating educational quality; in Namibia, modest racial integration of secondary schools has been followed by declining matric exam scores.Meanwhile many black communities in the north,hundreds of kilometers from any white family, worry not about desegregation but about how to get a bigger share of the government budget simply to obtain textbooks or repair the leaky classroom roof. As government is repeatedly put into the role of mediator—especially in contentious and ethnically plural societies—policy makers may accumulate more independence from any one set of interests. As conflicts around such distributional issues arise, stemming from apartheid-enforced inequalities, the state apparatus expands to equalize social and economic opportunities at the margins: schools are expanded, welfare benefits for poor families increase, and interventions into the labor structure intensify, aiming to create more jobs.As Claus Offe (1984) points out, government’s policies, programs, and signals of opportunity become more complex and even contradictory as parliaments and bureaucrats attempt to mediate dissent and conflict that arise in various stages of capitalist development.Thus elements of the Marxist frame are difficult to substantiate, particularly the argument that state policies exclusively aim to serve the capitalist class’s interests. Instead, many incremental social policies—especially those related to improving school quality, democratizing school governance, or altering how parents socialize their daughters—may serve a variety of class interests. This is particularly relevant in the case of post-apartheid governments in Namibia and South Africa that are trying to gain legitimacy through two tandem strategies: ensuring free market conditions necessary for spurring capitalist investment while targeting public investment on poor black communities.These governments advance their legitimacy by avoiding exclusive support of capitalist interests. This opens the door to penetration into government by actors and ethnic groups that work from a view critical of the classic modernization path. Depending upon their political strength in civil society and their prowess within the state, their un-modern agendas may flow into the mediational processes facilitated by government. Marxist scholars also have pressed forward on global-level forces that have driven the state’s renewed faith in unfettered markets and its erratic attention to policies that reduce inequality. In the 1960s, one might remember the dependéncia school and the fundamental argument that even though Latin American countries achieved political independence from Spain or Portugal 150 years before,they remained in a position of economic dependency under relations inherent within the world economy. Latino nations on the economic periphery were still exporting raw materials and commodities 52


from mines and farms largely held by elite to core countries within Europe and the United States. In turn, North America and Europe exported valueadded manufactured products back to consumers in the Third World (Frank 1967). World-systems theory was then applied to post-colonial Africa, the argument being that the West was “underdeveloping” African economies by exploiting minerals and agricultural commodities and benefiting from low wage rates (Wallerstein 1972). A broader world institution theory has been advanced, arguing that the organizational form and “modern policies” enacted in the West are essentially imported by third-world political elites (Meyer 1992; Thomas and Meyer 1984). In short, the institution of government depends upon the West to lend it credible forms of high status policies, from the expansion of mass schooling to the eventual attack on gender inequalities. Whether these policies really fit the local historical context of Botswana or South Africa is a question rarely asked. New governing elites, even though previously suspicious of a strong central state, must act like they are effective policy makers—and this requires borrowing policy frames from the West.This is the jumping-off point for chapter 3 in which we ask: From where do educational policies come in post-apartheid societies? Political pluralism model. Closely related to the modernization tradition is the pluralist model of statecraft. “Pluralist political theory,” in Martin Carnoy’s words (1984:10), “is…the official ideology of capitalist democracies.” Unlike Offe’s conception of a state which mediates among class interests in the face of contradictions (while aiming to stabilize capitalist expansion), North American pluralists have seen government as a neutral organization that would respond to a broad base of local groups and coalitions. Policy makers— both in legislatures and bureaucracies—may develop some independence from the electorate in the short run. But major policy directions will be controlled by voters themselves, members of the polity who take an active interest in public issues. Just as Adam Smith and fellow Europeans were developing an individualistic conception of markets free of government intrusion, in the late eighteenth century North American theorists, like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, were developing a more decentralized conception of civil society: “The society itself will be broken into so many parts and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals or of any minority will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority” (Hamilton, Madison, and Jay 1961, p.324).5 Indeed, the secular and federalist state structure established by these radical theorists in the upstart United States was formulated in direct reaction to more centralized forms of European “democracy,” such as in France where a strong executive and 53

bureaucracy could undercut democratic pressures from the working class or from the balkanized provinces. This older—and idealistic—conception of democratic pluralism differs from the particular conception of modernization that gained currency following World War II. First, many post-colonial policy makers came of age while engaging in civil disobedience and armed rebellion against highly centralized colonial regimes. As mentioned above, it was the only form of government that they knew intimately. And popular demands on the post-colonial state to deliver “modern progress” are so great, a decentralized pluralist approach to reaching consensus about development strategy is unrealistic. World institutions—from the UN to the World Bank—push a clear and readymade model of national development.The ANC-led Government of National Unity imported both the metaphor and even the World Bank’s original name, calling its central modernization agency the “Reconstruction and Development Programme.”This influential agency, which collected all donor contributions during the first two years of the Mandela Administration, had a logo that consisted of a brick wall going up, mortar, and a craftsman’s trowel. With post-war models of nation building so entirely legitimated, why would a pluralistic political process be initiated to discuss the optimal pathway toward “development?” Post-colonial states are struggling to catch up with the modern world as quickly as possible, driven by popular pressure for economic gains and elites’ expectations that crisp signs of modernity yield higher status.This requires political strength at the center. Second, the Jeffersonian ideal of political pluralism fits awkwardly within the historical context of southern Africa. Colonial or apartheid authorities explicitly, even violently, constrained the growth and thickening of civil society. Ethnic groups were segregated and attempts at coalition building between tribes were quickly stamped out. Until the late 1980s, the outlawing or regulation of opposition political parties by white and black governments alike was accepted practice throughout Africa, with the important exception of Botswana.Thus, the mere definition of “national development” and the formulation of strategies occurred within very tight policy circles, relatively unaffected by nascent elements of a minuscule civil society. Marx assumed the existence and force of well organized guilds and unions among the working classes. But cohesive organization of civil society is precisely what apartheid and British colonial authorities readily squashed over a period lasting more than three centuries. Under such conditions of tightly restricted political pluralism, the discrete goal of economic growth becomes the exclusive preoccupation of many third-world states. Issues of gender inequality or bilingualism—which strike 54


to the heart of strengthening local institutions and culture—do not see the light of day until a threshold level of political pluralism is reached.As newly democratic institutions at the top legitimate wider economic and social participation, cultural forms of pluralism can then blossom in brilliant and contrasting colors.6 Cultural pluralism, with intensity. Jefferson never dreamed of the ethnic and cultural manifestations of pluralism that alternatively energize and constrain the post-apartheid state. Political pluralism and decentralized government seemed relatively unproblematic in Jefferson’s rural eighteenthcentury Virginia: Anglo elites spoke the same language, wealth stemmed from agriculture and small-scale trade, religious commitments were rooted in European traditions. But in South Africa, where parliamentary bulletins and legislation must be printed in at least nine different languages, the intensity of cultural pluralism and ethnic-regional demands is unprecedented. One response stems from idealized conceptions of political pluralism: decentralize control to the provinces, local towns, and schools. South Africa’s new constitution retains the GNU’s earlier faith in federalism, giving the provinces substantial control over schools and welfare services. But decentralization also prompts two troubling connotations in the political culture of Namibia or South Africa: (a) white resistance to central policy attempts aimed at redistributing income and social opportunities, and (b) slowing nation building and the racial integration of society. As the Marxist critique suggests, a strong central state is required to address deep inequalities, from raising the minimum wage to shifting education funding to the poor provinces and locales. But at the same time, a strong secular state may push a certain (unifying) language on schools, or fail to vigilantly reinforce religious instruction in the classroom (a policy backed by a variety of South African ethnic groups). The Jeffersonian version of political pluralism was an internally consistent argument for decentralization. But in southern Africa, with its intense levels of cultural and ethnic pluralism a novel dilemma emerges: a strong state is required to attack gross inequalities. This is the common good in the eyes of all disadvantaged groups, who together now elect the political leadership. But any one ethnic or religious group is nervous about concentrated political power when it comes to the strengthening of its own particular social and moral agenda. At the same time, many democratic elites who steer the ANC and other progressive parties see tribal leaders and ethnic rooted agendas as anti-modern. Thus will left-of-center political elites seek to move power down locally to ethnic chiefs who take conservative stances with regard to gender roles, the curricular content of schools, and the 55

degree of democratic decision-making (e.g., over land reform or language policy)? The West’s version of pluralism is rendered insufficient for delineating when central policy makers should take action, and in what domains state power should be devolved to lower political levels. Public choice model. The idealized pluralist model and the pessimistic public choice model have one thing in common: politics matter. The ways in which individuals organize, form coalitions, and participate on the political stage exert influence over the actions taken by policy makers and bureaucrats. Building an active and participatory civil society is a key institutional task, not only building an effective state bureaucracy. Public choice theorists emphasize that, as industrialized democracies mature, power and influence becomes concentrated in powerful interest groups and lobbyists. Local actors and their national organizations, such as NGOs, teacher unions, and corporate lobbyists, vary in the extent to which they can raise resources to organize. This, in turn, determines which large interest groups can extract resources, legitimacy, and status from the government. Just as neoclassical philosophers argued, individuals and groups will pursue their own economic interests in the political sphere, just as they do in the economy when centralized constraints are lifted. But in the political sphere, the aggregated pursuit of special interests by powerful groups leads to irrational outcomes from a common-good point of view. African governments, for example, invest heavily in their universities, while the quality of mass primary schooling remains abysmally low. The ratio of university students per lecturer commonly falls below 15:1 (Lockheed and Verspoor 1991).The cost of this oversupply of higher education is very high and unaffordable for most African governments. Graduates often go unemployed for years. Such allocation decisions seem blatantly irrational. But from a public choice perspective such policy decisions are quite sensible. Well organized and vocal civic groups, comprised of elite families and aspiring middle-class parents, want to expand the number of student spaces at secondary schools and the national university. These cohesive and influential groups extract benefits from government to advance their own interests; in turn, they pay “rent” to the state to maintain their economic position. By delivering on these demands, key policy makers gain popularity and support from blocs of voters and campaign contributors. But the misallocation of public funds and the oversupply of certain social services cuts into government’s available resources and ability to address pressing issues—like poverty or low-quality schooling—for which only weak political actors lobby (for review Grindle and Thomas 1991).



Under the public choice model, the common good is either ignored or distorted by powerful interest groups that can penetrate the state and influence key policy decisions. Here the penetration process is reciprocal: policy makers attempt to formulate mandates and programs that serve certain segments of society, bringing local institutions and dissident cultural norms into conformity. In turn, policy options are crafted largely by self-interested groups who have the resources and savvy to get a seat at the table.This reciprocity can be seen in South Africa as the state attempts to racially integrate and reform the formerly white Model C schools. The government presses for discrete changes: English, not Afrikaans, as the medium of classroom instruction, and reductions in the number of teacher posts at these grossly overstaffed schools. But the fragile state can not afford to alienate white parents who attempt to draw tight and impenetrable boundaries around “their” schools. We also detail in chapter 5 how education analysts linked to the business community have successfully shifted the policy discourse to a traditional human capital perspective, discarding the democratic movement’s prior focus on seeing educational reform as a way to democratize social relations inside schools and townships. Now, the raison d’être of schooling is to boost the productive skills of workers. Again, it’s the better organized and powerful interests groups that sculpt the basic assumption of policy making inside the state.The structure of civil society is the major force at work, as well as the extent to which different interest groups have organized to capture particular elements of government over time. State-Centered Models of Government Action and Effectiveness Thus far we have considered models of state action that emphasize the power of external actors—active in organized pockets of civil society—in defining government’s institutional role, influence, and the policy options which surface from within. Yet many students of government are more optimistic about the state’s ability to exercise some independence, to transcend dominant class interests, even to deliver economic or social benefits to groups who are not solely interested in capitalist expansion. Three state-centered models have appeared in this younger literature, scholarship which paralleled the dramatic post-war expansion of the welfare state. The emergence of a centralized “development state,” initially pushed by Western aid agencies with the advent of the World Bank in the 1940s, invited an even more ambitious role for third-world governments until to the rebirth of promarket development policies, ascendent since the 1980s. The State as a rational and technical actor. German sociologist Max Weber 57

observed that efficient bureaucracies, like factories, engage in rational planning with central actors determining how best to structure standard production procedures. Complex production goals were reduced down to smaller predictable steps, made standard and universal, and subdivided into routine tasks for workers to perform repetitively, each contributing to the overall production system (Weber 1948). Rational managers apparently behaved like neoclassical economic actors, searching out information about how to lower the costs of inputs, advance productive efficiency via new technologies, and boost the quality of goods produced. Early theorists in public administration then applied these rational-actor assumptions to problems found in the economy or within social sectors (Scott 1987). One case in point is the field of educational planning—alive and well in developing countries—fueled in the 1960s and 1970s both by Soviet-style planning and the West’s faith in technical methods for determining costeffective policies and local programs. In the 1980s,Western donors became increasingly concerned with the limited capacity of education ministries to consider informed policy options. Economic adjustment strategies intensified in Africa, making foreign assistance conditional upon reducing budget deficits, denationalizing parastatal firms, deregulating currency exchange rates and tariffs. By the mid-1980s, “education sector adjustment” also was moving forward in a number of African countries, often as a tool to pursue tandem modernization aims: equalizing educational opportunities and making the educational system more efficient (Fuller and Habte 1992). Foreign agencies, notably USAID and the World Bank, continue to spend millions of dollars each year to improve education management information systems, justified on the rational-state model that sound information will spur the development of more rational policy options.7 Anyone who has observed the chaotic and irrational way in which education ministries allocate scarce resources can deny the importance of sound centralized planning. Political brushfires often flare up in local communities when rationalized controls and allocation procedures are not followed. Take two recent political controversies in Namibia. In the small village of Tallismanus the equivalent of $500 dollars recently disappeared from the school lockbox. This was the second time a theft had occurred in recent months, and neither the nearest police outpost nor the ministry of education had been notified. Local residents were in an uproar. Less mysterious but equally telling, Namibia’s education ministry has been considering the privatization of student hostels. Fully ten percent of the entire education budget goes to subsidize hostels, even though they disproportionately serve 58


children from white, fairly affluent families. Note that both problems are rooted in a lack of information and could be remedied by more careful management control. Broader financing issues also are apparent: grossly inequitable allocations between formerly all-white versus black township schools; scarce basic resources, such as textbooks and paper; the lack of a sound teacher evaluation process. These types of issues arise daily within education ministries and dominate the time of many bureaucrats; basic Weberian remedies can be quite helpful.8 Two problems arise, however, when we assume that state-guided forms of administration will result in democratic change locally. First is the much discussed “bounded rationality” of organizational actors. The economist’s textbook conception of rational analysis can rarely be followed inside the messy bowels of most governments, First World or Third World: organizational goals often times are murky or contradictory, the technology for pursuing the objectives of public programs or authority to implement often is shared among more than one central and local agency, and full information about the costs and benefits of programs is obtainable only at very high cost, if at all. Much of our research, for example, focuses on how the quality of schooling and teaching in southern African—and especially what types of government investments—might yield more stronger gains in basic literacy. The “technology” of classroom learning is quite complex, involving how teachers mobilize instructional materials and engage children. How can policy makers and budgeteers aid this complicated, very local classroom process? Even if one single skipper stood at the tiller of this massive project, moving the ship with any precision would be difficult. But as one looks inside postapartheid education ministries, populated by actors with competing agendas and influence over various funding streams, one source of information-led rationality is difficult to locate.9 The second major weakness of the rational-actor conception of statecraft is particularly relevant to our focus on the cultural impediments to government action. We have come to assume that identical government interventions hold the same meaning across highly variable local communities. Governments and foreign donors have spent millions of dollars and considerable time trying to democratize classrooms on a small scale: moving teachers from didactic “chalk-and-talk” pedagogy to more engaging and participatory instructional methods. But the deeply embedded culture of post-apartheid schools still encourages teachers to get through the syllabus and curriculum sequence, dictated from above, on schedule.This is geared to the material that must be covered to match national examinations.Teachers see as heretical the possibility of slowing down to encourage class discussions, 59

to explore problems or issues from different points of view, or to create learning centers where students can choose their preferred activity during certain periods.10 More participatory forms of pedagogy are simply deemed as being inefficient. So-called “rational actors” within policy circles then earnestly devise curricular and teacher training reforms that ignore the enculturated scripts that teachers have come to normatively accept in post-colonial school systems. People’s Education in the 1980s and less politicized forms of constructivist pedagogy have been tried in South Africa. But sustainability is always in doubt, as institutionalized, hierarchical forms of teaching relentlessly squeeze out hopeful innovations. Such policy reforms come to be standardized and spread by domestic professional groups or foreign aid agencies, independent of the resilient cultural routines and institutionalized practices found within the schools. In the empirical chapters which follow we detail how ignorance of local scripts and tacit beliefs—rooted in the rational-actor conception of government action—constrains the effectiveness of local policy interventions. It is what I term the commodification of statecraft. Reforms are packaged by technocrats at the center, then “sold” to teachers or parents, the objects of reform. Much research has occurred since the 1960s on why the implementation of central policies often fails.This work, primarily conducted in the United States, does offer important lessons (e.g., Lipsky 1980; Pressman and Wildavsky 1973).These studies of how implementation breaks down, however, remains somewhat trapped in the rational-actor model of government.The emphasis remains on policy developed by central government agencies, and the analysis often centers on how the surface rules of the policy or program become hopelessly complex or subverted by local implementing organizations.The underlying cultural patterns or highly institutionalized scripts of local actors are rarely the focus of research.What is central is how the central policy, its regulatory or programmatic features, become fractured. The work of the late Harvard sociologist Donald Warwick on the implementation of family planning programs and school innovations in developing countries offers an important exception. The deep cultural scripts of actors and local organizations are central to Warwick’s empirical studies (Warwick 1982;Warwick and Reimers 1995).The intellectual problem has been that students of policy implementation rarely connect with more empirical work on the taken-for-granted cultural scripts and routines that render many policy reforms so ineffective, from state interventions into the classroom to efforts aimed at expanding access to preschool programs (Holloway et al. 1998). In North America, emerging work on the organization 60


of schooling is beginning to focus on the fundamental question of whether secular policy from the center can seriously alter the cultural and professional commitments held by school principals and teachers, moving beyond the regulation of instructional inputs or pedagogical behavior.11 Bureaucratic interests model. The search for more effective technical remedies and policy options is played out within a broader bureaucratic competition, played among competing ministers and bureaucrats who hope to mobilize their colleagues in government and key external actors around their priorities. One principal argument advanced by proponents of management information systems (MIS) inside education ministries is that it will help “get the ear” of the president’s office or key political actors.That is, signaling that decisions are being made on a more rational (modern) basis will boost the education ministry’s legitimacy and budget. The bureaucratic-politics model of state action illuminates the differentiated and complex nature of government’s internal workings. Political leaders can exert leadership on a constrained number of issues; bureaucratic actors thus spend considerable energy mobilizing interest-group allies and the media to advance their particular agenda, be it expansion of primary schools, raising language or gender issues, pushing health care improvements, or placing priority on family planning efforts. No decision or policy will be made until sufficient levels of mobilization and political will are constructed within key elements of the state. The process of mobilization and policy making by bureaucratic actors can become irrational when organizational interests distort the definition of local problems and corresponding remedies. In the foreign policy field, apparent local problems are often interpreted through perceptual lenses that advance the bureaucratic interests of a particular observer. Chester Crocker, assistant secretary of state for Africa in the 1980s, continues to argue that the Reagan Administration’s policy of “constructive engagement” was fruitful in pushing forward Namibia’s negotiated independence from South Africa, as well as boosting the legitimacy of moderates inside the Pretoria regime. But this interpretation of a controversial policy, eventually overturned by a more aggressive Congress that imposed economic sanctions in 1985, was undoubtedly distorted by Mr. Crocker’s personal and bureaucratic position. Similarly, we often see clumps of education ministry officials, foreign aid advisors, and pro-school elements of civil society (teacher and student unions, NGOs) coming together to support higher spending levels for the sector. Rationales and evidence on the economic returns of education often are mobilized (usually citing incontrovertible World Bank studies) to convince 61

finance ministry officials and political advisors that greater investments will yield solid benefits. It is the institutionalized role played by these proeducation actors that drives the evidence and symbols made salient inside policy and bureaucratic circles. Under this conception of state action the rational evidence does not exogenously shape understandings of “the problem.” Nor does a spectrum of policy and program options frequently appear within policy deliberations. Instead policy remedies are typically plucked from menus of reforms or spending strategies which have gained legitimacy over the years. On a project design team in southern Africa, I once suggested that the best way to keep girls from dropping out of primary school might be to dig more water wells, since it was young females that had to carry most of the water.My colleagues looked at me like I had lost my senses: sure this intervention might be effective, but it could not be addressed by the education ministry. So, why pursue such a bureaucratically unpopular option? This option didn’t appear on any policy menu appropriate for a ministry of education. Ministers and bureaucrats have a stake in certain remedies and institutions whether these agents can best address the problem or not. Favored policy remedies often drive the very interpretation of local problems, not the other way around as rational planners would have it (March and Olsen 1976). For example, we will explore how the amount of time girls spend in school and how much they learn is largely driven by family processes and elements rooted within impoverished households (in Botswana and South Africa). The expansion of secondary schools has helped to raise female attainment for particular ethnic groups residing in regions with particular local economies—a reminder that the very boundaries of the “problem” are set by ethnic and regional histories. But policy bureaucrats and educators, heavily vested in the school institution, define the problem as being linked to a lack of formal education or the right kind of schooling. Recognizing that the most influential constraints on female attainment may be rooted in the household’s deeper cultural scripts is of little utility to state actors who only have a narrowly defined range of policy remedies which they can legitimately invoke. State interests model. Many actors within the state—whether residing within a conservative or liberal administration—hold a shared interest in advancing government’s own visibility and role in society.The state itself must compete with capitalist elites, labor unions, local NGOs, churches, and other institutions in civil society that vie for public resources and credibility. Even when conservative governments attempt to decentralize or privatize schooling, for instance, political leaders must hold sufficient legitimacy and stature to successfully wind down government’s direct role in education.As conditions 62


change in the economy or civil society, new state interests and forms of credible policy action emerge. During periods of economic crisis or when an administration is popular, policy actions may be taken which would be politically impossible during normal times.Ambitious New Deal legislation by the Roosevelt Administration during the Great Depression is the classic case of the state acting with clear independence from the influence of elites (Skocpol and Amenta 1986). More modestly, the steady expansion of child-care and preschool programs in the West, and now by third-world governments, has become possible as more women have entered the wagelabor force and preschooling comes to be viewed institutionally as another remedy for family poverty (Holloway et al. 1998). In South Africa, a collection of child-care NGOs and actors within government are struggling to craft a financial role for the state without constraining the community organizations that gave birth to the preschool and child-care movement. Indeed, constructing a compelling public interest for state entry into a new sector can be difficult and politically risky. The institutional origins of new governments—especially the terms under which they came into being—hold lasting effects. South Africa’s interim constitution, phased out by 1998, is a ripe example of how initial foundations delimit how far the new state can range, what Bennett and Sharpe (1985) have termed “embedded orientations.” The devolution of political authority to the provinces was codified, only slightly adjusted by the permanent constitution in 1996. Incumbent bureaucrats were guaranteed job security for five years (also a provision contained in Namibia’s reconciliation pact prior to independence from Pretoria). And only a small share of the reconstruction and development program (RDP), created in the initial months of the Mandela Administration, is to go to NGOs—to build houses, repair roads, and to aid school improvements in the townships. These policies, firmly in place soon after the new state’s birth, largely define government’s central interests: reconciliation, stability, free markets, and support of key progressive elements of civil society. Government priorities will likely evolve a bit in the post-Mandela era. But these original components of the state’s interests will burrow into government offices and become normatively accepted, difficult to alter. This bears directly on government’s legitimate ability to craft policy initiatives in areas that either impinge upon private domains not viewed as touchable or institutionalized practices that are too difficult to alter from above. Some advocates in South Africa’s civil society want to maintain the democratic movement’s earlier emphasis on reducing gender inequalities in student achievement and access to higher education. But encouraging daughters to 63

stay in school longer reaches into the family’s values and traditional gender roles. Can a young and bounded state define a “public interest” and sufficient credibility to attack gender roles? Progressive groups also are pushing government—at both central and provincial levels—to move forward on democratizing school management and making the “culture of learning” inside classrooms more participatory and transformational. But importantly, the RDP leadership redefined culture of learning to mean classroom construction, a fresh coat of paint, even the delivery of new latrines for schools.These offer cross signals of the ANC state’s efficacy. The very policy problem on the ground—stultifying and authoritarian classrooms—is redefined by policy makers to fit a concrete remedy that advances the state’s institutional interests. BRINGING CULTURE IN: AMBITIOUS AFRICAN STATES WITH BRITTLE


Imagine for the next few moments that the education minister of South Africa has asked for your advice on how to alter the workings of local schools or families in poor urban townships. The policy aim is to raise children’s early literacy levels. The ANC government’s political rhetoric stresses the importance of democratizing local institutions: purging the unequal and authoritarian foundations of Bantu education, making classrooms more participatory, raising school attainment levels of girls and young women, letting a thousand flowers bloom when it comes to legitimating the use of local languages in the classroom. The question is: How useful are the Western models of statecraft sketched above in assessing the likely credibility and technical effectiveness of such policy alternatives? The models of state action are quite useful in pinpointing contextual constraints surrounding the government which narrow the range of credible policy alternatives.They also help in delineating organizational features and technical capacities inside government that may strengthen the case for pursuing particular policy options while downplaying others. Let us take, for example, the ANC’s strong case against the authoritarian tenets of Bantu education (African National Congress 1994). This included an attack on the apartheid regime’s policy that school quality be kept low in the townships to constrain school attainment levels of black and coloured children, eventually limiting their access to wage-sector jobs. School administration was hierarchically and autocratically arranged, flowing down from the central education ministries, separated along racial lines. Classroom instruction focused on drilling in the facts and figures that appear on the national matric examination. 64


The society-centered models of statecraft raise important questions if we were to analyze policy options for dismantling these historically embedded features of Bantu education.We might ask, how is the new democratic state defining “the common good” as it attempts to reform the educational system. During the GNU’s four years of life we saw a strong focus on reconstruction and development, including rapid construction of new classrooms and the rehabilitation of old schools.The states’s quick and thorough alliance with business also translates into an emphasis on human capital development. The political culture of the 1980s, from the democratic movement’s standpoint, saw the school as a site of political struggle, a local institution that should become more participatory, encourage more critical thinking, and build a collective spirit within poor communities.The political environment in the New South Africa encourages schools to build individualistic skills, not political consciousness (Chisholm and Fuller 1997).We will detail this telling shift later in the book. Our central point is that society-centered forces do indeed constrain the range of policy options and priorities that are likely to emerge in education and family policy arenas. State-centered models also hold utility in predicting what policy options are likely to be associated with a clear state interest, able to survive competition with other bureaucratic players who hope to gain more visibility or resources for their own issue or public program. Newly democratic states face a very difficult balancing act: they must simultaneously build broad political credibility, calm capitalist interests, and move to address stark inequalities. The ANC government occasionally displays relative autonomy, since white capitalist interests are associated with the old apartheid regime. Yet the state’s own future institutionally—and the medium-term success of the ANC—rests on establishing civil peace, attracting foreign capital, and creating more jobs. Thus the state is placed in the role of mediator on a grand scale. Educational policy plays a key role in bolstering government’s credibility, both in the eyes of capitalists and the poor. For schooling, if framed along human capital lines, signals that skill levels and productivity will rise, while equalizing children’s opportunity to benefit from mass schooling.Yet this is in the context of disorderly and ineffective local schools and a restless civil society, found in the townships and working-class urban areas populated by the very poor and a coloured middle-class which aspires to a more affluent future. Social order rests not only on material reality but on faith and hope that public institutions will bring a better life for all. Newly democratic governments in Namibia and South Africa, in carving out a post-apartheid version of the public interest, must devise educational policies that boost faith in the townships and deliver material improvements in the schools. 65

In sum, the Western models of state action help to explain the types of symbols and material policy options that sprout from young African states. The models help to identify the political and economic forces that operate from outside or within the government organization. It is these forces that drive the mindless importation of bureaucratic forms, reification of the individual, and dominant forms of educational policies. But do these theoretical stories, unfolding at high levels of government or civil society, help us explain why local actors and local institutions fail to respond to central policy thrusts? A Blind Spot:Western Political Theory Placed in Ethnically Plural Societies The problem with importing the Western state apparatus arises when we ask whether young governments—having installed democratic institutions at the top—are able to effect a democratic agenda at the grassroots? And why are newly democratic African states so ineffective in bringing about concrete change inside local institutions—from boosting girls’ school attainment to making classrooms more lively and participatory? This is not a problem only of third-world states. But local conditions and historical forces, marked by vibrant and politically intense manifestations of ethnic and cultural pluralism, continue to both energize and constrain the state’s efficacy.This book aims to demonstrate (a) how public problems are highly segmented within ethnic and cultural boundaries, and (b) why central government policies when tacitly shaped by Western models of state action are so rarely effective in bringing democratic participation and material institutional change to the grassroots. Are we being blinded by our loyalty to conventional precepts of the modern state? Political debates in the heady days of post-independence, through the 1970s, centered on the wisdom of competing macro-ideologies and paths toward national development. Would a communal approach to farming in Ethiopia and Tanzania boost productivity and social cohesion?Would Kenya’s pro-capitalist economic policies be more effective? As newly democratic nations came on line in the 1980s and forward, the big political and reform questions shifted somewhat, but they reflected faith in the efficacy of a Westernlike state organization.How could schooling be expanded more rapidly in Zimbabwe? Would SWAPO pursue aggressive redistributional policies in Namibia. How would the ANC simultaneously pursue economic recovery, job creation, and the equalization of educational opportunities in the townships? These big questions are of obvious import in setting the basic foundations and political culture of post-colonial government. They are questions that 66


must be addressed if fragile states are to establish a firm and credible role in contentious civil societies marked by often divisive ethnic pluralism. Indeed, they are the grand political-economy issues on which Western theories of state action have focused. But these broad parameters pertain to the central state and its machinations, not how policy makers develop effective links with local institutions. The Western models teach us much about policy makers’ motivations, programs that are politically feasible, and how they advance government’s own institutional interests. But they limit our understanding of the interaction between young African states and the local conditions they confront, especially the questions of: •

How do government actors attempt to penetrate into local institutions like the school and family to advance democratic rules of social and economic participation? What do policy makers confront inside diverse and ethnic and cultural groups, specifically when the African state tries to broaden participation in schooling, remedy gender inequalities, and democratize participatory rules in schools? What organizing, technical, and ethical dilemmas do central policy makers confront as they dirty their hands, attempting to loosen the deep roots of taken-for-granted social rules found inside local institutions?

In short, Western conceptions of state action provide little guidance for how newly democratic states can effectively bring democratic rules to local institutions. This is the fundamental blind side of Western political theory. Scholars and activists in the West have confronted the state’s limited technical capacity to effect change locally, working from a state-centered and Weberian framework. Others struggle to adjust the class context of what the state attempts to accomplish, working from a society-centered or class-struggle framework (for review, see Migdal 1988; Wright 1996). But more deeply,Western conceptions of the state have rarely taken into account local institutions and cultural forces, and their ability to constrain or enhance change in basic social and economic rules. The gap between popular expectations and brittle policy tools. Southern Africa certainly differs from most Western societies not only in its ethnic diversity and how this cultural balkanization dominates the political culture. In addition, young democracies possess untested and brittle policy tools that go up against skyrocketing popular expectations for modern change. Particularly in post-apartheid societies, where the poor were kept down 67

with such vile intentionality by the old regime, the desire for more jobs, electrified townships, running water, and better schools is understandably enormous.And the modern state promises to deliver through unified, rational, and bureaucratic ministries. Historically in the West, expectations of the central state’s responsibilities and obligations rose at about the same rate that its technical capacity developed to carry out new policies and programs. North American and Western European nations were on the leading edge of modernization from the late eighteenth century onward; the rationalized modern state developed slowly, incrementally, in ways that fit the evolution of markets, industrial organization, and the political organization of civil society. But in southern Africa, as elsewhere in the Third World, the popular culture has been filled with images of the modern middle-class world. Symbolically these societies know what mass society should look like; yet materially it can not be realized quickly. Of course, in South Africa and among the growing middle class of Namibia and Botswana, modern life already has arrived; it may exist right across the dirt path from a dismally poor township or just down the tarmac road in town. But post-apartheid governments are poorly equipped to deliver modernity to everyone right away. The nationalist state, rising from the independence era, was the institutional hammer to combat and shake off colonial control.13 But this facet of “strength” has not translated into a tandem element of local strength—the ability of policy makers to improve life in local communities.This lack of local efficacy is not explained by the legitimacy or the “strength” of the state apparatus.There is sufficient popular support for an active, ambitious central government. The problem lies first with the macro constraints that rein in those who might advance bold policy options. Government budgets are limited, discretionary resources are scarce. Since the early 1980s,African policy makers have become more concerned with the state’s tendency to absorb evergrowing shares of the national economy, often in unproductive services or unprofitable parastatal production firms. And when post-colonial governments begin to borrow or receive aid from Western development agencies, government budget deficits often arise as the object of macroeconomic reforms. Importantly, Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana have been very cautious about borrowing from development banks, given the depressing effects of the debt burdens facing most sub-Saharan states since the 1970s. Of course, persisting class conflicts between whites, who still hold most of the economic capital, and subordinate black or coloured



communities also slow down the implementation of redistributional policies advanced by the ANC or SWAPO. A second set of constraints hogtie the organizational effectiveness of African governments: despite the legitimate strength of the state to act independently and forcefully in the name of modernization, policy makers and bureaucrats remain limited and uninventive in their capacity to implement policies and programs that touch the behavior and commitments of local actors found within local institutions, be they in the public sphere (schools) or the private domain (the family). In Namibia, for instance, education ministry leaders know that the allocation of teachers remains grossly unfair: the ratio of pupils per primary-school teacher can range up to 50 or 60:1 in the poor northern region, while in white communities and the more affluent central region, the ratio falls to 20:1 in some schools. Almost a decade following independence, the SWAPO-controlled ministry still has not devised any specific reallocation strategy. In Botswana, we will see how teacher behavior, while variable, has changed little within secondary schools, after successive attempts at classroom and pedagogical reforms. In South Africa, we will see how the breakdown of institutional authority inside schools (stemming as much from political resistance as from the apartheid regime’s bureaucratic ineptitude) had sharp effects: lowering literacy levels and exam pass rates among adolescent youths over the past generation and dissolving the organizational cohesion of many township schools. The colonial legacy: expecting a strong political center despite weak local linkages. Taken alone, skyrocketing popular demands on the post-apartheid state or its limited capacity to bring meaningful change at the grassroots might be manageable. But the widening gap between the two can lead to explosive political situations. Migdal (1988) argues that this gap stems from the legacy of colonial regimes. Indeed, the colonial offices found as late as the 1960s in London, Paris, and Pretoria built centralized administrations that dominated a society’s political economy. This meant that the state could determine which firms and churches could “develop” which specified territory, labor rules for recruiting cheap black laborers for mining, corporate farming, the building of railroads, and to ensure adequate numbers of black domestic workers.The formal polity was small, white, and male, comprised of colonial officials, leaders of development companies, ministers, and fledgling capitalists. The major objective of the colonial regime in building linkages with indigenous African leaders and ethnic communities was to extract labor, open up trade routes, and be sure that ethnic enclaves could not unite to engage in collective resistance. In Namibia, for example, Pretoria enacted forced removals of tribal settlements back into the ethnic group’s core 69

territory to guard against the wide-ranging diaspora that might lead to racial integration and coalition building. The notorious pass laws of South Africa attempted to ration the movement of black and coloured families into urban areas. Such repulsive social engineering was manifest in the construction of black townships just outside white urban centers, another indicator of the colonial regime’s capacity to exercise repressive central control. Post-apartheid governments, of course, are not so obtrusive and repressive of basic civil liberties. Under modern rules, purposeful racial segregation and inequality is no longer tolerated. But newly democratic states have inherited no tradition and few bureaucratic methods for linking with and strengthening local institutions. Unlike the incremental maturation of federalist states in Britain, the United States, and even Germany, the salient models of statecraft and policy making in the political cultures of Namibia and South Africa are centralized versions of the bureaucratic state. This is not to say that local groups do not place demands on government, and that politicians and bureaucrats do not allocate resources in reaction to these local demands. In Kenya, for instance, as President Moi has moved away from Kenyatta’s traditional base of support—the Kikuyus—he has shifted spending on roads, schools, and rural health programs to those provinces and tribes which have reciprocated in joining his new political coalition (Barkan and Chege 1989). This cynical attempt to hold together or reconfigure the political structure through patronage and what Davidson (1992) calls “clientele-ism,” often undercuts traditional social bonds and civic organizing initially sparked by a more altruistic spirit (also see Bradshaw and Fuller 1996 for an analysis of the declining local commitment to harambee schools in Kenya). The underlying problem is that central government has no tradition of moving beyond this exchange or public-choice relationship with local leaders, rarely pursuing a deeper interest in strengthening civil societies by boosting local participation and commitment or encouraging local actors to determine how they would prefer to raise the quality of local institutions, particularly the school and family. Culturally embedded practices and routines remain difficult to dislodge. And the policy tools available to the Weberian state bureaucracy are insufficient to truly comprehend how the cultural stuff of local institutions reproduces the roots of family poverty, gender subjugations, and stultifying forms of schooling. Ironically, actors within post-apartheid governments and foreign-aid agencies act with confidence and a sense of urgency.The problems of low economic productivity, family poverty, and dismal school quality must be 70


addressed quickly.They must set clear objectives and rationally implement reforms from the center. But even when inventive political actors dress up centralized policies with the spirit of a social movement, resistance or deadly disinterest often sinks these high-sounding reforms. In Uganda for instance, Bunker (1987) details how Bagisu peasants have avoided government regulation of coffee pricing and marketing under colonial and black nationalist regimes alike. Rather than seeing state-local relations as functionally fitting together—via a shared image of the common-good or by class imposition, Bunker describes how ethnic solidarity and local economic interests continually led to detachment from government’s attempt to regulate the Bagisu people’s growing and marketing practices. Similarly Ferguson’s (1990) study of the Thaba-Tseka agricultural project in Lesotho shows how the technocratic ways in which new programs are designed and implemented serve to freeze out involvement by, and debate among, local actors. He terms such hyper-rational methods of intervening into local communities the “anti-politics machine.” Earnest project designers did not intend to squash local participation; the implicit institutionalized protocol for how to engineer and implement a development project simply reinforced the strength of the technocrats and disenfranchised the local groups effected by the project. Even as local political leaders and ordinary villagers repeatedly subvert social policies emanating from the capital city, government policy makers display little interest in joining with these smallscale civil societies to strengthen their local organization. In most post-colonial settings, there is simply little tradition of strengthening small civil societies active throughout the urban townships and countryside. When linkages are attempted, the approach is usually simply to cede authority to tribal leaders or award them public goodies and resources; for example, new teaching posts, construction contracts, or latrines. The support of local elites is undoubtedly crucial in trying to bring meaningful social or economic reform to local communities. But it does not guarantee that deep-seated social rules of participation, gender differences, or democratic norms in schools will be approached efficaciously by the central state. The problem is severe in societies that are trying to shake off generations of authoritarian rule, since civil society was effectively stamped out by the old centralized regime.14 The ethnic and gendered organization of public issues. Since the 1960s many one-party African states have come to be so authoritarian and coercive, they have eclipsed any signs of political mobilization in civil society.This characterized Kamuzu Banda’s regime in Malawi and Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule in Zaire, just as it resembled the National Party’s apartheid regime in South Africa. 71

But larger spheres of political space and influence are opening up in several African societies, as evidenced by the rising legitimacy of opposition parties and the establishment of democratic political institutions. And the central state has been so weak in penetrating local communities and their institutions that ample political space in civil society has been awaiting successful organizing efforts at the center and locally, as argued by Bratton (1989).15 Yet political theorists in the West could not have anticipated the extent to which the local mobilization of civil society is organized around ethnic and gender lines, not simply around vertical class interests.To be sure, local ethnic groups (when organized) place simple public-choice demands on government: to build a new health clinic, or covered market, or to win a seat in the president’s cabinet. “Class interests” in southern Africa, however, are inextricably linked with ethnic affiliation and, more recently entering into civic debate, gender boundaries.The “interests” of some social classes heretofore have been submerged in the private sphere, involving issues that could not be legitimately raised in civil society.The language issue in Namibia is intriguing in that impoverished groups in the northern districts are undoubtably eager to see modern, economic development. But indigenous chiefs occasionally push to see that teachers come from local areas, not from the “outside,” thereby conserving language and discourse traditions.And the use of English in public settings remains very rare, despite admonitions from the SWAPO government. Similarly, the previously private domain of gender roles has become a contentious bundle of public issues. The family institution differs in economic and social terms when headed by a woman, the case in half of all households in many townships and rural villages. For example, we have discovered that resources for schooling are allocated more equitably between daughters and sons in mother-headed families. Child care arrangements, freeing time for work and income generation, also differ in these households. Some African governments have attempted to democratize production and marketing through voluntary cooperatives and market facilities. But only recently have bureaucratic planners and development agencies realized that women provide much of the labor in agriculture and take many crops to market. Here too, the household structure and organization of labor is organized within culturally embedded gender roles about which we know little (Shaw 1991).As with ethnicity, local institutions structured along gender lines express problems, strengths, and interests that requires fresh thinking about how to formulate effective policy remedies. Gender-related problems are becoming more politicized, even on a human scale within local communities. The rise of preschooling and child 72


care is a prime example in southern Africa. The Namibian government in 1993 eliminated public funding of preschools, accurately arguing that these organizations mainly serve affluent white families who could afford to purchase this service in the private market. But Botswana and South Africa, backed by NGOs and foreign donors, are moving in the opposite direction, incorporating this sector into the public domain. This bubbling up of previously private issues embedded in ethnic communities or linked to traditional gender roles is already requiring novel policy action. For example, how can government encourage a mixed market of quality child-care providers?16 In short, the ethnic and gender organization of such nowpublic issues places new demands on the central state and raises deep questions about the bureaucracy’s capacity to craft responsive policy.17 Sector-Specific Boundaries and Institutional Development: Educational Politics and Local Effects When political theorists put forward their competing models of policy formulation they attempt to apply their representations to state action in a variety of domains.This may work in public domains in which central government has pioneered and remained the dominant organized player: managing police departments, planning transport systems, or devising cash payments to senior citizens. But in other sectors, government has entered the domain late, after local institutions have developed over a long historical period.This is the case with education where churches, colonial authorities, farmers, and affluent families built schools—borrowing an accepted organizational model from Europe—long before post-colonial states assumed authority over mass schooling. Similarly, government’s intervention into family practices is very recent, for example, urging parents to practice birth control, change their health and nutrition practices, and keep their daughters in school. It is only after ambitious post-colonial governments teamed up with equally aggressive foreign aid agencies during the post-war period that policy makers acquired the legitimate authority to intervene into the cultural workings of the family.Yet the local institutions of school and family possess long histories and deeply institutionalized practices and scripts which constrain the range of credible policy options that can be put forward. In this context, a sector-specific framework for understanding policy formulation is more useful than general theory. Such sector-specific models have emerged with regard to agricultural policy, the rise of social security programs, or the emergence of family policy as a credible state interest (Adler, Bell, Clasen and Sinfield 1991; Holloway et al. 1998; Skocpol and 73

Amenta 1986). But how the particular institutional history of the school and the family constrain government’s ability to penetrate and reorder social relations is not well understood. The institutional legacies of apartheid make the education and family sectors particularly complex in Namibia and South Africa. Entirely separate school administrations were established by Pretoria for each major black and coloured ethnic group, complete with different funding streams, hiring practices, and school inspectors. Much of the curricula and the national exams, however, were kept standard, ensuring that the poorly financed black schools graduated few students who could pass on to secondary school or to university. In South Africa, per pupil spending in white schools was five times greater than spending on black schools in the late 1980s (Pillay 1990), as detailed in the introduction. Inequities remain stark even among black communities.Two years prior to South Africa’s 1994 democratic elections, per pupil spending under the black KwaZulu department of education was just one-third the level of support for black schools in non-homeland areas run by Pretoria’s (black) Department of Education and Training (Gumbi 1995). Decentralization to ethnically defined regions did bolster local control under apartheid. For instance in Namibia, education officials in the impoverished Ondangwa region in the north traditionally recruited new teachers from “their” black teacher training college. But now after independence this institutionalized practice of drawing only from the local college stymies attempts to redistribute teacher posts across regions or to desegregate the teaching profession. In sum, these sector-specific histories sharply delimit what policy options can be credibly put on the table. Such institutional histories serve to encircle local schools and families, making penetration by government even more difficult. The state’s interdependence with local institutions. Joel Migdal and others (1988) have emphasized that the multiplicity of local organizations undercuts the state’s attempt to harmonize and modernize local practices and values. Western models of statecraft focus on simple dichotomies: modernity or tradition, the influence of the state or civil society, center and periphery. But in actuality local groups and individuals in southern Africa confront several local institutions, all of which exercise some form of social control or cultural innovation: the church, workplaces in the wage sector, schools, political parties, labor and producer cooperatives, the media, health clinics, government offices, and kin members. Authoritarian regimes, of course, attempted to control the distribution of institutions that create dissonant forms of social control. In Malawi, President Banda forbade women to 74


wear pants or miniskirts. Less obtrusively, democratic governments attempt to incorporate older local institutions into the public sector. In Namibia, for instance, most schools started by religious missionaries have now been incorporated into the government school system. In the 1980s Botswana similarly incorporated “community junior secondary schools,” begun through harambee-like self-help, but criticized by policy makers for their allegedly lower level of quality. In South Africa, debate continues over whether government should consolidate and take over literacy and teacher training programs initiated by NGOs in the townships during the decades of resistance. Other models have been followed in the region. In Lesotho, for example, 80 percent of all school children attend schools operated by various church organizations. The contradiction here is that as government attempts to standardize local institutions, it purposefully (or inadvertently) disempowers local actors who originally built or invested in these local schools and related village projects. This process of incorporation varies across countries and may be specific to a particular social or economic sector. Here too, the institutional history characterizing state-local relations will constrain what policy options are viewed as legitimate. At the same time, the state is dependent upon these local institutions to exercise symbols and resource allocations that signal its apparent effectiveness. The institution of mass schooling is like a strong monetary currency: it readily signals value and influence. So, when a regime is under popular attack for not being sufficiently modern or locally effective, political leaders will announce how more schools are being built, more teachers are being hired, access to secondary school is being liberalized, or more textbooks are being shipped out to the hinterlands and poor townships to equalize achievement.18 The process of incorporating and more tightly managing local institutions like schools may reduce local involvement. But it also gives policy makers a wider base from which modern reforms can be signaled. In short, the history of local incorporation enables or constrains the range of policy options.The flip side of this process is that if too many public services are provided through NGOs, churches, or the private sectors (as with preschooling and child care), then it becomes more difficult for the state to take credit for institutional developments observed in local communities. The local school institution and the status assigned to written literacy predate the modern state in southern Africa, as it did historically in Western Europe. Despite very little encouragement from the national government, even small enclaves in South Africa saw growth of primary schools, often 75

due to missionary influence. Pondoland, along the southeast coast, for instance, had 244 primary schools as early as 1940 (Hunter 1961). Churches and tribal authorities in Botswana had built six secondary schools and many more primary schools by the 1950s, long before the independent state was formed (Fuller, Singer, and Keiley 1995).The institutional character of the school, the role and authority of the teacher, and social relations found within classrooms were imprinted long before modern government began to incorporate black schools into the public sector. Our empirical chapters illustrate the ways in which adult-child authority plays out, how the curriculum is structured, and how teachers are managed by principals. Importantly, these scripts have been reproduced via local cultural norms and institutional histories, not by contemporary educational policy. THE MISSING LINK: WHAT MOTIVATES LOCAL ACTORS TO ALTER THEIR


Western models of statecraft implicitly contain assumptions about what forms of political action at the center will motivate individuals out in the hinterlands to modernize their loyalties and behaviors. At the dawn of the modern era, political and social theorists were preoccupied with this question. Between the mid-nineteenth century and World War I, political thinkers like Marx, Engels, Durkheim, Weber, then early leaders of the Progressive Era clashed over what individual motivations and political forces would best alter Western society. But after World War II most political theorists became more concerned with the less ideological yet state-centered task of explaining the tacitly accepted outcomes of modern policy, rather than whether and how policy would penetrate local communities and motivate change. Modern motivators: social contracts and bureaucratic control. Jean Jacques Rousseau stood out among early modern political theorists in his suspicion of civil society. In the late seventeenth century, John Locke and other liberal thinkers had developed a romantic view of civil society, a voluntary sphere where citizens would come together to debate public issues unfettered by intrusions from the state. From the Scottish Enlightenment, Locke highlighted the importance of a strong and vibrant civil society in constraining the state’s bullish desire to incorporate more elements of the economy and private life into the public sphere. In contrast, by the late eighteenth century Rousseau saw a civil society dominated by capitalists and urban elites, preoccupied with advancing individualistic bourgeois rights pertaining to property and free markets, expressing little concern for the flagrant and growing inequality 76


found in European cities. Rousseau saw salvation in the state, but as a form of government that was pluralistically grounded and institutionally independent from elites. Political autonomy and strength would be needed to forcefully address inequality and to enfranchise and extend civil rights to the lower classes. Rousseau then arrived at a basic question: How to motivate diverse individuals out in the French provinces to accept a centralized Parisian state? His motivational approach was to offer a social contract under which individuals would exercise loyalty to the central state, not to local authorities or powerful elements of civil society (the Catholic church, landlords and employers, or village leaders). In exchange, the newly democratic state would extend new political entitlements: freedom, equality under the law, and broader public services, including basic schooling for all. The state would express a “common good,” defined as enfranchising all citizens into civil society and reducing gaps between rich and poor. Unlike Marx, the strongstate advocate of the nineteenth century, Rousseau believed that this social contract, with the help of government institutions, would reverse growing inequality rooted in the modernizing economic structure: “Public education, under rules prescribed by the government and magistrates established by the sovereign, is therefore one of the fundamental maxims of popular and legitimate government. If children are raised in common in midst of equality, if they are imbued with the laws of the State and the maxims of the general will…one day [they will] become the defenders and fathers of the homeland” (Rousseau 1978:223).19 Many political leaders, however, have not been so hopeful that individuals will surrender their local forms of authority, membership, and meaning, opting instead to pledge allegiance to the flag. Or, when it comes to motivating parents to adopt a new birth control technology or teachers to depart from traditional forms of power over children, third-world policy makers dream of more surgically precise methods of social control. Rather than relying on a broad social contract a second way is often selected to inculcate modern motivations. It is also seen as the rational and modern way of organizing public institutions. Weberian elements of bureaucratic control often are employed. Indeed, colonial administrations were set up under the classic contours of bureaucratic organization, often blended with the church’s form of authority and highstatus knowledge. Let us take the school institution in southern Africa, either the descendent of British administration in Botswana, or of Dutch, German, and apartheid heritage in Namibia and South Africa.The state sets what text-based and European-rooted knowledge is most important to 77

learn.This “standard” is incorporated into national examinations. Then to organize the complex task of uniform instruction of this syllabus, routine, didactic forms of teaching are reinforced. Moving up in the administrative hierarchy, the headmaster ensures that a sufficient teaching staff and instructional materials are available, a class timetable is drawn up, and teachers’ coverage of the designated syllabi is monitored. School inspectors visit to ensure that the facilities and materials are in “proper order.” Inspectors report up the ministerial line to the district officer, the regional office, and to headquarters. Personnel matters, pay levels, and training are managed by the ministry; and at the center, technical specialists develop the curriculum and craft national exams.Those at the top of the hierarchy, since they have greater management responsibility and status, legitimately are paid more. Classroom teachers are at the bottom of the pyramid and therefore earn less. Each member of this hierarchical organization has a certain role to play. In return, the organization offers pay raises and other extrinsic incentives, presumed to be the basic motivating factor for members of this classic bureaucracy. Under these institutionalized structures it is heretical to view the teacher as a thinking professional who might exercise creative discretion,or to diverge from classroom activities which are not linked to the national syllabus and exam.This only signals looseness and low educational quality. Under the West’s two classic strategies for altering local motivations— the social contract and bureaucratic organization—local actors are simply cast as objects of reform.Villagers and township residents can become members of civil society if they agree to be re-formed by the state. Once local groups gain respect or political power these two approaches to shaping modern motivations become less efficacious. The commodification of African statecraft by the West. The idealized socialcontract rendition of how government can motivate local actors has not been consistently effective within impoverished communities, either in the West or among disenfranchised third-world groups. Remember that under apartheid, non-white castes were intentionally disenfranchised, excluded from civil society. The only social contract offered was that white firms gained black or coloured workers; in return laborers receive low wages, dismal housing in the townships, and few public services.The architects of the War on Poverty during the 1960s in United States sharply questioned whether the Weberian model of bureaucratically organized schools and services were any more effective in helping poor communities. The Left argued that hierarchically arranged schools and welfare offices further victimized and paternalistically controlled poor families. Instead, these households could be “empowered” through direct cash support and vouchers to be used at 78


the school, child-care center, or health provider of the family’s choice.At an organizational level this also would serve to introduce healthy doses of accountability, responsiveness, and competition among local institutions. Poor families would able to vote with their feet and their chits. Rather than relying on a state guided social contract or bureaucratic institutions, the individual motivations of the poor could be bolstered by vouchers and direct cash transfers. This rational-choice conception of empowerment seeped into foreignaid agencies, gaining steam as MargaretThatcher pushed through a voucherlike reform of British school finance.And with Ronald Reagan’s campaign victory in 1980,Western aid agencies, particularly the World Bank and USAID, began advocating privatization of social services, including schools. The political Right had mobilized and captured the rational-choice model of motivation. It complemented other political efforts to stem runaway growth of government bureaucracy, a painful reality faced by many African nations. In Kenya, for example, spending on education represented 40 percent of Government’s entire recurrent budget by the late 1980s. What was not anticipated is how this new-found focus on extrinsic incentives allocated via grants to individual families would commodify the practice of statecraft. It represents an extension of post-war preoccupation with economic expansion and human capital accumulation. Modernizing states and international agencies alike understandably obsess on how to hurry the rate of industrialization and economic growth. Since this has become the common spiritual goal among nations in the Western orbit, new education and family policies are legitimated by linking them to the alleged economic benefits of expanding schooling or investing more in one’s children. Schooling has become another commodity in which to invest to advance the family’s and the individual’s material well being. One, of course, can not discount this priority in southern Africa where many communities suffer from high infant mortality, malnutrition, illiteracy, and joblessness. But the rational-choice model appeals to policy makers who, for a halfcentury now have focused on enabling the individual child to move instrumentally into a quality school to be in a better position in the queue that awaits them to win a wage-sector job. State action in education becomes cynically focused on rewarding individual competition and the exclusive pursuit of materialistic aims. As our work with parents in Botswana and teachers in South Africa reveals, this instrumental utility of schooling is indeed important. But these local actors also are deeply concerned with the changing values and social obligations that children and youth display, 79

both in chaotic townships and in rural villages. Parents are strikingly aware of this paradox: seeking for their children the material benefits of more schooling, while regretting the costs in character and commitment to the local social collective. Policy makers eager to “get the incentives right” and further commodity statecraft seem oblivious to this basic clash in cultural values.This is both an empirical and moral issue to which we will return. Policy makers: filled with good intentions or good religion? In some instances modernizing governments, over long stretches of time, do seem efficacious in altering both conscious values and implicit scripts followed by local actors, be they parents considering whether their daughter should stay in school longer or the classroom teacher shifting toward a once-foreign lingua franca.20 In other cases, however, government can not seem to budge deepseated cultural commitments and institutional practices. Part of the reason stems from what Joel Migdal (1988:28) calls the “mélange of social organizations” confronting households and individuals in many developing countries. From the grassroots, households are not faced with a simple dichotomous choice between being modern or being “traditional.” Adult members move in and out of wage-sector jobs; children are fostered out to city relatives, then returned to attend the village school; the media beams out traditional ethnic symbols along with adverts for video games, all delivered in two or three different languages. It’s a post-modern swirl of competing images and scripts. Against this backdrop the state first tries to maintain and hold together local institutions in which it holds an interest. If village schools or clinics close down or their staff rarely show up to work, this crisply signals the fragility and inefficacy of government.And policy makers must try to motivate local actors to “improve” their actions and commitments.Will reiteration of the modern social contract,bureaucratic administration, or rationalized allocation of individualistic incentives be sufficient to motivate these local behavioral changes? Some argue that the revival of ethnic solidarity and mobilization is the major piece of evidence demonstrating that these distinctly Western conceptions of how to motivate local active change are proving to be ineffective. What may be needed is a conception of statecraft that builds from local actors’ faith and membership in a local social organization. Granted the teacher is committed to her job in part due to salary incentives and service to the grand task of nation-building. But day-to-day, her work must yield a deeper intrinsic reward or meaning to be truly motivating.Teachers may see the utility of teaching in English part of the day, but they also know that they lose effectiveness and authority if they abandon their mother tongue in the classroom. Parents may hope that their daughter gains status and a



wage-sector job by staying in school longer, but the price of her becoming alienated from the family’s way of life is too great to bear. The post-Enlightenment push for modernization in essence has involved conflicts of faith: contested convictions that novel forms of authority, social participation, and knowledge would improve the quality of life. Ethnic commitments and rituals of unity have always been a source of sacrilege under the faith held by secular modernists. But the state can no longer ignore the plain political pressures and cultural balkanization witnessed in pluralistic societies. Government’s habitual response of reciting the modern scriptures and rites is becoming less and less effective. One first step out of this box is to explore local institutions and villagers’ own social organizations, learning about their implicit forms of cohesion and faith. Why not begin the conversation by asking parents, teachers, and local activists about their motivations, rather than casting them as the mindless objects of reform. This book’s empirical chapters in part seek to illuminate the motivations of actors, both those in policy circles and those within community-level organizations. I am not arguing that these local motivations must be held sacred in all cases. I am emphasizing that if government’s long-term task is to alter the implicit cultural scripts and institutionalized practices found locally, we must better understand the current motivations of key actors. We also should learn more about why it is so difficult to alter these basic motivations, as well as the unanticipated effects of doing so. And as government’s moral authority to transform local institutions and families comes into question, we ask whether it’s the Western state’s constitutive foundations that should be adjusted. Democratic Government and Local Culture: An Interdependent Future The President-elect, who is to be inaugurated on Saturday, is a Muslim in a predominantly Christian country. He has two wives and seven children, including a daughter who is a student in Milwaukee. —Bill Keller (1994) reporting on Bakili Muluzi’s defeat of Hastings Kamuzu Banda in Malawi’s first-ever democratic elections. In the West scholars and activists typically place the spotlight on how policy is formulated at the center, within the halls of legislatures or bureaucracies. But the new challenges of culture and political pluralism require that we think anew about how government penetrates into, or 81

builds from, local institutions and human-scale civil societies at the grassroots. The chapters which follow shift the spotlight to this ground, placing at center stage how policy action moves into the very local institutions of language, gender relations, classrooms, and the family. What is the future for democratic government in Africa? Modernization has never been a democratic process. No popular votes are taken on whether industrialization should be intensified, whether local peoples should sacrifice their own language to a nationwide lingua franca, or whether gender roles should be turned upside down. Indeed, such balloting might slow down the sacred process of modernization. It is obvious that the coming of democratic parliaments and free judiciaries at the political center does not magically democratize social relations on the ground in villages, poor townships, or among the eager middle classes. Classrooms continue to manifest vertical and oft stultifying power relations between teacher and child; gender roles change very slowly; local communities retain their local languages and inadvertently hamper their children’s success in school. For these parents are ignoring the new modern rules. This book remains rather agnostic on the normative question of whether the Great Modernization Project and its political messengers, acting under government authority, should relentlessly intervene into local social organizations, including the family and school. My thrust and that of my coauthors is empirical in nature: How are three interrelated problems plaguing civil societies—the uneven spread of basic literacy, unmotivating forms of schooling and teaching, and deep inequality in gender roles—embedded within local cultures? What happens when government attempts to push into these local settings as it earnestly tries to lessen the burdens of family poverty? And how do children, parents, and teachers respond? The answers to these questions bear directly on the future of democratic government in southern Africa. Until political leaders and bureaucrats grasp the deeply cultural character of social and economic problems, their well meaning remedies will be ineffective. Futile policy action by the state will further erode its own authority and popular support. In short, the African state’s future depends upon its ability to respect and learn about local cultures and their institutions. Reciprocally, local communities will continue to lose cohesion unless the resources and legitimating symbols allocated by the central political authority can be altered to mitigate against the corrosive effects of imperially pushed modernization. In the final chapter of this book, I will return to this growing interdependence between government and local culture, and its implications for how progressive political leaders might more carefully craft policy in the future. 82


NOTES 1. Quoted in: Harrison, L. (1992). Who Prospers? How Cultural Values Shape Economic and Political Success. New York: Basic Books, p.1. 2. This section draws on more detailed reviews of political theory by: Nisbet, R. (1980) A History of the Idea of Progress. New York: Basic Books. Carnoy, M. (1984). The State and Political Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Quadagno, J. (1987).Theories of the welfare state. Pp. 109–128 in Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 13, edited by W.R.Scott and J.Short, Jr. Palo Alto: Annual Reviews Inc. Garnier, M., J.Hage, and B.Fuller (1989). The strong state, social class, and controlled school expansion in France, 1881– 1975. American Journal of Sociology 95:279–306. Fuller, B. (1991). Growing-Up Modern: The Western State Builds Third World Schools. New York: Routledge. Grindle, M. and J.Thomas (1991). Public Choices and Policy Change:The Political Economy of Reform in Developing Countries. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 3. For reviews of how technical functionalism influences common assumptions about social policy and legitimate State actions, see: Collins, R. (1994). Four Sociological Theories. For critical reviews of technical-functionalism applied to policy formulation in Africa, see: Eisenstadt, S.N., M.Abitbol, and N.Chazan (1988). The Early State in African Perspective. Leiden: E.J.Brill. Fuller, B. (1992). Growing-Up Modern: The Western State Builds Third-World Schools. Routledge: New York. Bradshaw, Y., P.Kaiser, and S.Ndegwa (1995). 4. Since the 1960s, a theoretical and empirical literature has developed that attempts to describe how bureaucratic forms of schooling prepare children for capitalist social relations and (at times, inadvertently, reproduce inequalities). See: Bowles, S. and H.Gintis (1976). Schooling in Capitalist America. New York: Basic Books. Carnoy, M. and H.Levin (1985). Apple, M. (1990). Ideology and Curriculum. 2d ed. New York: Routledge. 5. Cited in Grindle and Thomas (1991:23). 6. The contradiction between policies aimed at mediating or advancing pluralistic interesting while unifying civil society, and homogenizing cultural commitments, is not a new dilemma for the modern state. A century after the French revolution, Parisian political leaders were still struggling to rein in the provinces, stamp out the peasants’ backward patois, and push parents to keep their children in primary school. North America’s structure of federal government moved beyond British decentralization, largely motivated by a desire to avoid centralized government and European ways of constraining local sects and limiting the newly sacred rights of the individual (Fuller, Garnier, Hage, and Sawicky 1992; Rubinson 1986; Weber 1976). Even contemporary attacks on both pre-modern regimes and the Western welfare state often center on government’s capacity to mediate among the demands made by competing groups or to equitably distribute jobs, income, and social opportunities across ethnic, religious, or gender groups. Capitalist interests, of course, have long sought to constrain state intervention into the economy, just as religious leaders have pushed policy makers to keep hands off the spiritual marketplace. Marx did not deny the existence of pluralistic pressures on government; he simply pointed out how they are attended to unevenly, at best. In sum, pluralism and squeaky government mechanisms for addressing competing local interests have a long tradition in modernizing societies. 7. For review of how rationalized attempts at education policy reform have been pursued in Africa, see: Fuller, B. and A.Habte (eds., 1992). Adjusting Educational Policies in Africa: Conserving Resources while Raising School Quality. Washington DC: World Bank. 8. For coverage of these two controversies in Namibia, see: Muna ava, R. (1994). School cash disappears: Principal at the centre of mystery loss. New Era, 28 July, p.6. Shivute, A. (1994) Hostels face privatisation. New Era, 21 July, p.A22. 83

9. The “bounded rationality” school of thought, grounded in economics and organizational theory, has been a major focus of research in education and poverty sectors over the past two decades. For example, see March and Olsen (1976), Meyer and Rowan (1978), Simon (1978), North (1990). 10. This cultureless conception of school interventions is detailed in: Fuller, B. and P.Clarke (1994). Raising school effects while ignoring culture? Review of Educational Research, 64, 1:119–157. Anthropologist Andrea Rugh also has explored this topic, as well as how village norms about adult authority and modern written knowledge constrain the teacher’s role in the classroom. See: Rugh, A. (1992) Culture, schooling effectiveness and change: Examples from Pakistan. Paper presented at the Harvard Conference on School Effectiveness in Developing Countries, September, Cambridge, MA. 11. Bryk and Lee (1990 in Witte vol.); Cohen and Spillane (1992). 12. My collaboration with York Bradshaw has greatly informed this section of chapter 2. See: Bradshaw and Fuller (1996). 13. Basil Davidson (1992, p.169) describes how black nationalists in the 1950s came to realize that the appearance of tribal disunity would undercut their international push for independence from the colonial powers. Thus, “the new nationalists…would embrace nation-statism as the only available escape from colonial domination.” 14. Crawford Young’s early work in the Congo also reveals how attempts by the Belgian colonial administration to strength political participation within ethnic groups was often muted and contradictory. While democratic votes were organized by the colonial authorities on several occasions, the outcome of the voting would be overruled when aggressive black nationalists won the election. The Belgian authorities also outlawed the formation of certain political parties when threats to the colonial regimes became unacceptable (see: Young, C. [1965]. Politics in the Congo: Decolonization and Independence. Princeton: Princeton University Press). Dietrich Rueshemeyer, focusing on eastern Europe, has studied how new governments attempt to build fresh civil societies following long periods of authoritarian rule. For example, see Rueschemeyer, D., E.Stephens, and J.Stephens (1992). Capitalist Development and Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 15. The legitimate jurisdiction and strength of the state relative to civil society has been of long-running concern among Western political theorists. From the Scottish Enlightenment forward, ascetic Protestant writers and leading thinkers such as John Locke advanced the ethical ideal of a civil society that would be free of government regulation and intrusion. But less idealistic nineteenth-century theorists like Hegel, Marx, and Durkheim, argued that “revolutionary” governments actually were emphasizing the civil rights of individuals residing in the landed and bourgeois classes, not attempting to broaden and enrich civil discussion and debate over public issues. This was an important seed in the emergence of a modern view that only a stronger state could combat domination of civil society by the capitalist class, and only the state could legitimate more collective, pro-social values, rather than focusing on “civil rights” that only ensure free markets for producers, laborers, and consumers (for review, see Seligman, 1992). 16. For a review of recent work on how ethnic groups exert political and cultural demands on the state, see: Bradshaw, Y., P.Kaiser, and S.Ndegwa (1996). 17. Some feminists in North America are beginning to argue that many remaining barriers facing women are not legal or structural in ways that political action can address. Instead, these constraints stem from deeper cultural or implicit beliefs held by men about women’s capacities. This is a controversial stance to take in a civil society where formal political or judicial action is the expected way of changing practices found inside institutions. See, for example, the exchange between Susan Faludi and Karen Lehrman in Mother Jones, November–December 1993, pp.5–7. A similar essay on whether the state can penetrate into local institutions to alter gender roles, set in a developing country, appears in: Anderson-Manley, B. (1991). Gender and the state: A Caribbean perspective. Pp. 28–37 in Women Transforming Societies: Sub-Saharan African and Caribbean Perspectives. Cambridge: Radcliffe College. 84


18. In an earlier book, I illustrate how even autocratic regimes use the school and new educational initiatives to signal pro-modern action and reform. See: Fuller, B. (1991). Growing-Up Modern: The Western State Builds Third- World Schools. New York: Routledge. 19. From a passage quoted in: Carnoy (1984, pp.22–23). 20. The issue of how self-consciously local actors play out new roles or scripts has received major theoretical and empirical attention from sociologists and organizational psychologists. For example, see critical reviews of Parsonian forms of value-centered functionality versus the “new institutionalism” that represents scripts and choice in political organizations: W.Powell and P.DiMaggio (1992).





Nahas Angula—former freedom fighter and Namibia’s premiere minister of education and culture—is a striking man. He dresses in colorful, elegant robes from West Africa. His eyes are piercing, seemingly angry. At first he seems deeply distressed over an issue about which you should have something to say. Whenever our research team met with the minister, I felt relieved when he simply glanced about the room, rather than peering into my own eyes. Mr. Angula does not dwell on his own political or educational philosophy. He knows where he stands; he assumes that you already understand his political agenda.After my first meeting with him in Windhoek, I left the room energized by his steady emission of progressive hopes and unrelenting commitment to moving resources up North, where school quality is the lowest, family poverty rates the highest. Making sense of this charismatic architect of post-apartheid education has been a popular sport among ministry residents and foreign officials alike. His style seems so African: direct, paternal, even aggressive. Yet the minister’s ideological foundations are strikingly liberal and democratic. By 1990, at independence from South Africa, this Columbia University-trained, intellectual guerilla had pasted together an imported view of how modern schools should run and be improved. It was not simply a functionalist view of how to “modernize” Namibian schools to serve the nation-building agenda. Mr. Angula remains too “hip” for that. He already had imported fundamental cultural tenets of nouveau school reforms in the United States. Dr.Angula continues to talk of “learner centered” schools, where instruction meets the “individual needs” of the child. He pushed an American-funded project to have teachers in the North—who reside in ramshackle schools with grass huts for classrooms—to “continually assess” their children’s 89

performance. He convinced the parliament to mandate instruction in English after grade 3, even though very few teachers ever speak English in their daily lives. The taken-for-granted foundations of school reform in this newly democratic state are a cut-and-paste pastiche of symbols and ideologies expressed by avant-garde North American reformers. Mr. Angula personifies how legitimated policy options and their implementation at the grassroots are culturally bound, encircled by a tight membrane in which symbols, models of change, and nomenclature (“learnercentered schooling”) come to have a robust life. Inside these top policy circles—often fed by university professors and development agency dreamers— these cultural tenets come to be taken for granted, celebrated among these well-intentioned policy elites. Viewed from the ground up, peering into government from inside schools or villages, these same cultural tenets of policy look foreign, even bizarre. This is the rub on which the next two chapters focus. THE GREAT DISCONNECT:THE CULTURAL TENETS OF POLICY MAKERS AND LOCAL


Chapter 3 reports on the ideological roots of four educational policies, actions by the state that signal modernity and place government at the center of the nation-building process. These policy thrusts, largely crafted and pushed by Minister Angula, include the abolition of corporal punishment, mandating English as the medium of instruction, the “continuous assessment” of children’s performance, and the creation of local school boards.The latter policy reform aims to strengthen human-scale civil society within impoverished villages. A few ideological threads run through these reforms: rejecting the oppressive and impersonal authority of the apartheid school system,and in its place celebrating the sanctity of the individual child.This includes the child’s right to be given more personal attention, to escape authoritarian exercise of power by school staff, and to receive a high-quality education.The second thread is that local communities must be integrated by a common language and liberal-democratic ideals in order to advance national unity. English will tie the nation together. Local school boards will bring democratic participation.The abolition of corporal punishment will signal the arrival of Western conceptions, such as individual civil rights and modern renditions of child development. We then followed these four policy initiatives down to local schools to see how they were understood and whether local implementation had even been attempted. Bekett Mount and Ndeshi Nicodemus spent months inside schools and village in the North, ranging far from the capital city, up to the 90


border with Angola.Their grassroots inquiry revealed how teachers, school principals, and community leaders see these reforms. We also see how the pre-existing cultural tenets of school organizations can accommodate or tacitly buffer the onslaught of Western-looking policy reforms from above. Chapter 3 cuts to the core issues explored in this volume: Descriptively how do the ideological and materials features of policy options, imported from the West and mimicked by newly democratic regimes, fail to connect with the tacit rules that give order to local schools and families? And why does this cultural or symbolic disconnect keep reoccurring in multicultural societies? What motivates democratizing states to borrow policy options and push them downward onto schools and ethnically diverse families, even when the effectiveness of these reforms is so sharply limited? Chapter 4 then explores the issue of how ethnicity largely structures what children learn, and at what rate, inside village schools. The apartheid regime forcibly ensured that ethnic groups were isolated from one another geographically and politically. Divide and conquer helped to preserve the Afrikaner State. Certainly, newly democratic states must then focus on integration and national unity. But by ignoring ethnic differences, we ignore the power of community in reproducing local knowledge and buffering attempts to advance modern forms of work, knowledge, and status. Namibia offers a powerful example of how a newly democratic state signals its crucial role in nation-building and inadvertently undercuts its own ability to promote change in the cultural tenets of local communities. The categories of race and region help to explain variation in children’s learning and school achievement. Beyond gross black-white disparities in young children’s early learning, we also will see how children of particular black groups, such as the Nama-Damara, benefit more from the educational system than do impoverished black groups. Chapter 4 also focuses our attention on how between-school differences explain variability in children’s learning, after taking into account children’s ethnic and social-class background. Policy does make a difference, to the extent that it results in higher quality schooling. These cumulative effects of policy and school improvement are not entirely organized by the social categories of race, class, and region.This reveals an interaction between local institutions (manifest in the school) and ethnic group differences in the historical burdens and contemporary circumstances which they face. The growing literature on newly democratic States focuses on the functionalist task of institution building. Claus Offe (1997), for instance, talks about the difficulties in building “democratic institutions” in the former East Germany. Bratton and van de Walle (1997) detail how different African 91

states define and construct the institutional frame on which democraticvalues and human relations must be built.Their exclusively macro question focuses on why some nation-states go through a successful “democratic transition” while others continue to struggle. But does this mean that if a nation sets up a parliament or holds elections, that democratic social relations will blossom at the grassroots inside local institutions, such as schools and families? My tack is to back up and ask, What motivates policy makers to import Western conceptions of state institution building? And does this adoption of the Euro-American state apparatus lead to a self-defeating disconnection with local communities?This conflict unfolds at an institutional level,as borrowing of state features and policy frames accelerates.Yet the cultural conflict is most importantly observed at the school and village level. It is here that tacit forms of social organization, language, and ideologies about child rearing and socialization—pushed down from the state and professional elites—are contested or simply flounder, unrecognized or indecipherable by local actors. BURYING REMNANTS OF APARTHEID

The institutional origins of Namibia’s post-apartheid state require that education policy options be imported from the West. Shaking off the remnants of apartheid, driven by the imperative of reconstruction and development, requires a state that looks and acts modern. The institution of mass schooling becomes a stage upon which Minister Angula and President Nujomo can broadcast symbols of modernity, democracy, and racial integration. Occasionally, the school provides a stage on which Mr. Angula could talk of racial equality and redistribution to the impoverished North. But usually he is reined in to stick with the SWAPO (Southwest Africa People’s Organization) party line emphasizing “reconciliation.” The state and the party reinforce their legitimacy by beaming signals linked to improving school quality and expanding opportunities to disenfranchised groups. Mass schooling, pushed by Pretoria in the post-war period as a device for reinforcing a racist class structure, must be recast to project an institution which liberates the individual from poverty and oppression. The chains of apartheid must be broken. Mass schooling is redefined to signal liberal-democratic ideals. Namibia gained its independence from South Africa in 1989, the same year that the Berlin Wall came down. Thus the SWAPO party—a militant pro-socialist force for almost three decades—entered the world political system at the very moment that centralized socialism collapsed. By the twilight of the 1980s it also was becoming clear that liberal-democratic 92


political traditions, surprisingly pro-capitalist in tone, would triumph in South Africa. Thus the West’s ideological and economic stock was riding high as the new Namibian state came “on line,” plugging into the world economic and institutional system. It was logical to import a variety of economic and social policies that would signal Namibia’s enthusiasm for liberal, pro-capitalist nation-building.The Western donors were so eager to offer grants to this new centrist regime that SWAPO chose to refuse loans from the World Bank. Expanding mass education, equalizing school finance, and improving quality became a major strategy for resonating to the interests of foreign donors and signaling to the grassroots that SWAPO was bringing modernity and democracy to every village, every school. IMPORTING POLICY FRAMES FROM THE WEST

Since taking the reins of Government from the white Pretoria regime in 1989, SWAPO has rightfully jumped at the opportunity to signal the arrival of classical liberalism.Yet the Nujoma administration, like Nelson Mandela’s government, has been pro-market and surprisingly muted in its consideration of gross disparities in the distribution of land and wealth. Instead, the Nujoma government’s tandem goals emphasize reconciliation and nation-building, both of which are greased by integrationist symbols and economic expansion. In an ironic reversal for SWAPO, now that stability is the priority, the state must focus on cooling down conflict. Social institutions,especially mass schooling,play a pivotal role in advancing the illusion of opportunity and the occasional reality of upward mobility. In post-apartheid societies, the state apparatus must push forward to create what Durkheimian called “social facts”—new foundations of society which emphasize national integration,rationalizing the labor market,a unifying language, and modern forms of social status.Upon these institutional pillars,mass schooling and human capital development become policy imperatives. The social democratic states of Namibia and South Africa may look a bit centralized through the eyes of Euro-American observers. But ironically, under post1989 rules of statecraft strong states only look forceful if they can effectively advance liberal-democratic symbols and recognizable forms of institutional change. This modernizing agenda is given force by the opposite political-economic structure which characterized apartheid. This involved keeping Namibia’s major language groups in their own regions or urban townships, physically restricting migration, and allowing economic expansion only within markets controlled by whites. Apartheid brought together race, access to wage jobs, 93

and geography to contain black and coloured groups.Apartheid was perpetuated in ways that run directly counter to the integrationist tenets of the modern nation-state. Thus the importation of Western policy frames advances the post-apartheid state’s legitimacy and signals the coming of modernity. To contextualize the importation of education policy and its subsequent clash with local institutions, three important elements of Namibian society are sketched below. First, I detail the racial and ethnic segmentation that continues to reproduce inequality, poverty in the North, and the isolation of both schools and families bounded in their ethnic regions. Second, we review the realities of schooling under apartheid, as Pretoria dictated the structure and content of Bantu education throughout its only colony, then called South West Africa.Third, we discuss the resistance to colonization mounted in the North, an armed insurrection that lasted for almost 30 years. During this civil war many village schools became battlegrounds for recruiting new SWAPO guerilla fighters and Pretoria’s concerted effort to win over the hearts and minds of villagers and town leaders. Ethnic Separation, Economic Isolation, and Poverty Severe poverty in the North.This is the basic fact that powered SWAPO-led resistance from the early 1960s forward. It is a fact that preoccupies the new government in Windhoek. The North’s historical isolation from the more prosperous central region is linked to forced racial segregation and South Africa’s bantustan system in which blacks and some coloured communities were kept in their “homelands.” The map of southern Africa at the book’s front, page vii, displays the sixteen language groups that comprised this country of 1.7 million people in 1998. Just under two-thirds of Namibia’s population lives in the North, a share that will increase due to higher birth rates. Namibia is about the size of Texas, so population density is quite low overall, two persons per square kilometer (Katjiuanjo et al. 1993).The northwestern region, including the Oshakati and Ondangwa districts, are more densely settled in townships and large villages (eleven persons per kilometer).Here the major families of language groups, such as Owambo-speaking peoples, break down into smaller communities,including Oshikwambi,Oshigandjera,and Oshimbalantu speakers. Each has its own political structure, dialect, and local primary schools. The North is, however, quite uniform when it comes to poverty. One major factor behind poverty is water, or rather lack of it. Annual rainfalls average just 0.2 meters; 92 percent of the land is categorized as arid or semiarid. The economy is founded upon two major products: diamonds 94


and other minerals, and fishing off the Atlantic coast. Mining accounts for two-thirds of all export earnings. Subsistence farmers survive primarily on millet,cattle grazing,goats,and pigs (Rotberg 1983;Yaron,Janssen,and Maamberua 1992). Income inequality is remarkable.The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is estimated at US$100 for rural households, US$580 in the black urban township of Katutura on the edge of Windhoek, and US$14,650 among whites (Unicef 1990).White Namibians comprise 8 percent of the nation’s population; Owambo-speaking peoples, mainly residing in the North, make up 52 percent of the population (Thomas 1983). Poverty in the North is due not only to unfavorable rains and growing conditions; these factors operate throughout the country.The other factors are institutional in nature.The North was hit hardest by the colonial structures set in place, first by the invading Germans, then following World War I by Pretoria’s colonial regime. South West Africa was supposed to be a United Nations protectorate. Instead, the South Africa government simply occupied it militarily until March 1990 when Namibia became the last African colony to gain its independence. Under Pretoria’s homelands policy, the black North provided reserve pools of cheap workers who were allowed to migrate to the commercialized central region, to the mines, or into South Africa as new jobs became available. Throughout most of the twentieth century the North also was home to military bases, from the Nama and Herero wars against the Germans, to the 1960–1989 liberation struggle mounted by SWAPO, led in part by Sam Nujoma (Cleaver and Wallace 1990; Leys and Saul 1995). Most relevant to our work are the institutional origins of economic disparities and family poverty in the North.The institutional and economic isolation of the North means that “public” policies emanating from the capital city in the central region have historically been seen as intrusive or simply irrelevant.The more commercialized center of the country is really another world. The institutional and cultural isolation of the North also reproduces local languages, tribal political structures, and regional fiefdoms, enforced by regional education offices which allocate teaching jobs, building projects, textbooks, and other goodies to the schools. POVERTY IN THE NORTH

Decades of grinding poverty, labor migration, and armed resistance have taken a huge toll on families in the north. In the predominately Owambospeaking northwest region, 37 percent of all households are headed by single women, a far higher rate than that observed nationwide or even in 95

the neighboring northeast region where 21 percent are female headed (Hishongwa 1992; Katjiuanjo et al. 1993). Fully 54 percent of all households include foster children.This is only partially explained by the fostering out of children to more affluent homesteads, those close to very modest townships or regional capitals like Rundu or Oshikati. In the northwest, just 4 percent of all homes have electricity (42 percent in the urban central region). Six percent have running water (50 percent in the central region). No toilet or latrine is present in 85 percent of all households. Ninety percent of northern residents live daily on dirt or dung floors inside their huts or cinder block houses. On average, women in Namibia first give birth by age 21 and bear five children during their lifetimes.11 Data from household surveys reveal very low levels of formal education in the northwest as well. In the 1980s the median schooling level among the total female population over age 5 years was 2.4 years, compared to 6.3 years in the southern region and 3.4 years of schooling in the central region. For males, attainment levels averaged about one year higher. This situation is improving, focusing just on attainment and setting aside issues of educational quality for the moment. The apartheid regime did rapidly expand school enrollments during the 1970s and 1980s as the SWAPO resistance rose in popularity, heavily recruiting conscripts from even primary schools in the North. Average school attainment for young women age 20–39 years had risen to seven years on average by the mid-1990s, with similar levels for men (Amukugo 1993; Katjiuanjo et al. 1993). COLONIAL CONTRADICTIONS: BANTU EDUCATION AND COOLING OUT


As SWAPO’s armed resistance escalated in the North in the 1970s, Pretoria invested massively in school expansion. Hundreds of new schools were built in Owamboland; many new teachers were hired; all were awarded hefty pay raises. During the decade the number of “black, brown, and Bushmen” children enrolling in government schools doubled in South West Africa, to 240,000 students. Secondary school enrollment for black and coloured children increased five fold during the 1970s.The number of teachers in the North more than doubled (Thomas 1983). Had apartheid rulers found religion and decided to progressively aid poor families by expanding mass schooling? This is one interpretation. But this expansion was linked more directly to Pretoria’s steady expansion of Bantu education in South Africa proper. Black and coloured communities did benefit from school expansion and new jobs for young teachers.Yet Bantu education 96


meant that schooling would be administered by separate, racially bounded bureaucracies. Blacks were to be educated to fit their proscribed position in the labor structure via poorly funded primary schools. Spending on coloured schools was somewhat higher, since this nascent middle class was to fill semiskilled and commercial jobs. Whites benefitted from high quality secondary schools and university training. By 1986, per capita spending on black and coloured schools throughout South Africa had risen to 19 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of spending on white schools. The overall enrollment rate reported by the apartheid regime had risen to 80 percent (Pillay 1990).2 Colonial administrators in Owamboland were intent on subverting growing popular support for SWAPO insurgents who increasingly ran military operations from their base in exile, located just across the border in Zambia. South African soldiers occupying the North often were required to serve as teachers. As Konig (1983:30) reported: “Imagine somebody teaching you, and if you make a mistake, or if he suspects you (to be a SWAPO supporter), he would just point his gun at you, telling you that he would shoot you or your mother.” When the apartheid regime could not win over the hearts and minds of black parents, they simply drafted their young sons into the South African Defense Force (SADF); the children were as young as sixteen years of age (Totemeyer 1978). Yet many students and their parents continued to aid SWAPO covertly. Students often led SWAPO guerillas to their local military targets (Konig 1983). Many parents were eager for their children simply to be educated well, and sought to avoid confrontation with either side. Justin Ellis, who helped run the SWAPO school in exile and there became a close friend of Nahas Angula, described the impossible conflict in which black teachers were placed in the north: “They do not like the (Bantu education) syllabus.They must somehow make it clear to their communities that they do not approve of the racist government which provides them with their bread, knowing in their schools, they can be summarily dismissed or detained by the army or security police” (Ellis 1984:54). The classic contradiction that arose involved a new middle class that was growing and expanding, requiring hundreds of new black and coloured teachers who staffed primary and secondary schools in both the North and in the townships of Windhoek. Children also were being encouraged to stay in school, both by their parents and moderates of color who believed that economic mobility was tied to school attainment. Increasingly, donors in the West were sending young exiled SWAPO members to universities in England, the United States, or the Soviet Union. One of Minister Angula’s deputies told me one evening in Windhoek how guerilla fighters would 97

join a set number of military missions launched from Zambia or work undercover inside Owamboland. After these missions were carried out, one earned a scholarship and could go abroad to study. Many of these student-guerillas now hold high posts within the SWAPO government. Ironically, as Pretoria and the SADF eagerly expanded mass schooling— assuming it would undercut popular resistance—the seeds of revolution were being nurtured in the minds of SWAPO’s increasingly well-educated leaders and an expanding black middle class. A CENTURY OF COLONIAL RULE

The seductive quality of Western policy frames—post-independence in the 1990s—is best grasped when one understands Namibia’s historical context. Largely due to the repressive features of a racist and caste society set in place by a century of colonization, reinforced under the National Party by an unrelenting set of apartheid institutions, the tenets of liberal democracy became irresistible.The 1989 fall of the Soviet empire and the role of Western capitals in negotiating a regional settlement between Pretoria, SWAPO, Angola, and Cuba signaled that Western capitalism and its liberal institutions would be the dominant game of political economy (Chisholm and Fuller 1997; Crocker 1992). But before exploring how the importation of Western policy frames shapes the cultural precepts of education policy in the new Namibia, let me briefly review its colonial history and the rise of mass schooling under apartheid. Namibia’s society has never been an integrated whole.A single nation still does not exist as tacitly understood in Western terms. Namibia is an archipelago of language and ethnic groups, spread across a vast and starkly arid land.This separateness predates colonial regimes and the white man’s attempt to divide and conquer the native peoples. The oldest residents are the nomadic San, also known in white communities as bushmen. Herero people call them,Ovakuruvehi, “the original ones” (Katjavivi 1988).They live mainly along the western edge of the Kalahari desert, roaming east into Botswana. As early as the seventh or eighth century Bantu-speaking peoples had migrated from east Africa down to the Kavango River and Okavango region, resting at what is now the area covering northeast Namibia (including Caprivi), northwest Botswana, and the far southern reaches of Angola and Zamibia. The dominant tribe became known as Owambo, perhaps after the Herero word for cattle post, oohambo (Loeb 1962). Other etymologists argue that the San coined the term Owambo from their term gumbo, which referred to the distantly spaced homesteads that still characterize their natural settlements. This housing arrangement may have caught the attention of other groups, 98


like the San, who lived in more densely populated villages for certain periods of time (Williams 1991). The Owambo speakers lived apart within individual compounds, into which livestock could brought to rest at night protected from predators. Owambo kingdoms were tightly organized within a clear political structure. Land was held collectively and allocated by the local chief. During planting and harvest seasons, neighbors in the immediate area could draw on the cooperative labor, and on days designated for weeding modest fields of sorghum or millet as well. Laborers within the unified Ondangwa Kingdom for centuries harvested salt from natural pans, providing a leading commodity for trade and export. Cattle-post holders also could be hired to move a family’s cattle to greener lands during the dry season (Williams 1991). Herero and Damara peoples moved further south into what is now the central region of Namibia. The Hereros were pastoralists and focused on raising cattle.The Damara and Nama groups raised cattle, goats, and sheep. Both Owambo and Damara societies learned the art of copper smelting, adding new products to other items that were popular to trade: wooden bowls, salt, skins, and decorative ornaments, such as ostrich feathers (Katjavivi 1988). The Namas lived in villages that numbered up to 1,500 adults and children. Other groups settled remaining parts of South West Africa: the Okavango delta area was settled by the Kangwali,Mbunza, Sambyu, Mbukushu, and the Geiriku.The coloured class, called Rehobothers, migrated from the Cape region of South Africa, looking to escape racial discrimination and to find richer land. The first European to land on the coast of Namibia was a Portuguese explorer named Diego Cao in 1485. It was not until the 1670s that Dutch explorers from the Cape arrived and initiated direct contact with native African groups. By the early 1800s trade had opened up between African kingdoms and Europeans, along with South African traders who came up from the Cape. In 1802 the first European mission was opened in the south by Wesleyans from the London Missionary Society. By 1857 missionaries had made their way north into Owamboland, including German Lutherans who created a station in Otjikango, a village near Okahandja. The European rush for African territory was intensifying, but Germany had acquired few lands suitable for white immigration. In 1884 the German State declared that their conquest of South West Africa was complete and politically legitimate; this was then ratified in the famous Berlin Conference in which the entire continent was partitioned among the European powers. Nothing was subtle about German colonization. In 1903 the German head of settlement, Paul Rohrbach declared: 99

The decision to colonize…South West Africa means nothing else than that the native tribes must withdraw from the lands on which they have pastured their cattle and let the white man pasture his cattle. If the moral right of this standpoint is questioned, the answer is that for people of the cultural standard of African natives, the loss of their national barbarism and the development of a class of workers in the service of and dependent on the whites is primarily a law of existence in the highest degree. (Hishongwa 1992:6) The Herero people decided to fight back, led by Samuel Maharero who successfully united the various kingdoms in the southern and central regions. In the war that ensued 65,000 Namas and Hereros were killed by the German military between 1904 and 1907. General von Trotha issued an “extermination order”: The Herero people will have to leave the country. Otherwise, I shall force them to do so by means of guns. Within the German boundaries…(all Hereros) whether found armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot. (Department 1981:158–159) The German military proceeded to push remaining Hereros, including their leader, Maharero, into the waterless sands of the Kalahari, even poisoning water holes and executing those who remained behind. By the outbreak of World War I the German colonial regime had smashed armed resistance movements initiated by Namas in the south and Owambos in the North, the latter led by the powerful King of Ukwanyama. These coordinated uprisings against the German administration were bloody and costly for black African groups, leading to a genocide which resulted in the death of half the indigenous population (Bley 1971). THE SPREAD OF MASS SCHOOLING UNDER APARTHEID

The continent’s post-independence era—from the late 1950s in west Africa through 1989 with Namibia’s liberation from South Africa—is marked by several dramatic changes in institutions.The one on which we focus is the huge investment, made by country after country, in the expansion of mass schooling. It is important to understand that the idea of constructing a statefinanced system of public schooling is a rather old notion in Africa. In the case of Namibia, early German missions were well situated within tribal 100


borders by the mid-nineteenth century. As early as 1880, the ten missions operating in Namaland enrolled 983 pupils; seven missions in Hereroland enrolled 298; just 160 children were enrolled in Owamboland mission stations (Amukugo 1993). Early steps to formalize a school “system” within the state apparatus began in 1906 when the German administration passed a compulsory attendance law for children living within a four-kilometer radius of a school. By 1915 German missionaries had enrolled just under 5,500 black children in primary or secondary schools.The colonial regime, of course, was primarily interested in expanding schooling for white children: in 1909 the authorities spent 329,000 German marks on white schools and 9,000 marks on black and coloured schools, even though students of color out-numbered whites seven to one. Colonial school inspectors did visit mission schools and occasionally comment on issues of quality (Cohen 1994). Germany’s colonial rule came to an abrupt end in 1915 as the motherland was suffering a devastating defeat in Europe. The South African military moved in to occupy South West Africa. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 awarded the former German colony to the British Commonwealth. In turn London chartered what was then the South African Union to administer the South West territory. South Africa in turn executed a compact which included a state takeover of all schools, including the mission stations that had traditionally offered basic schooling for black and coloured children. By 1925 South West Africa had acquired some administrative independence from Pretoria.The schools were sorted into racial categories, Afrikaans had become the only language formally spoken in classrooms, and a highly unequal school finance structure was firmly in place. By the 1930s spending on white schools out paced support of black schools by a ratio of nine to one (Amukugo 1993). By 1945 total black enrollments equaled almost 20,000 children, although not one secondary school for blacks had yet to open (Ellis 1984). According to historian Peter Katjavivi (1988) no schools were built in the North of South West Africa between 1920 and 1960. In 1948, the Afrikaner Nationalist Party was victorious for the first time in South Africa, following decades of tensions between the landed Boers and urban moderates. Christian national education came to encompass the state’s official education policy.The Eiselen Commission was appointed to reform schooling for blacks, a system that in 1953 was first dubbed Bantu education. The Commission faced a fascinating contradiction that beset South Africa’s post-war political economy. Industrial expansion was sweeping South Africa, built on sizable capital infusions from Europe and cheap labor. But the labor market had become very tight, especially for semi-skilled and 101

manufacturing jobs that required a variable level of literacy and a conforming set of good work habits.The coloured class already was coming to dominate certain commercial and retail sectors of the economy.Tentative steps toward the expansion of mass schooling for black and coloured children would be required. But how to provide a more skilled labor force without subverting the racist stratification structure that the Nationalist Party promised to preserve (Greenberg 1987)? The architects attempted to resolve this contradiction of capitalist expansion by recommending that blacks be provided four years of primary schooling aimed at basic literacy in English and Afrikaans “to be used in contacts with the European sector” (cited by Ellis 1984:23). The South African minister of native affairs, Dr. Verwoerd, frankly stated the state’s objectives in ratifying Bantu education: There is no place [for the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. Education will be in substandards A and B, and probably up to standard II, including reading and writing through mother-tongue instruction, as well as knowledge of English and Afrikaans and the cardinal principles of the Christian religion.When I have control of native education I will reform it so that the natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not for them…People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers, (cited in Katjavivi 1988:28) The South West Africa colonial regime quickly adopted the basic precepts of Bantu education, including enforcing indigenous languages in black schools; creating separate racial authorities for white, coloured, and black schools; and reforming all syllabi and textbooks to emphasize the religious beliefs of the Afrikaner church. The administration declared that: Education for Africans is governed by the Bantu Education Act, 1953, which gives total control of African education to the state. Under the present systems Coloured Education and Nama Education are governed by three separate but identical laws and administered by the South African Department of Coloured, Rehoboth and Nama relations, (cited in Salia-Bao 1991:19) Several mission schools were resisting the intensification of racist curricula and the use of indigenous languages in the classroom. They realized this would close the door on Africans’ upward mobility and integration into the 102


wage economy. Schooling was being used transparently to keep black and coloured children—and future generations—locked away in the impoverished bantustans. This early period of resistance ironically brought German and black churches together to oppose the steady attempt by the apartheid state to surround and incorporate all schools throughout South West Africa. In 1947 the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, originally founded in black American communities, established its first mission schools. Black members of the Lutheran church also left to establish the Oruuano church, drawing many Herero members. And in the North the Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in 1957, later run by Namibia’s first black bishop, Dr. Leonard Auala. Together these churches began to coalesce as a counter force to the dictates of Bantu education (Katjavivi 1988). In 1958 about 70 percent of all black children in South West Africa were not in school. The van Zyl Commission—which mirrored and elaborated Pretoria’s version of Bantu education—also recommended that within 30 years, by 1988, three-quarters of all black children should complete four years of primary schooling (Cohen 1994). It proved to be a contradictory mandate in a continent that was, in fits and starts, becoming committed to liberal-democratic ideals: expand access to basic education while still trying to reproduce a racist class structure. EXPANDING MASS SCHOOLING, REINFORCING THE CLASS STRUCTURE

Between 1962 and 1981 enrollment of black students climbed dramatically, from about 47,000 to just under 200,000 children. Enrollments almost doubled again by 1990, the decade leading up to independence (Ellis 1984; Salia-Bao 1991). This rise unfolded against a backdrop of Pretoria’s acceleration of the bantustan “self governance” scheme. In 1977, for example, homelands’ administrators were granted greater control over “their” schools. The bantustan of Owamboland in the North, for instance, was to have more decentralized authority over its modest school system. The same for other bantustans in South West Africa, including Hereroland, Namaland, and so forth. Faced with growing militancy on the part of SWAPO and international opinion turning decisively against Pretoria, the apartheid regime was trying to moderate without throwing out the racist pillars of Bantu education. The big game of political preservation was being played inside South Africa, but moves to expand educational access also shaped school policies in the SouthWest territory.The colonial administration inWindhoek successfully argued to Pretoria that school fees for black children should be abolished; free textbooks and school stationery also was promised by the late 1970s. 103

Compulsory attendance was put in place for all children, ironically reiterating the position taken by German colonialists seven decades earlier. By 1992 over 83 percent of all children, age 6–12, were enrolled in school. Even within the impoverished northern regions of Ondangwa and Rundu, enrollment rates stood at 86 and 78 percent respectively (ISDD 1993). Importantly, the colonial regime emphasized the importance of local culture and its place in school curricula for each fledgling bantustan school system (Amukugo 1993). But the motivations behind this early bow to “cultural pluralism” were quite vile. It harked back to the Nationalists’ original position in the late 1940s that black and coloured families must be kept in their place. The starkly stratified racial authorities constrained the quality, curricular content, and language of instruction—all aimed at tightly rationing job opportunities for the black and coloured classes. Thus the apartheid state manipulated the meaning of “ethnicity” and the reproduction of “local culture” to separate non-white groups and legitimate a racist labor structure. This history continues to complicate how one thinks and talks about ethnic differences throughout the region. The entire construct of “multiculturalism” and the appreciation of ethnic differences, so endearing to the political Left in Europe and the United States, is often viewed with enormous suspicion by centrists and liberals in southern Africa. The mere inquiry into ethnic differences is looked on with skepticism. The colonial regime’s claims of self-governance by the major ethnic groups proved to be a ruse. It obscured the fact that racist school systems were inequitably funded and thus displayed gross disparities in quality.The ratio of pupils to teachers in Owamboland equaled 42 to one in 1976. In that same year, eighteen whites students were enrolled for every one teacher throughout the South West territory (Cohen 1994; Mbamba 1982). The number of black teachers almost doubled during the 1970s, rising to almost 5,000 by decade’s end, further fueling the nascent black middle class. Pupil-teacher ratios fell for black and coloured schools overall, but only slightly in the North, which remained the most isolated region, economically and institutionally; this ratio indicator of quality fell in allwhite schools to 12:1. In short, as education spending rose in the fifteen years prior to independence, white schools continued to benefit disproportionately. In Owamboland 81 percent of all teachers had less than ten years of schooling, compared to 30 percent in coloured schools (South West 1988).The gap in per pupil spending did narrow, but spending remained grossly unequal. The Windhoek regime spent 3,213 rand for students in white schools versus 985 rand per pupil in Owamboland, 533 rand per Kavango child, and 1,071 rand per student in the Herero bantustan (Amakugo 104


1993; Chuard, Jarousse, and Mingat 1995). Just under 80 percent of black students who started substandard A (grade 1) left school before completing standard 5 (grade 7). The spread of mass schooling and policy frameworks during the apartheid era must be situated in the bantustan system, Pretoria’s conception of separate development within isolated “native nations.” From 1962 forward, the political structure of South West Africa was split into one white and 10 black or coloured authorities. Thousands of families were uprooted and forced to return to their politically constructed “homeland.” The Owambo-speaking community in the North had its own legislative assembly but held no power over its budget allocation from Windhoek. Similar legislative bodies, integrated somewhat with traditional political structures, operated in Kavango, Damara, Caprivi, and for Rehobothers. No governing councils were allowed even to meet within Tswana, Herero, and San regions. During the 1970s black church activists urged Wambos and other ethnic groups to boycott legislative assembly elections, urging the people to see that these bodies were puppet governments helping to legitimate the South African regime.The elections served to split different power centers within the African community. When in 1975 voter turn-out was heavy despite militant protests by SWAPO, Chief Minister of Owamboland, Chief Elifas, celebrated: “I accept the result…as a vote of confidence in myself and my government, and as a mandate for action against certain individuals, including churchmen, on grounds of incitement” (Katjavivi 1988:76). Bantustan leaders often attempted to broaden their political support, challenging the popularity of SWAPO, by building schools and hiring more Owambo teachers, or simply assigning SADF soldiers to teach in new schools. Divide and conquer. It was a centuries-old strategy. POST-COLONIAL CONTRADICTIONS: IMPORTING WESTERN POLICY,


It is difficult to capture in sufficient detail the horror of violence, torture, and military actions that beset the South West territory—an escalating guerilla war between the SADF and SWAPO freedom fighters that lasted for almost three decades. Several reporters and photographers on both sides recorded in grim detail how the Wambo peoples—caught between an oppressive apartheid regime and SWAPO insurgents who simply sought the independence that the United Nations had long endorsed—were coerced economically and with unrelenting violence to accept puppet governments and the endless grind of poverty (Armstrong 1989; Department 1981; Diescho 1993). 105

On the eve of independence in the late 1980s SWAPO’s leadership began to craft a new state that would—first and foremost—signal an abrupt end to apartheid. SWAPO as a militant political organization had matured during the Cold War. In the 1960s, at the height of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, SWAPO was anti-capitalist and pro-socialist. President Reagan’s warm backing of Savimbi in Angola and “constructive engagement” with Pretoria had further alienated SWAPO from the West. But the fall of the Berlin Wall, then the Soviet empire’s demise in 1989, created a vastly different political landscape, reconfiguring how new nationstates in Africa had to construct regimes that were transparent, democratic, and at least rhetorically pro-market. What emerged by 1990 was a Durkheimian-like state with authority and bureaucratic resources still concentrated at the center.The political story line focused on unity, breaking down “tribalism,” and nation-building. This put mass schooling front and center, as the premiere institution for advancing a common language, preaching the virtues of modern nation-building, and resetting the rules of mobility to focus on individual achievement, meritocratic advancement. Durkheim infused the modernizing state with these tacit “social facts” well over a century ago. At the same time, the phrase “reconciliation and development” linked the SWAPO state to an instantly moderated stance of racial tolerance toward the white commercial class, the Afrikaner community, and even class inequalities that these elites had imposed for decades. The word “development” is historically rooted in the European experience, following World War II, when the United States led the creation of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank) to rebuild the West’s economy and its democratic institutions. Chapters 3 and 4 detail how three particular political motivations play out in post-apartheid states. Both SWAPO and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa are dedicated to building a more just and fair society. The central state builds and maintains its legitimacy—and its institutional resolve to attack inequality and poverty—by mechanically attempting policy reforms. Fairness implies equity and “sameness,” both in the level of public resources available, say, to students and teachers, and in cultural forms, such as mandating that all children learn in the “language of liberation,” English. Second, the Durkheimian state must stamp out “tribalism,” that is, traditional forms of local politics and cultural commitments that are “unmodern” and non-supportive of an integrated nation state. Durkheim was keenly aware in nineteenth-century France that if the rural bumpkins kept speaking the non-Parisian patois, they would never feel loyal to the 106


central state. Schools were mobilized to homogenize language and forms of thought. Third—and here’s the rub—newly democratic states try to encourage local participation. Apartheid of the mind led to the assumption that the ruling elite would rule with legitimacy and wisdom. Local civil society was forcefully contained, since black and coloured churches, political clubs, and commercial associations were hostile or at least questioning of Pretoria’s regime. We will explore in the post-independence era how SWAPO’s encouragement of local school boards and “learner centered” schools represent well-intentioned attempts to nurture democratization at the grassroots. But this can subvert the centralist agenda of a new state that is eagerly trying to show results, unify the political economy, and smooth over the dissonant chords of tribalism. It’s a huge dilemma. Race, ethnicity, and regional conflicts were manipulated by white colonialists for well over a century in South West Africa.The Durkheimian model of a single nationstate with a unified language and cultural forms is a seductive break from this awful past. Take the 1993 conflict that erupted between two black ethnic groups in the far northeast, the Caprivi or Katima Mulilo region. Each group—the Masubia and the Mafwe peoples—believed that all teachers in their territories should come from their own tribe. The young SWAPO government was struggling to equalize the distribution of teachers across regions, since pupil-teacher ratios could (and still do) starkly vary between black and white regions, as well as among communities within black northern villages. The chiefs of each group wanted to retain authority over the hiring of new teachers, a lucrative form of patronage. The modern state certainly could not tolerate this outbreak of “tribalism,” and successfully pushed a reconciliation treaty which “acknowledged the prerogative of the central government to appoint, promote, or post public servants in any part of Caprivi irrespective of ethnic origin and gave (them) the right to live and work without any hindrance” (Motinga 1993). Commenting favorably on the agreement, a young black writer, Edward Ndopu (1993:11), wrote: “De-tribalism will…help prevent a situation in which practitioners of tribalism remain tribally powerless…alongside a much more powerful set-up and accept direction from planners, donors, and other de-tribalised professionals.” A similar controversy boiled up in 1998 over whether the national university was becoming “a Herero institution,” since key administrators came from this ethnic group—a “sign of tribalism,” the national newspaper’s editorial board complained (Board 1998).Teachers marched in the streets over the education ministry’s ongoing attempt to post teachers 107

of one ethnic group in distant regions that still suffered from huge class sizes and unequal pupil-teacher ratios (Staff 1998). A NEW POLITICS FOR MULTICULTURAL SOCIETIES?

Can we think anew about how the mechanical policies of fledgling democratic states hit their diverse local institutions and cultural communities at the grassroots? Unfortunately, the issue is barely recognized by Western political theorists or development bureaucrats. It is not “problematized,” as my South African colleagues would say.The basic tenets of the modernization story line are simply too institutionalized.The West’s nation-building model, founded upon the Durkheimian state, eclipses any attempt to listen to diverse voices on the ground. And it’s so ahistorical, ignoring the cultural separation, the racism, the depths of inequality and poverty enforced by the colonial and apartheid regime over the prior three centuries. The central worry is that an homogenizing state apparatus severely limits our thinking about how to build multicultural democracies built on respect for—not disdain or mistrust of—local communities and the splendid colors of the cultural fabric.We stay in this confining box out of fear of repeating the past. But as Rothchild (1997) argues: “Grim scenarios notwithstanding, there is nothing inevitable about destructive conflict between African states and their culturally distinct identity groups.” Conventional political thinking has seen ethnicity and localism as a troublesome drag on the modern state and the process of nation building. Ethnic commitments—whether expressed through language, child rearing traditions, or religious doubts over secular authority—undercut the post-Enlightenment state’s system of faith. It is more difficult to integrate an economy, detach workers from their homes, and homogenize cultural tenets when ethnic leadership and solidarity remain strong. This is a limiting starting assumption—if policy makers want to figure out why their policies are so often repelled or simply ignored by local ethnic leaders, educators, and parents. When the Western media notice Africa, they usually focus on bloody or contentious ethnic conflicts: South Africa’s cantankerous KwaZulu Province, the Hutus versus the Tutsis in Burundi; the gruesome repression of ethnic dissidents in Nigeria. These are striking stories. Political scientists also commonly sketch state-ethnic relations as conflictual, albeit a less dramatic portrayal. Ethnic leaders formulate explicit interests and demands, then approach the central state for resources or help in arbitrating inter-tribal disputes. To ignore this political competition, or to fail in mediating these ethnic-rooted conflicts places the modern state perilously at risk.To illustrate 108


the conflict and divisive interests that can pull apart African states, the cover of Donald Rothchild’s (1997) recent book pictures a huge fissure creeping down a map of Africa, literally cracking the continent in half. Other analysts suggest that the secular state and ethnic leadership essentially maintain a peaceful, albeit detached coexistence. Regional or tribal leaders simply organize and advance their power base outside the state’s constitutional authority and bureaucratic apparatus. Richard Sklar (1993) discusses Botswana’s infamous kgota meetings in local villages, and Nigeria’s 30 Traditional Councils, shadowing secular state governments, as examples of how ethnic political dynamics can persist largely outside the state’s constitutive governing rules. Similarly, Nigeria’s Turi Muhammadu speaks of “cultural federalism,” whereby local leaders are encompassed by, yet remain only selectively coupled to, the modern state (in Joseph 1991). Local ethnic organizations, for example, may advance their own legitimacy by criticizing the bureaucratic secular state while at the same time extracting material resources from the capital city (Fuller 1991). SCHOOLS AS THE CULTURALLY CONTESTED PUBLIC COMMONS

Ethnic-fueled civil strife is indeed a serious reality that will undercut the basic order throughout much of Africa, perhaps for decades to come. But the daily contest between the state and local families—over whether Western economic and social norms effectively smooth over local differences is more subtle, not simply powered by political interests of which headlines are made. The next two chapters focus on two tandem processes that help to explain why the modern state’s push to influence schools and families often goes unnoticed locally. First, we demonstrate how the newly democratic state is operating from cultural tenets that—while occasionally politicized and contested locally—often are taken-for-granted, tacitly accepted ways in which a liberal-democratic State is supposed to act. Bekett Mount and I detail in chapter 3 how Namibia’s post-liberation state imported avant-garde ideologies about how schools should be reformed, aiding nationbuilding via a policy emphasis on the rights and sanctity of the individual child. The education ministry’s policy thrusts—from the capital city’s viewpoint—seem perfectly legitimate, forming a seemingly natural path toward a more integrated democratic society. Some of these educational policies, for example, requiring that all teachers after grade 4 must instruct children in English, are simply ignored or quietly contested. Few disagree with the ideal that all children should grow up literate in English. But neither local cultural settings nor the regional school administration has keen interest or capacity in implementing the English-medium policy. 109

Second, modern policy makers like to ignore how ethnic and socialclass borders continue to organize what and how much is learned inside schools. With the rhetoric of reconciliation and nation-building still most salient in civil society, it is seen as impolitic to dwell on inter-ethnic differences in early literacy, the persisting language commitments of families, or static gender roles which remain unchanged once outside the capital city. Democratic pluralism has been stripped clean of ethnic pluralism and collateral interests that differentiate social classes. Such class or ethnical differences are defined narrowly as impediments to reconciliation, not as building blocks which govern everyday life inside communities and schools. I argue that until ethnic differences are grasped and respected, the state will only focus on universal and homogenizing policy remedies.This is the contradictory paradox facing the newly democratic state. Eagerly trying to look modern, liberal, and pro-market, political elites in Namibia and South Africa import the latest vintage of school reform, ranging from “individualizing instruction,” to parental choice, to settling their “culture wars” by imposing English as the language of the modern classroom. Certainly local educators and ethnic leaders can see that the school represents a stage or public commons upon which a variety of learning and child socialization agendas are played out. Educators and parents alike see the school as an instrument for providing assimilation and success in the modern wage sector. But I emphasize that the school is a contested and multicultural commons, not one that is harmonious or homogenous. In the case of Namibia, we will see how ethnic membership drives young children’s initial literacy levels. We will explore how the political histories of teachers and their very local networks structure a school’s ability to offer more instruction in English— since avant-garde teachers are returnees, ex-gorilla fighters who spent years in Zamiba.And we will examine how secular school management does make a difference in driving children’s official forms of learning, but is highly constrained by local levels of poverty and by ethnic affiliations. It’s important to acknowledge that this contradiction between the central state’s unquestioned importation of school reform ideals and local educators who remain embedded in highly institutionalized practices is played out quietly. Only occasionally do we see clear battle lines or flareups of politicized action. The state, in fact, prefers to de-politicize these potential conflicts. Yet we will show how the organizational forms and cultural tenets of local schools are reproduced over time, detaching the schools from the steady beacon of policy messages beamed out to the hinterlands from the central state. In turn, whether government is an effective, even relevant actor at the grassroots comes into question.This is the issue to which we now turn. 110


NOTES 1. Black and coloured families in the southern region are not faring much better than those in the North. They are simply less concentrated. For evidence from a similar household survey and ethnographic work in the South, see Iken, Maasdorp, and Solomon (1994). 2. These enrollment gains were not, however, followed by commensurate gains in steady school attendance or completion. In 1980 the ratio of black students enrolled in Standard 10 to children in Sub-standard A equaled less than 3 percent (Education Foundation 1994).




with Lisa Bekett Mount

Newly democratic states commonly import public policy frames from abroad. Then these fragile regimes quickly discover that schools and families at the grassroots choose to resist—or display damning disinterest—in these central policy thrusts. This chapter explores this costly disconnect between the cultural tenets of policy elites and the tacit social rules that give order to local institutions. We take you into villages and schools to see how local actors are responding to well-intentioned policy mandates from above.We explore, for example, the Namibian state’s desire to end corporal punishment of children inside schools, an Afrikaner practice despised by the earliest vanguard of student militants and SWAPO leaders.We also delve into how the new state hopes to enrich civil society locally,mandating the creation of village boards comprised of school principals and parents. And we examine how the school’s own institutionalized culture responds to the state’s strong press to have every teacher and child speaking English in classrooms, rather than the conventional Afrikaans or mother tongues that dominate discourse in villages and townships. These policy thrusts flow naturally from a liberal-democratic state.They are founded upon romantic ideals pertaining to the individual’s rights and opportunity to assimilate into mainstream “society.” Into these institutional tenets is mixed the state’s interest in engineering local democratic relations, a theory of action given force by American James Madison in the eighteenth century and renewed by African nation-builders, like Kenyatta and Nyerere, in the mid-twentieth century. The essential conflict arises when ethnic groups and families rebuff the intrusion of liberal and individualistic principles into their local institutions even though they heavily back SWAPO’s desire to dissolve caste barriers at a macro level. We must move beyond the old


dichotomous conception of traditional versus modern. The legitimacy of each—the central state’s habitual attempts at cultural imposition and local ingredients of community cohesion—has shifted. The established theories of political economy reviewed in chapter 2 lend order to our understanding of how concrete interests and classes advance or resist the steady march of modernizing institutions.The present chapter focuses on a more subtle and equally telling process, commonly observed in newly democratic African states: the constitutive rules of policy making and specific policy options are imported from abroad, then clash with the constitutive rules of school, township, and family. At a surface level the new state is widely supported. But local institutions are neither equipped materially, nor synchronized culturally and symbolically, to respond to the state’s nationbuilding agenda. Central policies are met not with resistance, but with a lack of recognition or simple indifference.We explore, for instance, how Minister Angula has been adamant that teachers, after grade 4, instruct students in English. But we will see that very few teachers hold even minimal English proficiency. In the impoverished North, teachers and parents want their children to learn English. But the local context offers little support. The state acts with strength in the symbolic realm. It signals that modernization is coming. But it is a form of social and economic transformation that is not clearly recognized by institutions at the grassroots, the great cultural disconnect to which we now turn. Four Central Policies: Is Anyone Listening Locally? We first describe how Minister Angula and the SWAPO State quickly sucked in (from the West) basic pillars of education policy, even prior to the first democratic elections held in 1990.There is no one single version of Western policy. Indeed, Mr. Angula adopted an avant-garde version, focusing on liberal conceptions of children as “learners” who possess new rights and responsibilities. He pushed early for “continuous assessment” of learners by teachers. He aggressively pushed an English-only medium of instruction after grade 4. And Mr. Angula has steadily pursued politically feasible ways of redistributing education funding to the impoverished North. He has supported donor efforts to document inequities in achievement and school resources that persist across racial and social-class lines. We then report on how policy measures emanating from liberal-democratic ideals have flowed down from Windhoek to schools and families. These policy thrusts include the English-medium mandate, abolition of corporal punishment, and abolition of the creation of community school boards. 114


Each policy was a logical outgrowth of SWAPO’s imported policy framework. But when we headed North to “hang out” in villages, fledgling schools, and regional education offices, we discovered that very few people were listening to policy makers in Windhoek. Even when they were attentive, these policy thrusts remain tough to decipher and difficult to implement, given the constrained resources and dominant cultural tenets in the communities. Our findings stem from months of fieldwork led by Bekett Mount and Ndeshi Nicodemus. Before exploring these cases we must be clear on one key element of the overall argument:We are not suggesting that all ethnic groups, parents, or teachers fail to connect with the intentions of policy elites in newly democratic states. We detail below, for example, how some ethnic groups in northern Namibia never supported school authorities who would beat their children. Our fieldwork also demonstrates how an exceptional school principal can hold onto a English-proficient teacher and make some headway in shifting the medium of instruction. When we move to the South African case in chapter 5, we detail how girls in certain black ethnic groups outperform those raised in other black communities.That is, there are important sources of variability in the extent to which local institutions connect with the state’s nation-building agenda.These differences are important to understand intellectually and pragmatically. They bear on how to improve policy implementation, or to uncover where local institutions and their tacit rules help reproduce local cohesion and rebuff central policy thrusts. As we illuminate the great cultural disconnect we do not intend to downplay the consciousness and agency of interested actors, ranging from a forceful education minister to feisty local chiefs and school principals who well understand ideological agendas and the contest between modern and indigenous roots of political authority.1 Ministry bureaucrats occasionally do think about how textbooks written in Oshindonga may bridge children from literacy in their native tongue to English.We show how a few principals, out in the bush far from the tarmac road, try to figure out how to “continuously assess” the progress of children according to ministry dictates. But in most cases well-engineered attempts at educational reform simply do not connect with the taken-for-granted social rules that lend order to modest school institutions at the grassroots. It is this level of institutionalized beliefs, practices, and scripts—and how they fail to connect across layers of the politicalorganizational structure—which we illuminate in this chapter.The importation of Western policy frames seems natural to Minister Angula and SWAPO.Yet local implementation is stymied or purposefully undercut as local scripts and cultural tenets wash over the best intentions of policy elites. 115


The pupils I teach are very reverent to me. I am a soldier teaching here. My subject is religious studies…The black people here are very religious. They listen very seriously to the word of God, especially when a white man is delivering it to them. I wish you could see me with chalk in my right hand, a Bible or some fine book in my left, standing in front of the students, speaking with authority.These people here truly appreciate learning. —South African Andries Malan writing home in the 1980s from the northern Namibia front. (Diescho 1993:45) The apartheid state’s starting assumption under Bantu education was that children of color were not capable of learning much, so they had best be trained for unskilled jobs and limited futures. At independence in 1989, SWAPO’s best policy thinkers—including Mr. Angula and his European advisors who had been with him for years in Zambia—were required to reconstruct the meaning of mass schooling in a way that repudiated the basic tenets of Bantu education. It had to be an oppositional ideology that would be credible, not offensive to the white community, and affordable under tight fiscal constraints. Serious reform would cost money.There was little interest in borrowing money from the World Bank or the IMF to support the new government. The recurring debt crises faced by African nations over the past decade had taught the likely president, Sam Nujoma, and his advisors a lesson. Instead, they would respond to overtures from their long-time allies, the Scandinavian donors, and their new-found friends, the Americans, to receive large grants of foreign assistance.With these grant dollars came ideological tenets regarding the nature of schooling and how “quality improvement” would come to be defined. This was not an impositional process, core states pressing their world institutions on a weak third-world state. We will show that Mr. Angula aggressively argued—and still does—for a serious attempt to redistribute ministry budgets and teachers to the impoverished North, a redistributional strategy quietly supported by most donors in Windhoek, but continually tempered by SWAPO leaders in government who worried of frightening white and coloured parents who feared that their schools would lose funding or be racially desegregated. But the importation of Western ideology and policy frames involved a seemingly natural collaboration between SWAPO elites who largely were trained in the West, donors, and their technicians from places like Harvard and Florida State University. Both sets of actors— 116


who came to reside together in the education ministry—were committed to desegregation, improving school quality, revamping a racist curriculum, and pushing for greater efficiency (white schools had been overstaffed for generations). Such ideological tenets formed an oppositional approach to policy and school reform, signaling the coming of modern schooling and the demise of Bantu education. If you pick up a newspaper in Windhoek today, this continues to be the dominant story line. We turn first to the very modern theory of schooling that Nahas Angula repeatedly articulated as the first post-apartheid minister of education.This was not simply rhetoric; it served to frame how Western donors capitalized the minister’s school reform agenda. Even before the SWAPO government was elected,Western policy elites were at the table echoing and elaborating Mr.Angula’s ideological instincts.We set this discourse in context by surveying voices that argued for a different tack, one truer to SWAPO’s socialist roots. This included a militant teachers union which backed Mr. Angula while still trying to prevent him from falling into the soothing tones manifested by liberal-democratic ideals. “Learner Centered Schooling” Within a year of assuming his post Minister Angula began to articulate the essential features of a post-apartheid school institution.The frame was thoroughly modern, an innocent caricature of liberal-democratic ideals. In a 1992 manifesto on the aims of basic education, the minister echoed the United Nation’s Human Development Report (UNDP 1992), emphasizing the human capital, pro-market rationale for mass schooling: The world is unlikely ever to have an equal distribution of physical capital. But improving the distribution of knowledge and skills is a much more manageable proposition. Human development and economic growth are closely connected. People contribute to growth and growth contributes to human well being, (cited in Ministry 1992:1) The ministry’s official ideology was further elaborated, drawing on Namibia’s new constitution: Modern living is predicated on the premise that people are equipped to transform the physical and social-cultural environments on a sustainable basis in order to satisfy their basic needs. This suggests that the imperatives of modern living are organically rooted in 117

education…. If Namibia is going to move together with the rest of the world into the twenty-first century, this country must reaffirm its commitment to Education for All for its citizens (italics in original, p.1). Basic education…should promote acquisition by learners of the necessary knowledge, understanding, skills, values and attitudes required for better living and sound, sustainable development.To this end the great goals for Basic Education reform and development are: (1) equitable access to schooling, (2) operational efficiency of education, (3) effective pedagogy, and (4) democracy. (Ministry 1992:3) The minister’s language was revealing, expressing terms and constructs which had gained instant currency after independence. Mr. Angula was adamant in the use of “learner,” rather than pupil or student. Whenever a staffer lapsed back to the conventional terms, he sharply reminded the colleague that “learner” would help focus educators on the “individual child,” not his or her passive role within the classroom under apartheid. The catchphrase “education for all” stemmed from a worldwide summit of political leaders and education ministers held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990. Mr. Angula attended this conference, entitled “Education for All.” Encapsulating the notion of equal access through mass schooling, the phrase refuses to die. President Sam Nujoma, in a preface to the government’s 1993 education development plan—which had to be entitled Toward Education for All—wrote: “Education in our country used to be enjoyed only by the privileged few, whom apartheid and colonialism considered worthy of it. In other words, it was not the right of every citizen to have access to learning and its benefits. However, my Government has placed education at the top of our priorities. It is the key to better life…access to education should not be limited to a select elite, but should be open to all those who need it, especially children…who previously had no opportunity to gain education” (Ministry 1993:i).This development plan was authored by former Stanford professor Joel Samoff, under contract with the Swedish development agency. Since these heady, post-independence days Mr. Angula has remained honest to the liberal-democratic, even individualistic ideals regarding the learner’s development and role played by formal policy making, formulated and executed by central government. Here is an intriguing sampler of this charismatic leader’s theory of political change and the essential role played by mass education: •


Within eight months of Namibia’s democratic elections in March 1990, Mr. Angula issued a detailed education reform directive entitled Change


with Continuity. He was quick to point out that this document “is not meant to be a sacrosanct edict or preordained decree. It demands initiative, creativity, democratic consultation…and above all, commitment to educational change” (Angula 1990:1). But it was to become a basic guide to SWAPO educational policy during the seven years that Mr. Angula served as minister. He begins by acknowledging the help of foreign advisors—three British, one white Zambian, one Unesco team, and one Danish consultant—who had already completed separate reviews of policy options during the SWAPO government’s initial months in power. Mr. Angula decreed that “English shall be the medium of communication in official correspondence, reports, and communications. School reports to parents may be written in the language which the particular parent understands best” (Angula 1990:10–11). He went on to require that home languages could serve as the medium of classroom instruction in grades 1 to 3. In grade 4 English was to become the medium. At this time, one estimate indicated that not more than 10 percent of all teachers could speak English proficiently. Mr. Angula remains untiring in his push to use schooling as a tool for making society more equal and just. “Racism, overt and covert, remains a serious hindrance to genuine integration of the former Administration of Whites schools…the Ministry will continue to push for genuine desegregation in all schools.” He illustrated this by talking of unit cost differences: “…the former White Administration schools tend to have too low teacher and pupil ratios…as low as 1:7. On the other hand, in rural schools teacher and pupil ratios average 1:50” (Angula 1991:5, 7). Six years later, after having been moved to a smaller ministry of higher and technical education, Mr. Angula wrote in the New Era daily: “The legacies of colonial and apartheid policies of exploitation continue to haunt our society. Ninety percent of our population share among themselves only 35 percent of the national income whereas the richest 10 percent receive 65 percent of our income…some 4,000 commercial farmers occupy 44 percent of total agricultural land area” (Angula 1997:9). As the new ministry consolidated eleven racial authorities overseeing white, coloured, and Bantustan schools, Mr. Angula recognized the tension between administrative rationalization and linkages to local schools. The rise in enrollment following independence led to overcrowding and the arrival of older, sometimes troublesome students. Corporal punishment was abolished by the new Constitution. A loss 119


of order in the schools concerned many. In 1991 Mr. Angula addressed the Parliament: “As the newly unified Ministry was being organized a communication vacuum between the Ministry and schools was inevitable. Many schools seem to have felt abandoned, ignored and at worst (sic) without leadership. This explains why the majority of students’ public manifestations had nothing to do with issues directly pertinent to…learning needs and processes. Many of them have not as yet come to terms with the requirements of schooling. Individual rights and liberties seem to have been totally misunderstood. Indiscipline bordering on anarchy is slowly but surely creeping into many schools…if it is allowed to continue this nation is doomed to backwardness, ignorance, economic stagnation and misery” (Angula 1991:2,4).The Minister then directed his American advisors to develop a booklet entitled Discipline from Within, which was distributed to all schools nationwide. The title captured Mr. Angula’s faith in the individual learner as the unit that powers personal development and change. In a 1993 interview, Mr. Angula summarized, “Our reward should be the satisfaction that we get by having made a contribution to the development of the person” (Angula 1993:5). In his 1991 annual report to the Parliament, the Minister also announced his Basic Education Reform Initiative, “launched at the Etosha Conference,” a USAID organized meeting replete with American advisors. “The broad aim of the Reform Initiative is to promote equal opportunities for schooling, enhance efficiency, and improve the quality of educational provision. The Reform Initiative shall focus on learnerfriendly and self accessing (sic) instructional materials…the Reform Initiative shall be a collaborative effort between the Ministry and the Learning Systems Institute of Florida State University” (Angula 1991:12). By the following year, five members of the FSU team resided in the Ministry, designing new curricular materials which allowed the schools to break free of South African materials and examinations. The FSU team, headed by programmed-instruction guru Robert Morgan, would eventually convince Mr. Angula that “continuous assessment” of learners by teachers throughout the northern bush schools would raise achievement levels. Mr. Angula continues to be interested in cultural development, signaled by the colorful, flowing robes that he wears when sweeping out onto the floor of Parliament—brightly colored apparel and tie-dyed caps which come not from Namibia but from west Africa. His Ministry was all about state-building and consolidating administrative authority. But


Mr. Angula also recognized that tribal cultures—from Afrikaners in the Dutch Reformed Church to local black groups in the far northeast— lent order and social cohesion to everyday life. He quoted Gandhi in one message to Parliament: “I want the wings of all cultures to circulate freely around my house, but I do not want to be blown over by any of them.” Mr. Angula, continued, “This Ministry is in the process of gradually introducing mechanisms…aimed at developing a true Namibian culture: an enriched unity in diversity” (italics in original, Angula 1991:18). During the first six years after independence, Mr. Angula’s ministry repeatedly articulated how mass schooling was to advance democratic social relations at the grassroots. This was always embedded within his desire to build a more effective ministry at the center, necessary for reallocating resources to the North and raising school quality. But this recurrent interest in local democracy is noteworthy, motivating limited efforts to decentralize, such as mandating the creation of local school boards run by parents. The ministry’s 1993 development brief aimed to elaborate and operationalize earlier utterances and policy declarations. “To develop education for democracy we must develop democratic education. In the past, we were not fooled by an authoritarian government that preached to us about democracy. Nor will learners today be deceived by an education system that talks about democracy and say it is for someone else at some other time. To teach about democracy, our teachers…must practice democracy…teachers must be active creators and managers of the learning environment and not masters or caretakers” (Ministry 1993:41–42). This could have been written by John Dewey. The ministry was committing itself, at least through the words of an American advisor, to progressive educational theories such as “democratic schooling,” “learning for understanding,” and “continuous assessment.” The origins of policy options and classroom practices came from the mouth of this impressive SWAPO minister of education. But the tacit philosophy and cultural foundations of these policy thrusts had migrated to Windhoek from the West. Minister Angula, reflecting on his seven-year term, articulated several mechanisms aimed at advancing “the democratization of education” (Angula and Grant Lewis 1997:239).These include “mobilizing internal democratic forces,” such as the student and teacher unions, and building an “education management information system.”


Importing Western Policy: Agency and Institutional Creep One could argue that the ideals of liberal-democracy—flooding into the ideological vacuum created by the demise of apartheid are normatively just and functionally wise for a new state that is keen on reinforcing its own legitimacy and “reconstructing” a more humane society. But this fails to explain the rather odd currency given to policy frameworks and options that plainly do not fit Namibia’s historical conditions. For example, why would policy makers in Windhoek expect that thousands of ill-prepared teachers with few textbooks, up North along the Kavango River, would be able to “continuously assess” the performance of their children using programmed instructional materials? Why do policy makers press for the essential need of having teachers speak English in their classrooms when so few teachers have even minimal English proficiency? Functionalist and class-conflict analyses of the state both help to explain why Nahas Angula’s pleas to reallocate resources to poor regions often fell on deaf political ears, even among fellow SWAPO leaders. But what forces explain the minister’s earnest desire to define pupils as “learners,” cast the lack of progress in desegregation as a manifestation of “inefficient” schools, or bow toward decentralization and mandate local school boards all the while consolidating authority at the center. In short, why does the policy discourse take on the symbols and categories of Western policy frames, even when it does not fit local conditions and even obscures local realities? Two forces help to explain this importation of highly institutionalized policy frameworks. First, there is the steady creep of legitimated ways of defining problems in schools, typically linked to accepted beliefs about mass schooling’s role in a “modernizing society.” Second,there are the observable actions of foreign aid agencies and domestic policy elites who enact and press for implementation of Western conceptions of educational problems and state-guided remedies. Institutional and political action at both levels is usually benevolent, that is, it is not a conspiracy of class interests.This is why the tacit cultural dimensions of elite policy making and implementation are so influential:they are rarely contested and provoke little ideological opposition. Let us take the case of USAID in Namibia.American diplomats played a key role in negotiating independence for Namibia, involving the delicate push of Cubans out of Angola and separating the Namibia question from protracted negotiations in Pretoria when democracy in South Africa looked like a very distant possibility (Crocker 1992). But the Reagan-Bush policy of “constructive engagement” with the apartheid regime had alienated SWAPO leaders from America, a bitter taste soothed a bit by Congressional Democrats’ successful push for stiff economic sanctions after 1985. With Namibian 122


independence finally slated for March 1990, SWAPO policy developers— particularly Mr.Angula—began receiving advice from British, Scandinavian, and American aid agencies.The Scandinavians had been with SWAPO for over 25 years in the Zambian exile centers.The Americans were latecomers, but they had a corner on avant-garde school-reform thinking. They also had the largest foreign aid budget pegged for Namibia, as a new front-line state that would strengthen the unified bulwark containing South Africa. The American education policy team landed in Windhoek in November 1990, comprised of senior USAID staff and university-based policy analysts. The State Department had already decided that substantial assistance, up to US$100 million, would be made available to help ease the government budget deficit that Pretoria had left behind. Linked to this fiscal relief would be an ambitious school reform plan. The Americans wanted to help; they also believed that a carrot in the form of cash linked to education sector adjustments would be the best medicine. The abundance of cash aid also allowed the SWAPO government to brush off advances by the IMF and the World Bank, both eager to sign up a new client for low-interest loans. The sector review that was rapidly completed proved to be a remarkable and influential exercise. Filled with tables and graphs, the thick report delved into the grossly unequal school finance structure left behind by Pretoria, as well as looking inside classrooms at curricular materials and teaching practices (Learning Systems 1990).Two sections of the report and the forms of policy discourse they manifest continue to define the assumptions underlying policy work inside the ministry.The “framework for reform,” a set of “broad goals and parameters for reform,” was defined with three bulleted points. First, the newly elected government should “unify the education system, collapsing the current system of separate ethnic education authorities into a single national education system.” Second, “make education as uniform as possible, removing disparities in the quality of education and the adequacy of education inputs.”Third,“make education as universal as possible, expanding education to reach all learners” (Learning Systems 1990:5). These tenets flow from the gross inequalities that were sanctioned and solidified under colonial rule.There is nothing imperial about the echoing of early SWAPO aims in the education sector. Yet certain features have exerted a lasting influence. They are Durkheimian and modern in the emphasis on unity and integrative symbols.This was a political and institutional imperative at the dawn of post-apartheid independence. In this context it is very difficult to discuss ethnic or regional differences.The fully legitimated goal is to encourage similarity and likeness. In addition, the emphasis is on rationalizing the institutional structure, reminiscent of what sociologist John 123

W.Meyer calls the Great Rationalization Project. The diagnosis is not centered on the realities of local communities or social relations inside classrooms. “Apartheid of the mind” must first be attacked through institutional consolidation. The American team was interested in classrooms and instructional reform. Their secondary focus, beyond institution-level unity, was on what they called “learner centered instruction.” The team’s perspective was heavily influenced by Professor Robert Morgan, head of the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University, a long-time contractor with USAID’s education office. Mr. Morgan was a colleague of learning theorist Robert Gagne, a major advocate of programmed instruction, a method that offers “teacher proof” curricular materials and frequent assessment of student learning. The method has been fine-tuned for training military pilots, electronic technicians, and, yes, poorly schooled teachers in the northern bush of Namibia. But within the liberationist discourse of post-apartheid Namibia, this approach had to be modified and romanticized a bit. “To be effective, teaching must be learner-centred; it must focus on the individual child. The most effective means of shifting the focus from the instructional processes to successful individual achievement is through instructionally designed materials. In the building of Instructional Systems Design (ISD) instruction, one starts with the questions: When the teaching is finished, what do we want the child to know? What do we want him or her to be able to do? Then teaching processes and materials are designed, accompanied by easy-to-use guides to show ordinary teachers how to use these resources” (Learning Systems 1990:54–55). By the following year, Nahas Angula was calling children enrolled in primary schools “learners” to emphasize their active participation in class and their functional fit with new ISD materials. In March 1991 USAID hosted a four-day meeting at the Etosha game reserve.This exercise brought together SWAPO education leaders, the Florida State gurus, and USAID staff. Zimbabwe’s education minister Fay Chung was there, as well as Unna Huh of the Korean Education Development Institute, which had adopted many ISD principles and materials in the 1970s.The newly elected president, Sam Nujoma, kicked off the planning conference with a paper entitled “Toward Learner-Centred Education.” It is not known who wrote the President’s speech, but it certainly resembles lectures and proclamations crafted later that year by Minister Angula. Mr. Nujoma declared: “The special emphasis that I believe is guiding the deliberations in this conference is that education must be child- or learnercentred. The Namibian basic education must support the actual processes 124


of individual learning, rather than continue the colonial teacher-centred Bantu education, with an emphasis on control, rigid discipline, parrot-like learning, and negative assessment principles” (Nujoma 1991:5). Robert Morgan detailed how learner-centered schooling could be implemented, replete with competency based instruction, criterion-referenced tests, and “reducing the dependency on the qualifications of the classroom teacher” (Morgan 1991:32). The importation of this very North American learning theory and technology—which certainly is contested among many in the United States—is clear. But it also was being recast a bit, politicized by its Namibian advocates as a counterpoint to heavily didactic pedagogical practices that were seen as oppressive. Learner-centered education was juxtaposed to the teacher-centered character of Bantu education. It’s meaning was cast in relief by the historical terrain. Namibia’s social and political history provided the conditions that fit with this highly rationalized conception of a learning system, borrowing tenets of cognitive psychology which ironically were blended with an individualist conception of how classrooms should be organized.This is not a blind importation of a learning theory as institutional theorists would have it. Instead we observe a blend of local history, a political moment in time when liberal, individualist ideals are paramount, and a Western story line about learning which sprouts in these ripe conditions. USAID and other donor agencies would push related policy frames in the early years of independence. As part of the Americans’ $30 million aid package targeted to school reform, a total of 46 conditions were negotiated with the education ministry.This exemplified the sector adjustment programs on which USAID and the World Bank had come to rely during the 1980s and early 1990s. Much of the USAID cash went directly to reduce government’s budget deficit, essential in stabilizing the Namibian dollar. Even the SWAPO leadership was concerned that education spending would rise above the current 25 percent share of all government spending (Angula 1994). Project aid went into syllabi and textbook development (following sacred ISD principles), teacher training, planning and budgetary reallocations to the impoverished North, and support for fledgling Bushmen schools on the edge of the Kalahari. Then, in 1992 the USAID agreement fell apart, and cash disbursements were halted for almost a year. At issue was whether the ministry could commit to indicators of progress, be they enrollment rates, average class size, or other indicators of school quality. Our own study of children’s early literacy was implicated: by 1994 we would have the data on whether children’s rate of learning improved over time, especially in the North 125

where American aid was concentrated. In addition, USAID wanted to ensure that a “costed implementation plan” be developed.This made sense as Mr. Angula’s reform strategy was becoming complicated and expensive. Because the State Department was eagerly trying to help reduce the budget deficit, the embassy did not want to see the education project drive up ministry spending (Shortlidge 1992, 1993). Thus the discourse turned to measurable indicators, efficiency, and cost containment. How this would support reallocation to the North and Mr. Angula’s earnest intent to redistribute to poor communities became more and more hazy, and less discussed inside the ministry by 1994. The Scandinavian donors remained active in the education sector. UNICEF sent occasional study missions. Top-flight hotel pubs were constantly filled with foreign consultants talking excitedly about their analyses and plans for school reform.The policy frames and discourse often converged. One early UNICEF study team focused on the “unsystematic school structure,” “teacher efficiency and competence,” and the “unification and standardization of basic education” (UNICEF 1990). One section was entitled “The Concept of Proper Primary Schools and the Proposed Nomenclature.” Namibia was preparing to modernize and liberalize its school system and obviously needed to be taught the proper nomenclature for this institution-building endeavor. These specifications failed to talk about how children might be socialized within their communities, the social and moral agenda of curricula, or what types of teaching methods might be desired and understood by children in the rural North. First the “system” must be rationalized, the new-age nomenclature must be memorized. Limited Contention, Beyond Indifference Meanwhile, back to reality. One typically bright, crisp morning in Windhoek the headline of the daily paper screamed out: “Witchcraft. Parents of children learning at the Okamatapati school which was closed two weeks ago on allegations that some teachers practice witchcraft, have vowed to physically remove the teachers if the ministry fails to intervene.The entire village has been gripped by fear of the unknown” (Jochem 1997:1). Feces had been found on the beds of several girls in the hostels. The obvious remedy was to call in the local witch finder, who recommended a cleansing of three particular teachers and their classrooms. But one refused to bath according to the witch finder’s instructions, disagreeing with “the method and approach of the healer.” She criticized the senior inspector of schools, located in the regional office, 126


for calling in the witch healer and suggesting that the teacher be transferred to a school located outside the village. SWAPO’s swerve to the political center, settling into a largely human capital and individualistic conception of mass schooling’s aims and mechanics, has not gone uncontested.The old SWAPO structuralist critique and redistributive remedies continue to be voiced by some important political actors. Leaders of the Namibia National Teachers Union (NANTU) continue to emphasize the redistribution of wealth, jobs, and educational opportunities. NANTU leader Herbert Jauch (1992:9) writes: “The recentWorld Bank report has shown that Namibia has one of the highest income disparities in the world: five percent of the population controls over 70 percent of the country’s wealth while the vast majority live in poverty.This highlights the necessity of the redistribution of the country’s resources.” NANTU’s JomoTjitjo (1992:11) has written much on how the policy discourse has veered from a concern with building grassroots democracy and changing micro social relations at the school level: “If the common talk in Namibia is about democracy…then our schools must also strive to bring democracy to the classroom…(this) implies democratising the whole educational system…the syllabus, the curriculum…teaching methods, school rules, and administration. The school must not be authoritarian and unbending when it comes to the needs of the community it serves.” Importantly, the labor union movement, as in South Africa, stems from liberationist and black consciousness ideology which also borrows Western political tenets and discourse. NANTU’s founding principles include: “We believe that education is an inalienable basic human right equipping an individual to have control over his/her own life. Education enables an individual to competently to participate in democratic organs of decision making” (NANTU 1991). The sacred elements of national transformation include the sanctity of individual rights, as well the importance of learning to participate in formal institutions.Political historians of Namibia are still trying to understand why this shift toward the political center by SWAPO and President Nujoma occurred so quickly and thoroughly, and its consequences for real economic and institutional change over the next few decades (Kleinhans and Grant Lewis 1993; Strand 1991). Next, let’s get below political culture at the center, moving deeper into local institutions. THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN CENTRAL POLICY DISCOURSE AND LOCAL


How do local actors—village educators and parents—make sense of modern policies sent down from the capital by various messengers? This is the question 127

to which we next turn. First we report on three centralized reforms pressed by Minister Angula in the initial years following independence: mandating an end to corporal punishment, creating village school boards, and requiring that classroom instruction occur in English after grade 3. Some readers may argue that post-independence periods are unique and predictable: policy makers must advance conventional policy mandates to signal modernity.To address this possible criticism, we close our case studies with two very recent policy thrusts witnessed in Namibia: the push to continuously assess students in the distant, rural North, and a political mandate to now decentralize the administration of schooling.These latest policy imports again represent avant-garde political thrusts from the West, and even contradict the first generation of central mandates earlier advanced by SWAPO policy makers. We have talked much of the Western-shaped culture of Namibian policy circles. This section focuses on how the local culture and institutional habits of village schools mitigate against “the proper implementation” of central policy mandates, as any good ministry official would put it. We want to shine a bright light upon the rich local institutional and cultural contexts into which sterile reforms are dropped. Digging Deeply: Qualitative Studies in Northern Namibia Bekett Mount and Grace Lang spent much of 1995 traveling to village schools in the north of Namibia. USAID had commissioned them to assess how school principals, teachers, local political leaders, and parents understood and responded to the spate of modernizing reforms being pressed by Mr. Angula. They traveled by Land Rover, hitchhiked, and reached remote schools during the rainy season by chartering mokoro boats.As they sat with local tribal leaders and village educators, it became clear that many either disagreed outright with Windhoek’s reforms or constructed an understanding of them that would not be recognized by equally remote policy makers. A great disconnect seemed to be operating in terms of the institutionalized understandings held by local leaders about the character and purpose of the village school. Clearly the impoverished North faces constraints related to the scarcity of resources and skills typically found in bush schools. But this great disconnect also was defined in terms of something more basic: the language, symbols, and tacit meanings of how schools are supposed to operate differed sharply between local actors and Windhoek policy makers. Our field work illuminates this fundamental level of dissonance. One year after the Mount-Lang team was in the field, Ndeshi Nicodemus settled into four specific schools in the North. A Namibian native and 128


Harvard doctoral student, Nicodemus’ study focused on how classroom teachers were responding to SWAPO’s mandate to require that all teaching occur in English from the upper primary grades forward. Her thesis offers a wonderful window into how the shared micro-culture of the school— and how individual teachers experience it differently—interacts with the nature of a strong central mandate (Nicodemus 1997). This policy case relies heavily on the Nicodemus dissertation and our theoretical interpretations of her empirical data. Local Culture, Institutions, and Material Conditions By culture we refer to the tacitly held beliefs, scripts, and models of action that implicitly guide behavior inside institutions. Sometimes these action scripts and conceptions of legitimate behavior—found inside families and schools—are shared across members of distinct ethnic or language groups. But many times they are bounded by the regional, social class, or gender characteristics of groups or social settings. For example, we will see that the social history and institutionalized practices of teachers mitigates against speaking English—or even informally expecting that English should be spoken—inside one’s classroom. Yet alternative scripts and legitimated symbols creep into established beliefs and practices. Some Namibian teachers in the North who have returned from many years of exile in English-speaking Zambia are quite receptive to the government’s English-only mandate. Here class and social histories of subgroups lead to challenges of the dominant tacit (cultural) scripts. The key point is that these local scripts must fit the culture of policy makers—from their ideological commitment to more micro symbols and routines inside schools—if the policy is to be implemented effectively. Our focus on taken-for-granted cultural action and beliefs held among local actors, not large populations, draws heavily from anthropology and cultural psychology (Geertz 1983; Holloway, Fuller, Rambaud and EggersPiérola 1997; Quinn and Holland 1987). The great chasm separating the culture of policy circles from the culture of village circles is made wider by political and material conditions, not only by cultural dissonance.The north of Namibia on which our qualitative data focus has faced centuries of tribal separation, economic exploitation, and colonial forms of schooling, including pedagogy which is heavily didactic and rooted in sacred texts.The impoverished material conditions and hierarchical social relations that characterize many village schools essentially corresponds to the political-economic features of the region. Thus when the SWAPO 129

government implores local schools to change the medium of instruction, forbid corporal punishment, or institute democratic school boards, obvious conflicts arise with the resource-poor and distinctly undemocratic norms which have long reigned in the far reaches of the rural North. Politics also create predictable contradictions between modern policies sent down from Windhoek to the towns and villages traditionally headed by tribal chiefs, regional administrators, and even school principals (the only “official” to be found in many settlements).As reported above,whenWindhoek alters how teachers are hired or posted out to schools, it can undercut the traditional authority of tribal leaders or regional offices.When Afrikaans or local tongues are ruled out by the central ministry as legitimate languages of instruction, sizable local constituencies are alienated and demand action by their political leaders.The conflicts and occasional interdependence between central policy makers and local public figures comprise long standing dynamics in the dichotomous story of modernization versus traditionalism (Bunker 1985; Fuller 1991). Political actors do often galvanize the cultural facets of central-local conflicts and translate them into material action.Yet it is the small-scale, tacit roots of these conflicts on which our analysis focuses, and how these dynamics are lodged inside schools and family institutions.At this level,the modernization versus traditionalism frame becomes a limiting representation.The roots of these human-scale conflicts are more diverse, less intention filled, and less linear than the old-line political framework would have it. In addition, the modernizing State engages in contradictory policy thrusts, pursuing highly centralized mandates while preaching the virtues of decentralization. This mix of signals creates static within local discourses which often serves to further erode Windhoek’s credibility. Nor can these dynamics be explained by the old modern versus traditional conception of political conflict. POLICY CASE: ABOLISHING CORPORAL PUNISHMENT “THIRTY BUCKETS OF SOIL IS


This is how one student responded when we asked how he felt about SWAPO’s abolition of corporal punishment in the schools. Many children, since the missionary school’s arrival in the mid-1800s, were not so lucky. The common beating of misbehaving children—or those who were accused of aiding and abetting SWAPO guerillas from the early 1960s forward— became a lightning-rod issue for leading dissidents in the North. But the roots of corporal punishment predated Pretoria’s attempt to contain dissent within township and village schools. As deputy minister Buddy Wentworth 130


explained in 1996: “Prior to independence, corporal punishment was seen as the only way of attempting to change behavior. It was the only way of dealing with…a problem that the teacher had.” The use of corporal punishment was seen as legitimate, taken for granted in the minds of village educators, regardless of their race or political allegiance (McBeath 1995). Ndeshi Nicodemus’ fieldwork uncovered enormous concern over student discipline, expressed by teachers and principals.The situation appears to have worsened since independence, given that government had sent signals of liberation, individual rights, and a stigma now attached to corporal punishment. Many older boys also had returned to school from exile in Zambia or from the SWAPO underground. It is common to see young men of 18 or 19 in primary school classrooms in the North.The discipline problem, according to school staff interviewed by Ms. Nicodemus, included fighting, disrespect and swearing at teachers, theft, vandalism, and high rates of absenteeism. School staff also report that corporal punishment was, in the past, an effective means of enforcing clear standards of student behavior. It is important to note that absenteeism and alcoholism are not uncommon problems among school principals and some teachers. According to the principal in Ulundi Combined School in the North: Yes, learners have changed. The relationship between teachers and learners has weakened, especially among the older learners. For example, some will refuse tasks the teachers ask them to do because they know they can no longer be punished. (Nicodemus 1997:120) Some teachers continue to beat students who act up, others are trying new alternatives. One head of department at Ulundi: “Some teachers have difficulty accepting that kids should not be punished with a stick, or whip, but some only use the stick” (120). The beating of dissident children was long viewed as an effective practice. Yet the classroom problems that prompted many teachers to use corporal punishment were not limited to severe discipline issues. Inattention in class, poor academic performance, or incorrect answers to questions were common reasons to administer a lash. One teacher relates that: My classroom was by the Sub-A [grade 1] class. Many times I heard the kids learning to count. If one made a mistake, whack!, I’d hear the teacher hit the child with a ruler.The learner would begin counting again but after a few hits, his voice was shaking and he was crying. (The following quotes stem from Ms. Nicodemus’ field reports.)


At independence, government’s decision to abolish corporal punishment signaled an ideological leap away from the repression and abuses of the previous regime.Young SWAPO leaders had long used the beating of students as a powerful organizing tool, a vivid symbol of how the apartheid of the mind was violently enforced.. The deputy education minister wrote, “It is clear that corporal punishment cannot be regarded as acceptable in a democratic society” (Wentworth 1992). Additionally, many of those who created the policy had been immersed inWestern pedagogical philosophy while in exile. Corporal punishment was one of the first education practices to be attacked by the new government. In 1990 the Namibian Ministry of Education and Culture abolished its use in schools.Then, in 1991 a court ruling declared corporal punishment illegal, finding it to be a violation of the human rights guaranteed under the constitution.Despite the ministerial order and the court ruling,many principals, teachers, and parents were vehemently opposed to the abolition of corporal punishment. The issue sparked heated controversy among the public and considerable embarrassment for the ministry when, in 1992, newspapers ran sensationalist, yet accurate reports that corporal punishment was “alive and well” in Namibian schools. Idealistic Hope and Harsh Reality: “They Want the Whip” Ministry officials believed that removing corporal punishment from the schools would free teachers from an odious practice and would usher in a more humane classroom climate.This was to be a significant step toward less authoritarian social relations in village schools.Although ministry officials were aware of the prevailing sense that corporal punishment was part of Namibian cultures, they assumed that a transformation of consciousness would come about through a new,just political system. However, the change in consciousness among teachers and parents did not occur so automatically.Summarizing the ministry’s frustrations, deputy minister Wentworth commented to us: Our reaction [to the arguments of local preferences] was, ‘this means we need to widen the recipients of education, to instill in the people new norms, new standards, a new culture of dealing with discipline.’ I must concede that after the abolition of corporal punishment, that because of teacher dependency [on it], a certain vacuum was created. Our Ministry expectations were unrealistic.We thought teachers would be professionally motivated to seek alternative responses to indiscipline…but there were more negative than positive responses to the decision. 132


Many of those whose duty it was to implement the new policy in the schools, the principals and teachers, disagreed with the policy. Defenders of physical punishment claimed that, in words of one principal, “it is our culture…it is the only language they understand.” Indeed, in the initial years following the abolition of corporal punishment, cases of indiscipline rose temporarily in schools. Schools and communities called for the reinstatement of corporal punishment, but the ministry held firm on its decision. Many parents saw the teacher as a surrogate parent while the child was in school and, since corporal punishment was used at home, felt it should also be used in the classroom. One black teacher in the North, commenting on her almost motherly duty as a teacher, said “teachers are like parents and must listen to the child [if he is accused].” Indicating the moral role of corporal punishment one teacher commented, “teachers don’t beat children out of hatred.We beat a child to help him.” In some cases, parents complained to the principals and teachers about the new law. As Bekett Mount visited additional schools, mainly in the rural North and small towns in the central region, very similar comments were heard regarding the utility of beating kids: •

• • •

“The parents want discipline but they prefer discipline the way they understand. They don’t want their child suspended, they want the whip.” “Look, I’m not one for cracking a kid over the head, but sometimes they just need a good hiding.” “The parents say, ‘don’t call me. Just beat my child.’” “We hold a parents meeting.They want the whip.”

In some cases, principals and teachers were reluctant to break the law flagrantly, and referred the discipline issue back to the parents. Occasionally, a school principal would advise the parents to administer a beating to their child. According to one parent who served on the village board: The parents are not happy with the corporal punishment law. The bible says children must be punished.Yes! Spare the rod and spoil the child.The school board says to a parent, ‘even if your child has done wrong, please, try yourself to beat your child, or tell him it’s wrong.’ The parents say to the principal, ‘we’ll give you written permission to give my child a hiding.’ The principal says it is against the policy and also, why should he have to do it? The parents can do it themselves.


Many teachers’ comments focused on classroom management issues rather than on moral justifications for corporal punishment. Like teachers everywhere, they are concerned with how to reinforce their authority and maintain order.As graduates of an education system that endorsed corporal punishment, they had little experience of alternate methods for maintaining discipline. Some teachers felt that large class sizes, insufficient textbooks, and shortages of desks and chairs forced them to use corporal punishment. Many also claimed that beatings were an effective tool for changing a disruptive student’s behavior. As one teachers summarized: “If a child was beaten, he would never misbehave again.” And a second teacher who we interviewed: “The teachers stopped using it, but now there is no respect for teachers.The learners threaten to call the police. [They] are playing all the time. They know they will not be beaten. We must have [corporal punishment] back…the parents use it at home.” Dodging the Central Mandate Many parents who actively participate within their schools urge principals to ignore the new mandate.Their child’s “rights” do not exclude the use of physical punishment. Parents, using their democratic rights to become participants in their children’s education, upheld the necessity of corporal punishment in the classroom. In several schools visited by Mount, teachers were now forbidden to beat a child, but the principal maintained this right. In other schools, class captains were even allowed to beat their fellow classmates. More commonly, parents gave the school the verbal or written consent to administer corporal punishment. One teacher reported: The parents will sometimes beat the child or they will allow the teacher to do it. Parents and teachers sign an agreement that if they allow the teacher to beat their child, no one will make a bigger case out of it. This school does not allow corporal punishment…unless the parents give permission for it. In one northern area where traditional social structures remain strong, the community managed to maintain corporal punishment without breaking the law. Discipline cases were referred to the khuta, or tribal court rather than to the principal.The members of the khuta would mete out punishment when they felt it was warranted. During our fieldwork, this issue was being hotly debated in the region as government officials attempted to find legal backing to eradicate this local practice. 134


Corporal punishment violates the Constitution and, therefore, written permission from a parent cannot authorize beatings in school. In the case of the khuta becoming the body that administered corporal punishment, the legality remains hazy. In either case, many schools followed the parents’ wishes and, even without parental consent, continued to utilize corporal punishment in the classroom.As one teacher revealed, “the principal says that if the parents don’t like corporal punishment, they can find another school.” Local Education Officers: Balancing Conflicting Political Demands Regional officials, caught between the central ministry’s idealistic mandate against corporal punishment and demands by local parents and educators for its reinstatement, struggled to be supportive of schools without breaking the law. One regional official lamented: About the discipline policy I won’t say much because it is still a headache for me! All schools are struggling with discipline. They’re not sure how to go.They’re not keen to try alternatives because they have an idea already in their mind that it should be corporal punishment.You’ll find five principals in this area who say ‘You only hit…that’s the punishment.’ Many regional officials tried to maintain distance when it came to this issue. Explaining the preference for non-involvement, one was simply ducking the issue. “I think it is poor manners of the regional office to get involved in the internal matters of the school.” Local educators have been at the center of this fire storm of protest around the abolition of corporal punishment. It strikes to core cultural values about how to raise and socialize children. Some teachers supported alternative forms of discipline, but few had clear definitions of what was, or was not, corporal punishment.When asked for their definition of corporal punishment, teachers replied in this way: • • •

“Corporal punishment is beating until blood comes.” “Corporal punishment is when you hurt a learner. Hitting with a ruler is OK, beating with a stick is not.” “Corporal punishment is when a teacher beats a child but the child did not make a mistake.”

Teachers within the same school did not always agree on legitimate forms of physical punishment. One teacher’s alternative to corporal punishmentwas 135

to have the learners “stand” on their knees on the cement floor with all their weight resting on their kneecaps. Learners would then hold a heavy book bag over their head until “they are in tears.” In subsequent interviews, teachers were asked if the “heavy bookbag” example was a form of “alternative discipline” or corporal punishment. Half of the teachers thought this was an acceptable alternative to beating, half said it constituted corporal punishment. Other teachers said that digging holes involved corporal punishment because the learner was in the sun; some saw this as a good alternative. Some claimed that using a stick to beat is allowed as long as the child is not severely hurt. Others stated that any physical touch from a teacher to a learner, besides that of a congratulatory pat on the back, constituted an offense. Many wanted more specific guidelines that clearly defined corporal punishment and acceptable alternatives, arguing that the imprecision of the SWAPO policy was the issue. One teacher cautioned that “lack of these instructions can bring about anarchy.” Cultural Variability: “If the teacher holds a stick…the child will only watch the stick” The campaign against corporal punishment may have struck considerable controversy, but it did force schools and communities to rethink how children are disciplined. In some cases, people became further entrenched in their support for corporal punishment. But for some, the abolition, and subsequent media campaigns effected their thinking and practice.The deputy minister in Windhoek claimed that “teachers, many for the first time, became aware of a variety of actions that could be taken to change discipline. Many teachers felt empowered in how to change behavior.” One teacher in a rural school stated that initially he was skeptical about the success of discipline alternatives. However, he attended workshops on discipline with the principal, and the school adopted a no corporal punishment policy.The teacher was surprised at the positive changes he has seen in his classroom. Students voted on and enforced class rules. He believed his learners were more attentive to lessons now because previously, “if the teacher holds a stick, the child will only watch the stick.” The debate over physical punishment of children revealed important differences in how ethnic communities viewed the practice. Two ethnic groups, the San [Bushmen] and ovaHimba, had long reacted negatively to the use of physical punishment in schools. Children in both groups has low enrollment and high dropout rates. San groups historically had low to moderate 136


levels of violence within their communities, including the physical punishment of children. Over the past two decades, as traditional social structures disintegrated and alcohol consumption increased, there was a marked increase in violence. Despite the increase in domestic violence, San parents did not approve of a non-family member hitting or chastising their child. One teacher from a different ethnic group reported: The bushmen call other people in Namibia, ‘those people who hate their children,’ because we punish our children. A principal from another region commented on San parents stating that, they won’t chase their kid to school. If the teacher comes, the father says, ‘he’s my kid, not yours. Leave him alone.’ They don’t support the teachers. In the impoverished northwest of Namibia, where ovaHimba families subsist through nomadic cattle herding, the economic situation is different than that of the San. But the two groups share quite low school attendance rates. One principal estimated that 70 percent of ovaHimba children in his area did not attend school, while the other 30 percent attended sporadically. He explained that parents “are not sending the children to school.The children just come.” Some parents saw value in education but many, living a relatively self-sufficient life as cattle herders, saw little need for it. Some used school as a threat for disobedient children, some viewed it as a waste of time, and others did not like the effects it had on their culture. With little parental support for schooling, ovaHimba children would quickly exit if they disliked school. One teacher, who felt corporal punishment needed was unnecessary, explained that “too many kids in the past left school because of punishment.” A teacher from another school said that “The principal does not tell children to go. If the child feels to go, he will go [away from school].” With children or, in some cases young adults, willing to leave school if it is did not meet their expectations, some teachers saw their role as being encouraging mentors rather than strict disciplinarians. Keeping the learner interested is the most important…We educationalists must find ways to bring about the success of education. We are responsible.We are here as motivators. It is important to respect the parents. It was not this way in the past. Thus we do not see uniform reactions to this central mandate. In some cases the local cultural commitments of parents fit those expressed by policy elites. But in many communities, SWAPO’s reconstruction of children’s 137

“rights” directly conflicts with parents’ understandings of how best to raise children. In short, effort to bring more democratic social relations to villages may require a balance between respect for the politically constructed rights of children and respect for parents. But how to achieve this balance and avoid contention locally over such a visceral issue is the dilemma that swirls around the debate over whether and when to beat children. POLICY CASE: MANDATING VILLAGE SCHOOL BOARDS

Minister Angula’s illuminating 1997 memoir detailed his post-independence strategy for advancing “the democratization of education in Namibia.” This paper was coauthored with a senior American advisor, Suzanne Grant Lewis, who worked inside Mr.Angula’s ministry during the initial post-independence years (Angula and Grant Lewis 1997:239). It reveals that major policy strategies aimed at “democratization” were primarily macro in nature,aiming to redistribute resources to poor schools in the North, desegregate resource-rich white schools, widen opportunities for black and coloured children in secondary schools, and purge the national curriculum and exams structure of South African remnants. Indeed, this continues to be a pressing agenda for a young state involved in nation-building and trying to shake off the castelike institutions associated with apartheid. The Angula and Grant Lewis review focuses heavily on how central institutions needed to change if this reform agenda was to succeed. This involved drawing on “contacts with non-governmental organizations, the foreign assistance community (which) helped the new Ministry to source expertise, funds for reform, and support from many countries.The Ministry was able to assign technical support for its reform initiatives from various development agencies. For example, the British Overseas Development Administration provided support to the development and implementation of the new Language Policy for schools and the new examination system” (Angula and Grant Lewis 1997).They talk about how national organizations, such as the student and teacher unions, were encouraged to support SWAPO’s reform agenda in “a deliberate effort to mobilize internal democratic forces.” Mr.Angula’s successful efforts to persuade senior SWAPO comrades to boost education spending from 18 to 25 percent of the government budget also are detailed. [This immediate focus on how macro policy may change the typical way in which political scientists or development economists understand “liberalization” of politics or economies (Bratton and van deWalle 1997; Sisk 1995).] “Structural change” is viewed from the top down. Local institutions and social relations are simply too far away for these analysts to see. 138


Yet this political retrospective goes on to discuss “efforts to democratize at the community level,” revealing the breadth and inventiveness of his postindependence strategy. Mr. Angula and his top advisors were not satisfied only with macro-level reforms.They also placed great faith in engineering new managerial structures locally which would encourage parental involvement and essentially strengthen civil society far out in the bush: Parental participation in school management,either informally or through serving on a school board, requires that people perceive this as a desirable and appropriate role. In pre-apartheid times, when schools for Africans were run by churches, community sense of ownership of parish schools, clinics and churches was strong. Communities contributed in cash and kind to the building and maintenance of physical structures. The notion of parental involvement in schools became foreign… as a result of Bantu educational administration.The ethnic authorities, lacking any legitimacy, did not consult with communities regarding their actions but rather acted forcefully.The brutality of the apartheid regime, particularly in the North where schools and military bases were twinned, succeeded in instilling fear in communities.The use of informants discouraged community opposition to educational initiatives…The administration of schools became increasingly bureaucratized as South Africa tightened its control over Namibian affairs.This complex bureaucracy, reporting to Pretoria, disempowered not just communities but education officers under the ethnic education authorities as well…Some parents view schools as a recently introduced foreign institution to which they had no access as youths…. (Angula and Grant Lewis 1997:243) Human-Scale Democracy? One remedy advanced by the ministry was to mandate that each school principal form a village or township board comprised mainly of parents. These boards aimed to “contribute to the construction of new classrooms,” a traditional role from the earliest days of mission schools. In addition, the board were to “take the lead in the rationalisation of schools,” that is, encourage the desegregation of schools in urban areas, and generally help to equalize resources and teaching posts allocated by regional education officers (Angula and Grant Lewis 1997:244–245). One of Mr. Angula’s remarkable qualities remains his constant attention to empirical evidence. Toward the end of this memoir, Angula and Grant 139

Lewis admit that nurturing democratic social relations at the grassroots is an arduous process, as seen from the capital city. Citing two separate studies of parents’ views of their village and township schools, they summarize: “Today parents do not see their relationship with schools any differently than they did under apartheid.Recent research indicates that parents do not feel welcomed at schools and do not consider it an option to enter the school grounds, let alone a classroom.”2 This leads to the question, Why have school boards yet to spark a more democratic spirit at the grassroots? This disconnect appears to be largely driven by the difference in how policy elites and many local educators and parents view issues, like corporal punishment.At independence the new government promised to open society, including education, to all Namibians. In Toward Education for All, the Ministry of Education and Culture stated:“A democratic education system is organised around broad participation in decision making…It is to be clear that we must work diligently and consistently to facilitate broad participation in making the major decisions about our education” (1993:129).To operationalize this goal of broad participation, the ministry issued a guideline stating that all schools must involve parents through the creation of school boards. The ministry issued statements defining the roles and use of the school boards that, while already practiced by some Namibian schools, were now to be universal guidelines. School boards would help select teachers, monitor the use of school funds, and oversee disciplinary issues.Through increased parental involvement in schools and increased school input at the regional level, the ministry hoped that communities would see the school as an integral part of their lives rather than as a system controlled solely by the government (Ministry 1990). The establishment of school boards, however, did not award unchecked power to the school community. Historically certain groups, particularly whites, were privileged with better resourced schools, well-trained teachers, and higher per-student government expenditures.These economic and social advantages not only meant better resourced schools but also school board members who knew how negotiate with local and regional governments to their school’s advantage. For example, in one former white school, when the school board felt that the regional office was not adequately addressing their concerns, they hired a private plane to fly the school board members to the regional office for a consultation with the director.To mitigate the economic and social disparities that provided some groups greater access to the educational advantages, Namibia established central and regional checks to community control. For example, while school boards were given the responsibility of



hiring teachers, regional approval was required.The ministry believed that this would prevent discriminatory hiring practices from continuing. School boards face several impediments to becoming the democratic voice of parents. For example, the vast differences between remote, village, and urban schools influences community involvement in schools. In addition, the concept of parental participation challenges the historical norms of authority within the education system. It is this challenge that poses the greatest threat to implementation.To fully understand the contexts in which the school board guideline falls, we will first illustrate three school types that emerged as distinct categories from our field interviews. Next, we look at two levels of authority in the system, principals and regional officials, whose support for community involvement shapes the roles played by school boards. One Policy, Diverse School Responses The ministry envisioned an idealized form of community participation which is encapsulated in a uniform guideline handed down to each school. However, the guideline falls on schools that are far from uniform. In our research, physical location seemed particularly salient in the implementation of the school board policy. Whether the school was located in a remote, village, or urban setting influenced the social relations and decision-making power between parents, teachers, and the principal. We characterized remote schools as those in sparsely populated areas or removed from the families they serve. These schools often appeared as isolated fiefdoms with the principal acting like a petit monarch.The regional office often was distant and could provide little guidance. In remote schools, school boards occasionally did not exist, or, more typically, were used merely to rubber stamp the principal’s decisions. Village schools generally operated in direct contrast to remote schools. Located within densely populated rural communities, village schools had active school boards that were eager to fulfill their role in decision making. School boards in village schools undertook the most varied roles, from choosing teachers, to chasing learners from alcohol shops, to mediating fights between students. Communication between the principals and the representatives from the regional offices was consistent and viewed as helpful. Principals, teachers, and school board members in village schools tended to offer positive comments about their boards. As one principal stated: The school board talks and gives ideas. They are the people who know our problems….They are interested in their learners…. if you invite the community to participate there are no problems. 141

Despite the eagerness of village parents to participate in the education of their children, many were unsure if they were correctly fulfilling their duties as school board members.All government guidelines were printed in English and principals admitted that they too struggled with the language in circulars and, therefore, were not sure if their guidance to the school boards was correct. Urban schools, located within modest towns or within Windhoek, tended to be large, well-resourced schools. Parents interviewed stated that they saw education as important, but rather than being directly involved, preferred to obtain a trustworthy principal and a strong school board to manage the school. Members of boards often were well-educated and comfortable voicing their opinions. Despite their potential ability to control the school, urban school boards believed that the principal should make most decisions, calling in the board only for serious issues. One parent, serving on a town school board, complained about the necessity of board involvement in hiring teachers: “The principal phoned five times to ask about the qualifications of applicants. I think the principal knows better [than I do].We should get over the headmaster being treated like the guy who handles the petty cash.” Urban boards, unlike those found in rural villages, often limited their involvement to higher-level management issues or severe discipline problems; however, their close proximity to the regional offices and their ability to demand better services meant that their recommendations were rarely contradicted by a higher authority. Story 1: Democracy or Autocracy? School Principal as King Next we focus on three situations where the state’s policy comes into conflict with local norms. The first situation involves tension between community members and principals, which we most frequently observed in remote schools. The second and third areas of conflict—found most commonly in village and remote schools—were between schools and the regional office. In some schools, particularly those in sparsely populated areas where there may be few parents close to the school, the principal remains the main player in creating and guiding the board.The principals’ willingness to share authority with parents and teachers determined if and how a school board was utilized. Regional officials informed us that, •


“The strength of the school board depends on the principal’s relationship with the teachers and community. If they don’t like the principal then the school board isn’t very active.”


“The principal is an influential person on the school board.The principals are dominating the school boards in our region. They are using the school board as it suits them.” “The principal is reluctant to change the way things are.They are afraid the young teachers will take their job or give them problems.”

In turn, many principals claimed that parents do not have the ability to contribute positively to the school.A representative sample of what principals reported in remote schools: • •

“They [the school board] do less for the school! The school board does nothing.They cannot read and write. They don’t know education.” “Now everyone wants a finger in the pie. They [the school board] tie my hands. They get involved in things they don’t understand. Parents now have more say but some try to manipulate the system.They try to get their relatives hired.”

If teachers or community members feel that their participation in the school was thwarted, the principal often was viewed as the culprit. In one school, the principal blocked even establishing a school board, claiming it would inflame ethnic tensions. Moreover, he controlled the school fund, which he kept in a private account in another town. One teacher claimed: The teachers want a school board but the principal says ‘no’…He does not listen to the teachers.There is no democracy at the school.” When asked if she thought of complaining to authorities she laughed and said, “Here in Kaokoland?! The principal will find out who told! In some remote schools that did have school boards, their actual involvement in decision making was questionable. Regarding the appointment of teachers, one parent board member in a remote school remarked: “At times the principal never lets us know who he’s recommending. It’s just sent to a school board member to sign and then sent to the region.” Democracy for Whom? Regional Offices in Conflict with Communities Schools designated as “village” serve over half of all Namibian children. Most of the 40-odd schools visited by Mount were classified as “village,” rather than “urban” or “remote” schools.Within these communities, school boards existed and were comprised of parents eager to participate in decisions 143

made about their children’s’ education. The centrally created notion of broad participation, however, rarely trickled down to the regional and district personnel who were accustomed to working within a strict hierarchy.The mandate to bequeath many educational and management decisions to the school board required a significant change in perceptions regarding the role of parents and regional authorities.According to one regional officer, parents must become “empowered communities” rather than “passive observers,” and regional personnel must transform into “facilitators of participation” rather than remain “omnipotent gods.” Yet faith was not universal among regional officials that local communities had the ability to make wise educational choices. The school board is the body that is governing the school.The problem is, do the parents understand the value of education?…It is the school board who makes the recommendations. The next two school stories illustrate conflicts that arose from the changes made in the decision-making structure. Story 2:Together in Unity In 1994 government redrew the boundaries of the administrative regions. The old lines had corresponded to major ethnic boundaries creating regions of roughly equal population.The Mukwe district, which formerly belonged to the Kavango Region, moved under the jurisdiction of the Katima Mulilo Region. Education standards in the two areas were vastly different. Mukwe had few qualified teachers, had abysmal pass rates for grade 12 students, and suffered from high drop-out rates. In contrast, Katima had an abundance of qualified teachers. Many of the new teacher graduates were bursary recipients and, in return for their scholarships, were required to serve in “needy schools.” Government officials saw an opportunity to address the needs of the Mukwe schools by providing them with qualified teachers from Katima who, without Mukwe, had no “needy” schools in which to serve. Moving teachers would thus serve the dual purpose of enhancing school quality while allowing the Katima teachers to fulfill their bursary requirements and, since Namibia was now a democracy free from ethnically-based legal divisions, relocating teachers could promote the ideal of national unity.As one regional official stated: Most of the teachers are sent in places they don’t want.That’s where the need arises.They feel they are disgruntled…but they go for sure! 144


Some might curse, some might insult you to your face but they must go. We say, ‘It’s not nepotism, it’s not tribalism, it’s not any of those negativisms. It’s to serve your country. It’s patriotism. But sending the new teachers into the Mukwe district proved problematic. School and community members did not see the regional office’s decision as providing quality teachers for their low performing schools. Rather, many felt that the regional office disregarded their preferences, imposing unwanted teachers on their schools and excluding Mukwe teachers. Most Katima teachers were willing to relocate temporarily to Mukwe. But their expectations concerning the relationship and responsibilities between teachers and the community differed from those held by Mukwe residents. Sour feelings toward the Katima teachers spread among the Mukwe communities. Many claimed that Katima teachers were stealing jobs from local residents. According to one regional official: [There is] resistance in the Mukwe District against Katima. Some don’t want teachers from Katima. They say they are taking opportunities away from the young people here….They feel pushed aside. One teacher commented, “The Katima teachers are qualified but they’re not any better than the unqualified. Parents of younger children questioned how Katima teachers, with their own language, could teach Thimbukushu speaking students. According to one regional official: “It’s a different culture….The language is completely different…90 percent of the primary schools are in Thimbukushu language (not spoken by Katima teachers).” Another major concern was the perceived moral transgressions of Katima teachers. Mukwe teachers and parents believed that the Katima teachers were impregnating local schoolgirls. According to one teacher, “the Katima teachers are the ones who sleep with the female students and get them pregnant.The 15 Katima teachers at [our school] are sleeping with the girl learners.” Feelings of exclusion and moral outrage created greater hostility toward the Katima teachers and the regional office that placed them. But expectations about who was responsible for providing housing proved to be the most concrete conflict in the growing wave of distrust and antagonism: For four months the school was saying ‘we need more teachers’ then one day a truck pulled up, stopped in the school courtyard and out stepped 15 teachers with their mattresses, radios…all of their life! No 145

one told the school they were coming.There was no housing, nothing. The truck just dropped them off and left. The regional director knew that the communities in this area don’t build teachers’ houses, but he sent the teachers anyway without warning the school. This created an emergency that had to be dealt with. People here say that was his strategy. According to one Mukwe teacher, “the [Katima] teachers were living in the staff room, the new library, everywhere…hanging slaughtered goats from the ceiling, getting grease on the books.” Housing for the new Katima teachers became a primary focus for the teachers and the communities.However,community residents disagreed with the Katima teachers over how the housing dilemma should be solved.A regional official: In the Kavango [Mukwe included] when a teacher comes to a new school they are supposed to establish a home. In Katima Mulilo they expect community provision. In the Kavango the community does not have the community participation.If the community does something for the school they expect payment.Building houses for teachers?…They do not have that concept!” And a principal pointed out, “The Katima teacher said in his area the community builds teachers’ houses but here he had to pay for someone to build his house. Regional officials, principals, and teachers encouraged the community to build houses for the new Katima teachers or, in one case, to build classrooms for a school which was simply teaching children under the shade trees. Promises of payment in money or food were made to the communities. Rumors spread about distant communities reaping benefits by participating in the Food for Work program.A regional official interviewed claimed that, “the community built huts for ten teachers.The community wanted to be paid…then the teachers realised it should be a Food for Work project. But the food hasn’t arrived and the community wants to repossess the houses.” In some communities the situation escalated. One teacher told us: “Last week the whole issue came to a head.There was a meeting with the teachers, principal, inspector, and house builders.The workers said they would burn down the houses if they didn’t get paid. [They] are going to Katima to discuss it with the director.” The regional office, struggling to maintain calm and credibility in its newly acquired district, promised to address the Mukwe community’s demands. The regional director’s assistant spent a week with the fumu, or local king, to discuss how tensions could be relieved. One outcome was that in order to 146


address the lack of qualified local teachers, more Mukwe highschool graduates would be accepted into the teachers’ college.Yet, many did not believe that the promise was being fulfilled. One teacher complained: [The director] told the fumu, ‘Give me five years.We’ll try to get your people into teachers college so they can come back and teach here. For five years we’ll use Katima teachers.’ A district official added:There is a special effort to train some of those from here [Mukwe], but there’s not so many. The Director instructed the teachers college to take 20 percent of its entrants from this area. Of the 17 from this area who qualified for college, only 10 got accepted…so they didn’t take so many.They feel pushed aside.’ In some communities the pressure for local rather than formally qualified teachers forced the regional office to approve the hiring of excess teachers. “After [we] got the Katima teachers the community said ‘Why are there none of our people teaching at the school?’ so the school hired some Mbukushu teachers. Now the school has 25 teachers and it’s too many.” This case vividly illustrates the painful dilemma facing a center-left government that is earnestly trying to reallocate resources—in this case teachers—across ethnic boundaries. Government confronts culture in several ways. The apartheid regime left behind a tradition of ethnic and linguistic separatism, reinforcing ethnocentric political structure rooted in local regions. Central efforts aimed at moving additional teachers into resource-poor communities requires importing “foreigners,” young graduates from other regions. Reallocation implies limitations on the authority of local boards. Local leaders—be they whites resisting desegregation or Mukwe chiefs suspicious of national integration—will seek to protect their authority and resources. But SWAPO must contain this dynamic if gross disparities on the list of jobs, school resources, and institutional growth are to be reduced. Story 3: “The community does not have the right to choose teachers” Windhoek’s attempt to nurture parental participation in school management has been hampered by the mixed messages moving down to regional administrators and principals. Since the Namibian government must ensure that the inequities of the past do not continue into the future, complete decision-making power has not been devolved to the school boards. Confusion was created when the responsibilities given to one level in the system were contradicted by those given to other authorities. For example, 147

school boards were told that they had the right to select teachers. At the same time, regional officials were told that they make the final decision regarding teacher placement. While decisions made by the regional office to overrule school board choices may reflect sound pedagogical reasoning, some schools, particularly those serving populations who were disenfranchised by apartheid, claimed that they had more local power prior to independence. On the topic of allocating teaching posts, regional officials were typically quite sure of their power: The community does not have the right to choose teachers! That’s the Region’s responsibility. But they are getting demanding. [I told the community] ‘You choose the ones not suited for the job just because they are from this area when I send you well qualified teachers.’ Yet teachers and principals felt that their authority was being reduced by the post-independence rationalization of allocating teaching posts to schools. Here’s a sampling of the views expressed by principals and teachers: •

• •

“They never give a choice to the school. The regional office also sends unqualified teachers. In the old days it was the school board’s responsibility to choose which one is the one. [Now] we have no rights to choose the teachers. I think it is better when we have a few rights, even if we can give just a few suggestions.” “The principal doesn’t have the power to recommend people. The principal can recommend but [the regional office] does what they want. They don’t sit with the parents’ committee or the school board. They don’t know…. The school board recommends people but they don’t get in.They say ‘Why are those we recommended not here? Why do we only see new faces?’ The community thinks the principal is playing tricks.” “The school board can make recommendations on teachers, but it is a long time before the recommendations are followed.” “The regional inspector] said to the school board ‘Choose who you want’ and the school board said ‘We don’t know them and anyway, Windhoek will send us whoever they want so why choose?’”

Government’s decision to encourage parental participation through school boards may, in some schools, have created a perception that the new government took away local power. The government’s aim to break away from the authoritarian, hierarchical structures of the apartheid government was 148


undermined by the lack of clarity in responsibilities granted to regional and school level personnel. The overlap in decision-making power has, unintentionally, even created a perception in some communities that they had more influence in their schools during apartheid. Over micro decisions, including which teacher applicants to hire, this was true.Yet this served to undercut recruitment of more qualified teachers, since kin and local social networks often determined hiring. Furthermore, the regional system of administration coopted local leaders by awarding very limited authority and failed even to acknowledge stark disparities in school resources observed across ethnic and regional borders. POLICY CASE:THE PUSH FOR ENGLISH-ONLY INSTRUCTION

As early as 1981 SWAPO education leaders, exiled and based in Englishspeaking Zambia, were developing arguments for why the new Namibia must adopt English as the lingua franca: “The aim of introducing English is to introduce an official language that will steer the people away from lingotribal affiliations and differences, and create conditions conducive to national unity in the realm of language” (Geingob 1981:v).Afrikaans was the language of the oppressors, spoken by white and many coloured Namibians. It could not become the new national language. And “…choosing one of the local languages as the official language could arouse unnecessary interlinguistic competition and strife” (Geingob 1981:39). So at independence the new Namibian constitution declared that English would become the common language, despite the fact that no more than 10 percent of all adults were fluent in English. Most of these English speakers were SWAPO policy elites who had been educated in England or the United States and had come of age politically largely in exile. In addition, leading foreign aid agencies were sending small armies of advisors and technicians who worked in English. No senior bureaucrat would remain at the table, helping to decide on policy reforms and budget allocations, unless he or she spoke English fluently. Mr. Angula pressed forward and gained approval to allow classroom instruction in the local mother tongue through grade 3. Then, starting in grade 4 all instruction was to occur in English. Leaders of the influential Namibia NationalTeachers Unions (NANTU) officially supported this move. In an early brochure distribute to their members throughout the country, they candidly recognized that Very few Namibians speak English as their mother tongue.Yet since 149

Independence English has been declared our official language and the medium of instruction…. Gradually all official transactions in business, government and commerce will be conducted in English, and Afrikaans will only be used by one group of the population. English throws open the doors which have been closed for so long to Africa and to the whole world.In education, English gives access,through a world language, to world culture and world science. Books that were not originally written in English—in England, in the USA, or in the Commonwealth— have been translated into it. (NANTU 1991:2) Note the rejection of both Afrikaans and local language as having any real status in the “world culture.” This fundamental perspective can only be offered by policy elites who have been socialized to the world institutional structure. Even progressive NGOs continue to believe that they must support the English-medium policy of government. For example, the Centre for Applied Social Sciences in Windhoek—a German NGO which was very active during the days of resistance—has published readers for social studies teachers that offer a very candid view of Namibia’s colonial and apartheid history. One lively booklet pegged for secondary schools—Speak forYourself— provides a guide for how students can build oral histories through interviews with women, workers, and other Namibians who were at the low end of the social ladder during apartheid (Hayes 1992). This provocative text is only published in English. Language, Desegregation, and the Battle over Cultural Reproduction The historical dynamics of race and class certainly serve to subvert the state’s attempt to quickly put in place a new lingua franca. In urban areas and commercial settlements, where all-white schools or predominately coloured schools were supported, the English-medium mandate is woven into disputes around racial desegregation of the schools. By early 1998, for example, black parents in the modest town of Gobabis were fed up with the formerly white van der Walt Primary School. Now, eight years after the English-medium policy was established by Mr.Angula’s ministry, the school principal,Werner Zerbe, claimed “the reason Afrikaans is used as the medium of instruction…is because most of the learners are Afrikaans speaking” (Mbuende 1998:7). Black parents were seeking a shift to English, as required under ministry dictates, as well as hiring more black teachers. A school-level committee had earlier reported that “this will help address imbalances that…contribute to the way learners of different races 150


are treated at the school.” School authorities also were requiring that children be fluent in English at grade 1, before teachers would be required to instruct in English rather than in Afrikaans. Such transparent attempts to block the desegregation of schools that historically served white Afrikaans-speaking children illustrates how the English-medium policy is enmeshed in issues of integration and cultural separation. Government is pursuing a shrewd strategy for advancing racial segregation, arguing that the cost-effectiveness of formerly white schools must be improved. Under apartheid, well-financed white schools had pupilteacher ratios of 15:1 or lower. After independence Mr. Angula’s ministry required that this ratio should not fall below 35:1, essentially forcing formerly white schools to admit black and coloured students in order to raise their low staffing ratios. In small towns, no additional white children could be found to enroll in these schools. When the higher staff ratio was not met, the ministry threatened to shut down these “inefficient” schools. As one regional education officer commented: Now the white schools need to get coloured and black kids into their schools, so they can stay open. They want the best. They come scouting around [the former coloured school] looking for students. They come to the coloured school because if they have to admit nonwhites, they see it as the lesser of two evils [as opposed to recruiting from the formerly black school]. Black parents also began to apply for places in the formerly white schools, sparking some exodus by white parents similar to the “white flight” observed in the United States where aggressive desegregation efforts have been attempted. In other Namibian communities white parents have tolerated racial integration of “their” old school, but language of instruction issues often arise. Another regional official in Kaure told of a school that began to integrate in 1993.This formerly white school had an enrollment of just 40 children, equaling less than seven students per teacher.The regional education office facilitated the shift of 120 black students to the school, to approach the required staffing ratio: We talked to the black parents and convinced them to change schools. The parents were the ones who brought up language. The school wanted Afrikaans medium, but the learners came from a Damara/ Nama background. The [black] parents suggested English because 151

they said that Afrikaans was not of use to their children. All the learners were Damara speaking. We have enough schools here that go for Damara. We need one to cater to English. Teachers in another formerly white school taught grades 1 and 2 in three different languages: one class in English, one in siLozi, and the third in Afrikaans and English.The principal believed that instruction in the children’s mother tongue in the early grades was better for early literacy development. But the principal also was trying to respond to parents’ diverse preferences. Some black parents, knowing that the transition at grade 4 to English medium would be difficult, opted to immerse their children in English immediately in grade 1. Other parents chose the home language of siLozi, while most white parents preferred Afrikaans medium. The principal commented: “We seem overstaffed. It’s because of the constitutional right to have mother tongue instruction in the early grades.That means we have more teachers.” These dynamics are equally intense within more urbanized areas of South Africa where previously all-white schools are erecting similar barriers to slow desegregation.3 We turn next to the north of Namibia where schools are so disparate and remote that racial integration is not really an issue, except perhaps in the task of integrating black children or the teaching staffs from different language groups over time. Bekett Mount spent several days in Kaokoland, the isolated region in the far northwest corner, along the Atlantic coast of Namibia. The central ministry’s head of language programs back in Windhoek, Richard Chamberlain (1993:14), an Englishman, had reported that “Kaokoland primary schools have opted for English as the medium of instruction, from grade 1 onwards.” This was disconcerting to Chamberlain, given that his commitment was to encourage home language as the medium in the early grades.4 In a series of interviews with parents, teachers, and principals we found divergent understandings of the policy’s impetus and content, as well as competing motivations for using English as the medium of instruction, even for young children as they first entered school. One Kaokoland principal was confused as to the source of the policy decision: “I don’t know who made the decision for English. Maybe Master H. or Master T.,” referring to circuit inspectors from the regional education office. A teacher believed that the dictate came from on high with no local consultation: “With the change in the official language, we were told to switch to English as the medium of instruction in the lower grades. We have not decided with the people. It is from the region,” referring to the regional 152


education office. One parent member shared this feeling of policy imposition: “The school board is not involved in language issues.” In another school we discovered more enthusiasm for the Englishmedium policy. One teacher reported: “Our schools are English medium from grade 1. Otjiherero (a dominant local mother tongue) is taught only as a subject. This decision was taken by the school board. The parents believe that the children will get a better start in education if they start in the official language from grade 1.A neighboring teacher reported, “People think it’s cool to have an English-medium school, but they don’t speak English, only Otjiherero.” These interviews in Kaokoland revealed how even a vivid policy shift— instruction in home language, followed by English medium in grade 4— can become distorted and misunderstood locally. In general, we found agreement that some higher level of government was imposing this policy change.The question was, what is the policy shift? Some schools did more aggressively push English in the lower primary grades, running against the central ministry’s intentions. They felt they had discretion to shape pedagogical policies locally. Few actors believed that the village school board could influence this issue, one that had such sweeping consequences for the quality of teachers’ daily lives inside their classrooms. The Influence of School Context and Culture Policy remedies continue to focus on improving teachers’ proficiency in English and increasing pressure on school principals to properly implement the policy. In Namibia the phrase is “pressurizing principals,” which always prompts a more telling image.The English-medium policy also was being subverted, so traditional policy analysts claimed, because local leaders saw home languages as essential to the reproduction of their power base, the cultural foundations upon which political solidarity depends. Yet Nicodemus’ field work reveals a deeper set of cultural forces at work inside Namibia’s northern schools. The schools were purposefully chosen to represent the wide variability in actual achievement on the national assessment of early literacy conducted by our wider research team (see chapter 4). Nicodemus’ family comes from this region within the rural Ondangwa region. She was able to dig much deeper into the daily culture and routines of these schools, knowing the mother tongue and coming from this land which stretches forever out across arid soil, scattered mud and thatch huts, with an occasional scraggily tree.The analytic approach taken in the thesis emphasizes digging into the informal structure of social relations, the tacit 153

elements of the school’s culture which may undermine state reforms, such as the mandate to shift to English-medium pedagogy. This moves beyond the teacher-skilling and regulatory remedies which, while of obvious import, distract attention from the school’s deeper cultural fabric. Historical Involvement with English A school’s prior history with English—especially how principals and teachers presently interpret this history—provides a lens through which the current mandate is understood. One principal, serving his 21st year at Epoko Primary School, explained that the apartheid regime had allowed him to introduce English in 1984.Yet teachers were ill-prepared for this dramatic shift: “Before we start English our teachers never learned about that because they were only taught in Afrikaans. But when English start to be taught in school, they tried to do their best (sic)” (Nicodemus 1997:97). This was a permissive policy by a Windhoek regime that was trying to stem rising support for SWAPO in the North. It was not a policy supported by training programs or curricular materials in English, in contrast to the new government’s efforts. Similarly the Okaputa Primary School, which sits on the outskirts of a small commercial town, attempted to shift to English-medium instruction in 1983.This was largely due to the school’s historical ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.Yet the school is no longer supported financially by the church. The facilities are slowly decaying into the sandy terrain. A short wire fence surrounds the school, but it’s hard to know what would-be thieves would find to steal. The school has no electricity or running water. Gray prefabricated shells represent new classrooms, alongside dilapidated brick or mud structures with not a window pane remaining. Dry, dusty shrubs have been allowed to sprout and creep into the central area and in between this odd array of classroom structures. The principal, Mr. Levi, has no more than a tenth-grade education. But he has studied and practiced his English well; he is unusually fluent and at ease in English, the third language which he has mastered. Mr. Levi appears to run a tight ship. It is not for lack of supervision that English-medium teaching has failed to take hold.A taste of Mr. Levi’s tacitly accepted approach to management: In their teaching they must…be serious. My role…is to see that learners and teachers are working in…an atmosphere where everyone is happy. I’m accountable. I’m the father and mother of them both. 154


[I] also have to control in the sense that you have to see what kind of homework is really done and properly done.Teachers may indicate in their preparations that they are teaching this. But in reality it will not be done if you are not really inspecting it. (p.129) It is important to understand that the reactions of teachers and principals to specific reforms are embedded in these broader norms which characterize daily social relations.When new curricula or testing requirements enter the school, “proper” principals are nudged by circuit inspectors to weave this into their vertical management process—to “inspect” teachers in classrooms or via their written course plans to ensure implementation. Elsewhere we have discussed how teachers can devise effective ways of complying symbolically without really altering their pedagogical practices (Fuller 1991). It is the tacitly accepted, largely hierarchical way in which the principal is supposed to manage change which forms an important context for the English-medium reform. Mr. Levi admitted that some teachers still attempt to teach in the local language, but he confidently states, “we force them to speak (in English).” You see now, our people (teachers) have that tendency that once they are out of the classes, then they think maybe it is another time, and it is not a learning process.They just switch over to their mother language, even in the staff room during the break. (p. 131) The other taken-for-granted piece of the school culture, reflected in these words, is that English is associated with the formal learning process. It’s okay to speak in mother tongue if the conversation is not part of “real learning.” The principal worries that the school is backsliding in its commitment to English. New teachers—especially women—have joined the school who don’t share his commitment to English. There was a year—around 1991—when learners and teacher were talking English everywhere.They were so used to that…even if they found me at home, they forgot that I speak Oshikwanyama. They forced themselves to communicate through the medium of English. But now you find that, especially among the women…when I say, “good morning,” they respond in the local language. The others tomorrow will do the same…later on it goes down and down. (p.132)


The School’s Cultural Underbelly The other element of context suggested by these reports relates to the sheer amount of informal communication which occurs in local languages. Even when visiting the neighborhood shop, pub, or post office one hears Afrikaans spoken, not English. The former was the language of formal institutions, no matter how obtrusive apartheid-linked organizations may have been. The English-only mandate essentially asks educators to see the school as a different type of official institution: a place where neither home language nor Afrikaans is to be spoken.Teachers must become trilingual. The force of informal communication and the solidarity reproduced through home language inside schools remains predictably influential.The “officialness” of English—the language required by the new government— is very explicit in the minds of principals and teachers.The deputy principal at Okaputa explained it this way: “You know that when we are having these daily conversations we enjoy it very much, and we just speak in the vernacular. But at other times we try and speak in English” (p.137). Principals are keenly aware of these contextual forces. Epoko primary’s principal, Mr. Nduli: As you know, teachers themselves do not have a good grounding in English…and they use English only at school.When they leave school and go to their communities, that’s another thing.They use vernacular. In that way they cannot improve because they use English only on the school grounds. (p.99) The principal at Ongala primary, a rural school far from the tarmac road, even devised a strategy to ensure that he would talk to his teachers in English: Our meetings are always in English. Sometimes when we are in the staff room, we are just using English most of the time.When I call in our young ones (teachers) to my office, I make an effort to have a foreign teacher among us, so that he or she can force us to use English every time. (p.149) Nicodemus did follow a foreign teacher, a Peace Corps volunteer. She did not understand the local language and thus was excluded from informal conversations among teachers which could constantly be heard in the staff room and between classes outside.Teachers would make an effort to directly speak to the volunteer in English. But this set her apart, defining her as not really a full-fledged member. 156


The lack of contextual support also affects children’s reticence to speak up in class if they are forced to speak in English.This is where the Englishonly mandate harshly contradicts rhetoric about advancing democratic social relations inside schools.The deputy principal at Okaputa primary captured it precisely: The learners can understand when you talk to them. But it is very difficult for them to express themselves. Really, I don’t know whether they are shy, or maybe because their English is only used at school. When they leave school…they don’t speak it.They only use English in the classroom, and when they go home there is nobody to talk to in English. They can listen, but it is not easy for them to speak the language. (Nicodemus 1997; p.220) One teacher elaborated on this issue: I have a teacher guide for English and the book tells me that when you come to new words, you must use the vernacular, then change to English. If I explain the word in the vernacular, then the next word must be in English.If I keep using English,students are just quiet,they don’t understand. So I use both.That will make them understand. (p.223) Code switching is commonly observed in these classrooms.As Mrs. Dimina, a grade 6 English teacher reported: “When I am teaching reading I sometimes use the vernacular so that children can understand what is the story.Also, in vocabulary I translate words, so that learners can correct them in both languages” (p.135). Types of Teachers and Their Cultural Baggage Some principals are eagerly trying to recruit new teachers who have stronger English proficiency. Indeed, Nicodemus concluded that students doing better on the national assessment were attending schools which were more successful in hiring teachers who had returned from exile in Zambia, where English is commonly spoken.This line of analysis became more complicated as she began to catalogue how teachers located themselves within three fairly distinct categories of their fellow coworkers: the returnees, college graduates, and the traditionalists.Various labels were used by different school staff. Nicodemus settled on these rubrics to capture how the categories of teachers were defined across schools in the region. 157

Returnees included a variety of younger teachers who had been in Zambia or outside Namibia for many years during the civil war. A portion had attended college in the United States or Europe for some time, but had decided to come back to the North following independence. Nicodemus reports (1997:178): “The Returnees were the most outspoken. They used English more in their communications and interactions with fellow teachers. In dealing with issues of discipline and general order in the school, these teachers are more likely to apply concepts, such as ‘individual rights’ and ‘freedoms,’ that one would not generally hear being expressed in such traditional schools settings.” In short, these teachers tend to be more politicized and aligned with the official reforms coming down from Windhoek. Given their proficiency in English and exposure to more progressive forms of ideology and organization, they are better able to respond to these reforms as well. Nicodemus reports on an intriguing dialogue where a returnee is arguing with another teacher about students’ “right” to choose their own classes: The more traditional teacher emphatically states: “Since when do we have to be dictated (sic) by what learners want or don’t want? They should just go to the classes that they are assigned to.” Then, the Returnee retorts: “No, it is their right to go where they want to be. It is their right! They have the freedom to choose.” (p.179) College graduates formed a second category of teacher at these northern schools.They have not lived outside Namibia, but they have graduated from the Ongwediva Teachers Training College, located in the region, or from the University of Namibia in Windhoek. At this level of higher education they have received many classes in English.These teachers appear quite open to pedagogical reforms.They have been schooled in more participatory ways than the older traditionalists. Yet at the same time Nicodemus discovered that they often preferred to speak the local language, rather than English. This may be due to the fact that they continued to speak their mother tongue even after leaving secondary school. It feels natural to them to speak the local language once they begin their teaching job in the North. Most come from this region; they are returning home to work as teachers. The traditionalists formed the third group, commonly defined by teachers themselves in the four schools which Nicodemus studied. They were older and, since they speak very little English, they often are now assigned to teach the early primary grades.Thus the most senior teachers are now allocated to the lowest-status grades.The traditionalists are faced with the most pressure to 158


upgrade their credentials, including attendance at English classes. But many of these teachers had been working in their school for over fifteen or twenty years.They were not likely to change radically.The traditionalists often disagree with the returnees over educational philosophy and even basic moral values. What’s intriguing about these schools in the North is that all three groups of teachers appear to be very supportive of SWAPO and the new government’s focus on education. Many worked quietly to resist the apartheid forces and to aid SWAPO guerillas over the two decades preceding independence.The issue is not whether local educators in the North support Minister Angula and his government.This, too, is taken for granted. But when it comes to implementing central policy changes—particularly the English-medium mandate—these schools and groups of teachers are variably equipped to make substantive changes inside their classrooms.At stake is not only the language which is spoken to children. Language is the fabric which organizes democratic or hierarchical social relations, characterizing interactions among school staff and between teacher and child. These three distinct types of teachers help to illuminate who exercises agency within schools to press for change. Avant Garde Policy Redefined Critical readers might be thinking, well, first-generation policies will naturally conform toWestern forms and symbols, signaling modernity, individual rights, and a dash of progressive redistribution. But perhaps young states learn to separate symbolism and mimicry from more mature policies which are realistically situated in local political and cultural histories.Two very recent policy thrusts, however, suggest that second-generation reforms being advanced by senior SWAPO and Government leaders continue to mirror their original faith in imported policy frameworks. We have just peered into local schools and communities to see how centralized mandates are viewed by local actors. We have examined the attempted abolition of corporal punishment, the requirement of Englishonly instruction, and even the mandate for village school boards—efforts which press new cultural and ideological norms onto local communities. All stem from a Western-looking policy culture at the center; all look fairly foreign and at times indecipherable through the eyes of local actors. Have new policy options evolved following Namibia’s initial period of political maturation? In early 1997 the new education minister—Nahas Angula was moved to a tiny postsecondary education “ministry”—launched a new initiative aiming to decentralize the administration of schools. This push originated in 159

President Nujoma’s cabinet, not from within the education sector. It was back to the future. Following independence, to right the wrongs of the apartheid regime SWAPO expressed a firm commitment to a centralized government which would attempt to reduce racial separatism and gross economic inequalities, all within a pro-capitalist framework. Then, in late 1996 a “secret cabinet action letter,” an official mechanism for bringing issues before the President’s top advisors, was approved by the government (Office of the Prime Minister 1996:1). The goals of this new and starkly contradictory thrust: …are that decentralization [note American spelling] in Namibia, while it may go through various interim stages, ultimately aims to devolve agreed responsibilities, functions, and resource capacity to regional and local levels of government, within the framework of a unitary state. (p.1) The cabinet paper, developed by the minister of local government and housing, detailed this new-found philosophy: The only guarantor for democracy is people making their own political and developmental decisions at their own level and the only guarantor of sustainable development is when people participate in setting their own priorities, implementing them and evaluating these themselves. That is ultimately the nature of decentralisation we espouse—devolution of responsibility, power and resources to the levels closest to the people where these are amenable to their influence and control.We need to develop that level of political and economic self-reliance among all Namibians, in order to guarantee our national independence, development and equity. (Iyambo 1997:1) The incremental nature of SWAPO’s new decentralization strategy was emphasized, then animated in the education sector by rookie Minister Mutorwa. In fact, after a three-day workshop held to discuss implications for the education sector, the only two action items were to decentralize preschools and local libraries. Both are the most poorly financed and loosely administered units of the ministry. Many preschools are actually run by churches and NGOs. In short, the signals around decentralization were well orchestrated. The new education minister was able to tell the cabinet that concrete actions were being taken. Yet the actual effects of the new policy talk remain undetectable within the education ministry. 160


Still, it is important to understand why certain SWAPO leaders would come forward with such a reversal in ideology and whose interests would be served locally. Indeed the very rationale for “devolution” is a baffling blend of tenets underlying strong-state national development mixed with Jeffersonism idealism regarding local self-determination: Democratic countries engage in decentralisation as a means to enhance and guarantee democratic participation…at the grassroots level (and) to achieve sustainable development. How far decentralisation goes depends on whether or not the state is federal or unitary. Within a unitary state [referring to Namibia’s central political structure] it is the prerogative of the state to decentralize or not…and how far to decentralise, with due regard to the democratic imperative and developmental needs.Thus decentralisation in such systems is a policy issue at national level, not a given as in federal systems. It is one way in which the state can fulfill the values of democracy and/or achieve the objectives of development. (Iyambo 1997:3) The authors of this influential cabinet paper even claim that decentralization will advance poverty alleviation and gender equity: Central to both rural and urban poverty, is the issue of access to decision making and to resources. Decentralisation will enhance local people’s access to locally relevant decision making…they will be able to control local and external resources so that they may be utilised according to their own priorities. Gender equity is paramount for democracy and development. It is at the grass roots that it is necessary to institutionalize equitable participation…by both sexes. (Iyambo 1997:11) Viewed in the domestic context this symbolic shift in government strategy seems almost nonsensical.The most “self-reliant” communities in Namibia remain the white middle class and the mostly white private sector. Reallocation of teacher posts and other human resources are stymied by the racial and ethnic isolation set in place by the bantustan system. This chapter has detailed how local leaders, including educators, act to undercut the modernization agenda. How can a conventional story line about national development be seen as consistent with this swerve toward decentralization? But viewed within the evolving world-institutional context, these new signals make a great deal of sense. The World Bank and other donors are 161

pushing their faith in deconstructing central government, attempting to privatize public services or devolve state bureaucracies down to local levels (Fuller and Rivarola 1998).We are not endorsing the idea of decentralization. It may be wise in some national contexts for certain functions of government or arenas of public authority.We are emphasizing two tandem points. First, a fairly centralized state was established at independence precisely because the archipelagos of ethnic and social-class groups were widely separated by language, class, and income.To argue that in eight short years this castelike social structure has dissolved is preposterous. Second, the very discourse and even the North American spelling of key terms—“devolution” and “decentralization”—reveal a direct importation from world institutions centered in the West. There is little regard for Namibia’s historical and economic context, other than recognizing that the existing state is not a federal one and that the modern-looking development agenda continues to be fundamental to the raison d’être of government. Another recent policy initiative—one rooted inside the education ministry—requires teachers to “continuously assess” student progress. A conventional commitment to examinations is certainly not new to Namibia. Under apartheid, central or regional education offices would set testing schedules, then local schools would create their own end-of-year exams. There was no primary leaving exam, common elsewhere in Africa, since white children automatically went to their own secondary schools and very few black children completed primary school. After independence, early field work by Grant Lewis and Sibuku (1994) revealed that the standards set at year’s end, as reflected in school exams, varied widely in level and content. This could bode disaster for children from black schools, as a uniform standard was present after entering secondary school. At the same time, the ongoing American push for programmed instruction along the lines of instructional systems pushed by Florida State University advisors fit well with the “continuous assessment” of children’s progress throughout the year. The new curricular materials, written by American and British technicians, laid out discrete pieces of knowledge which students were expected to master. Children’s progress in digesting this teacher-proof curriculum would then be assessed at regular intervals. Stanford University’s Francisco Ramirez was asked in 1997 to evaluate how continuous assessment was taking hold inside Ondangwa and Rundu schools in the North. His observations and insight into this imported educational policy are revealing, at times amusing. From his field notes: The teacher dismisses her combined grade 1 and 2 class…[we] walk 162


over the two logs where the learners had sat.The teacher sits on her chair and [we] sit on the log next to her. Several minutes later…having affirmed the usefulness, timeliness, and necessity of continuous assessments, the teacher pauses when asked how she would explain [it] to someone who has not heard of it. She bends down and with her outstretched index finger…draws a tick and a dot in the sand. The tick means the learner ‘got it’ and the dot means the learner has yet to ‘get it.’ Continuous assessment, I think to myself, is about ticks and dots. (Ramirez 1997:1) Continuous assessment is supposed to ensure that teaching and evaluation of achievement becomes more individualized. Each teacher’s shiny new “basic competency manual” states that “Young learners achieve much more if they can learn according to their own learning styles” (Lynn 1996:4). Ramirez, upon visiting classrooms in the North, reported that many students stand and recite answers as a group.Teachers encourage students to memorize facts. The knowledge held by the individual child may be checked: they either get it, or they have yet to get it. Dichotomous determinations are certainly easy to manage from the teacher’s viewpoint. One teacher proudly displays her record book, with a series of ticks and dots for each of her students,corresponding to each subject.Somehow the tick-and-dot technology has become ubiquitous, seemingly overnight. Ramirez does report seeing more progressive teaching in other classrooms. A few teachers have brought in materials to practice counting, sets, and multiplication. The guide for environmental education is being carefully followed by other teachers. But it remains unclear as to what sense the typical teacher makes of continuous assessment. And if a student receives a dot, rather than a tick, what remedial work then occurs? In sum, it becomes a cacophony of mixed symbols. Each student is to be treated as a sacred individual. Her or his skills are to be carefully assessed. But in the meantime institutionalized habits persist: teachers demand choral recitations of facts and instinctively check out whether the student knows the right answer. Simultaneously these teachers earnestly try to follow the avant-garde doctrine of continous assessment, dropped down by the wise men of Windhoek.

NOTES 1. See chapter 2 for a review. For southern African perspectives on interestedactor versus institutional theories of organizational influence and resilience, see Chisholm and Fuller (1996), de Clercq (1997), Dale (1989). 2. The two empirical studies, one a survey and the second a qualitative study, are: Chung, O’Hara, and Mendelsohn (1995) and Fair (1995). 163

3. For a more thorough treatment of school desegregation in Namibia, see Kleinhans and Grant Lewis (1993). 4. Chamberlain’s (1993:5) language report, approved by Minister Angula, emphasized: “Whenever possible learner majorities should be taught initially through their home language, as required by the Language Policy…school boards and parents have a duty to see that their children’s home language is used as a medium of instruction at the primary level.”





Bruce Fuller Haiyan Hua Sue Grant Lewis1

Modernizing states habitually see economic and social problems in universal terms. A broad public interest must be constructed to legitimate a newly democratic state’s attack on low literacy rates, poor quality schools, or dismal health care. It becomes easy to tacitly assume that all working-class or poor families experience these problems with the same intensity and in similar ways. Local families and community institutions are rendered lifeless, the faceless objects of reform. The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate that in multicultural societies— especially those beset historically by caste-like limits on opportunity— public problems remain nested in ethnic enclaves. This locally situated character of social problems is usually ignored by modern policy makers. They must vividly signal that apartheid or caste is dead.The importation of Western policy frames and their universalist reforms deliver these modernizing symbols. This form of discourse is essential to consolidating the fragile state’s legitimacy.These policy frames must downplay the cultural boundaries of public problems, as well as local remedies that are situated within ethnic communities or local institutions. For example, this chapter explores how some schools in poor Namibian villages are boosting children’s early literacy against a backdrop of very low rates of learning.Yet modern rules of statebuilding mitigate against significant bureaucratic attention to such local dynamics and the situated character of public problems. We are not arguing that all remedies to low literacy rest within local institutions or culture, be it the family, village school, or ethnic leadership. Nor do we deny the central state’s crucial role in equalizing material resources and job opportunities across ethnic groups. Our South African colleague Linda Chisholm rightfully emphasizes that we should neither romanticize the strength of local institutions nor exaggerate the policy blinders that 165

limit the state’s vision and effectiveness inside local communities. But these two levels of social organization must find better, more respectful ways of working together.This is our normative hope as we empirically detail how local groups—and their local institutions—offer variable conditions under which public problems are felt. This chapter reports on our three-year study of children’s achievement in primary school, commencing in 1992 soon after Namibia’s independence. We begin by simply detailing the extraordinary degree of ethnic segregation observed across Namibia’s regions, left in the wake of apartheid. This is manifest not only in racial segregation: black ethnic groups remain geographically spread across distant enclaves, separated by miles of dry bush and plains, by language and cultural histories.We then report on the ethnic segmentation of children’s early literacy and numeracy levels across 136 primary schools. We focus particularly on how ethnic differences are explained both by a family’s social-class position and the qualities of its local school. Next we report on the study’s longitudinal component which tracked children’s rate of learning in 20 of the original 136 schools. Here too we focus on the influence of parents’ ethnic membership, class position, and local school setting as forces which shape their children’s learning.We conclude the chapter by asking how the state might move from knowledge of local dynamics to devise more effective policies. ETHNIC ARCHIPELAGOS

From the beginning—as we literally moved into the education ministry prior to Namibia’s second birthday—we had our sights set on measuring student outcomes. The analytic team was led in Namibia by Sue Grant Lewis and included Bruce Fuller and Haiyan Hua from Harvard.A baseline study of children’s performance was required under the reform program agreed upon by the Ministry and USAID. Minister Angula also was focused on school-level change: he was keen to have vivid documentation of achievement disparities to bolster his emphasis on the North where poverty and low school quality remained most severe. Given the political dynamics within the education sector at this time, in which Angula inherited the civil servants responsible for enforcing apartheid and neo-apartheid policies, irrefutable evidence on achievement inequalities could strengthen his hand against the “non-reformers” in the Ministry (Angula and Grant Lewis 1997). By late 1992 we had visited a representative sample of primary schools, collecting data from children, teachers, and school principals. Basic literacy and numeracy tests were given to about 3,700 grade 4 and 2,600 grade 7 166


students. Table 4.1 reports basic characteristics of the child sample. The number of schools sampled was in proportion to each region’s population. Almost half the sample was comprised of northern schools. Details related to sampling, sample weights, test construction, and measurement appear in Grant Lewis, Fuller, and Hua (1994).

Two telling disputes arose as we were designing the study with ministry officials—most of whom were SWAPO appointees, including European educators who had lived at the party’s exile school in Zambia during the liberation struggle and “moderate” white bureaucrats. First, the minister wanted only to assess children’s literacy in English. Assessing Afrikaans proficiency would only confirm the higher quality of formerly all-white schools. English is viewed as the language that will help equalize opportunity for children of color. But we were curious as to whether written literacy in native tongues was related to, or developed independently of, literacy in 167

English.The compromise was to assess literacy in Oshindonga, one common language in the former Owamboland (called Ondangwa Region after independence). A second dispute arose over how to define inter-ethnic disparities in children’s achievement. Under the politically correct rules of post-apartheid discourse, one must be careful about how race or ethnicity is discussed. Indeed attributes of ethnic groups had been manipulated and constructed in vile ways under apartheid. Eventually we were given the go ahead to analyze our achievement data according to language group. Somehow this category was less sensitive than race or ethnic group. But within the parlance of specific groups, language spoken is most often synonymous with one’s ethnic membership. One important exception is that many coloured children grow-up in Afrikaans-speaking homes. For instance, the prefix “oshi” commonly designates the language of an ethnic group: Oshikwanyama literally means, the language of Kwanyama people. Just over 365,000 children attended Namibia’s primary schools in 1995. The northern ethnic groups contribute the most pupils: Oshikwanyama, Oshindonga, and other Oshiwambo speakers make up almost 60 percent of all students enrollment nationwide. Other black groups comprise another fifth of all pupils.White and coloured Afrikaans speakers represent less than 10 percent of all primary school students (Ministry 1995). Each child participating in the study was asked which language he or she spoke at home. As we examined patterns of ethnic membership among the 136 schools, the racial residue of apartheid and the bantustan system became ever more vivid. In the far northeast region of Katima, for instance, seven of our eight sampled schools served mainly children speaking Caprivirelated tongues, comprising more than 93 percent of all enrollment in the seven schools.The eighth school was 80 percent white Afrikaans speaking and 20 percent Otjiherero-speaking children. In the predominately black northern region of Ondangwa we observed similar ethnic separation. Over 85 percent of children enrolled in nineteen schools were Owambo speakers. This proportion of ethnic concentration for Oshindonga speakers was seen in fifteen separate schools and for Oshikwanyama-speaking children in thirteen schools. In urban Windhoek most black and coloured children attended highly segregated primary schools. Four schools displayed enrollments of at least 90 percent Nama-Damara children. Five schools were comprised of 100 percent Otjiherero-speaking students. Five schools enrolled over 85 percent Afrikaans-speaking youngsters. Some racial integration had occurred in Windhoek: eleven schools were comprised of less than two-thirds Afrikaans speakers. But again, many coloured 168


children speak Afrikaans in their homes. In sum, one must recognize that many children continue to be raised in homes and schools that are extremely isolated in terms of language spoken and ethnic membership. In the rural or semi-urban North, children and parents rarely speak English, even in village shops or health clinics. The map of the southern Africa region, page vii, shows the location of major ethnic groups, excluding urban areas where segregation is sharp between white areas and the poor townships in which most black and coloured families reside. How is this persisting pattern of ethnic segregation related to children’s early learning in primary school? This is the question to which we next turn. Post-apartheid states are rightfully eager to focus on black-white inequalities. Our analysis pushed forward to explore ethnic differences among different black and coloured groups. Class distinctions between black and coloured communities have long been obvious and much debated in South Africa and Namibia. The white-dominated National Party continues to exploit politically this source of status competition.Yet within racial groups we may detect ethnic differences that reveal regional or institutional histories— dynamics that may help to explain how well children do in school. LOCAL ETHNIC AND INSTITUTIONAL BOUNDARIES OF EARLY LITERACY

No one familiar with the ravages and inequalities linked to apartheid would doubt that a family’s class position and access to a wage-sector job contributes to their child’s odds of getting ahead in school. Ethnic and local institutional histories also may play a role in shaping family-level processes and school resources which affect children’s achievement.This is what we mean when we speak of the ethnic and institutional boundaries of the literacy problem. When we lump together all children of color or all poor children we miss important sources of local variability which persist within local communities. For example, our analysis reveals that children in the North who do best in acquiring English skills come from particular Owambo language groups, not from the large Oshindonga or Oshikwanyama-speaking groups. This could be attributable to institutional histories in how schools have been run in these separate ethnic communities; family level or local economic differences also may be operating. Our analysis highlights how these ethnic differences unfold. In turn, they point to more effective forms of policy. If such local knowledge is ignored, universalist conceptions of policies and centrally engineered programs will be much less effective.


Ethnic Differences in English Literacy and Learning Our team designed assessment exams for grade 4 and grade 7 students, drawing skills domains and individual test items from recently designed curricular materials.We attempted to pull together assessment items that involved familiar objects and topics of practical utility. For example, the English, Oshindonga, and mathematics exams included questions that involved chickens, coke cans, and livestock which commonly populate rural areas. Table 4.2 reports on basic exam characteristics and average achievement levels for grade 4 and grade 7 children for the 1992 baseline literacy assessment. The younger cohort of children, just over twelve years of age on average, has learned very little English. This is not surprising, given that this assessment occurred just two years after SWAPO’s election victory. During the 1980s a fair number of schools, especially mission schools in the North, began instructing children in English, a defiant rejection of the mother tongue and Afrikaans mandates pressed by the apartheid regime. Of the nine reading and listening comprehension items used in our grade 4 exam, the average child marked under three items correct. Results for the grade 7 cohort, where students’ average age equaled fifteen years, were more encouraging.The mean student marked 11 of the 25 items correctly. Two-thirds of the children understood more than half of the listening comprehension questions.



Oshindonga exams for grade 4 were administered in 34 of the northern schools where Oshiwambo languages are spoken. Nineteen of these schools had grade 7 students who sat for a version pegged to their grade level. Table 4.2 shows that the average grade 4 student in the North marked seven of the fourteen items correctly. The mean grade 7 child answered over nine of the sixteen possible questions correctly. For the mathematics exams, scores averaged about half the possible number of test items.2 One way to examine inter-ethnic differences in literacy and numeracy is to group schools into their former bantustan or ethnic governing authority. Figure 4.1 displays mean grade 7 English and math scores for children by former authority. Old Department of National Education schools often served children of color and were located in townships rather than rural bantustans. You can see how this institutional history is related to higher achievement, likely due to the fact that DNE schools received greater resources than bantustan schools. In 1990, for example, per pupil spending in white Administration schools equaled R5,105, compared to R616 in Owambo Authority schools (USAID 1990). For grade 7 English, children attending formerly all-white schools marked 20 (out of 25) items correctly on average. Remember that most of these children speak Afrikaans at home. Black children in former Owambo administration schools averaged just nine correct items. Figure 4.1 Namibia achievement scores in grade 7 by former apartheid education authority, 1992 Baseline.

Note: National Education Authority schools included those outside Bantustan administrations, often in more commercial areas. 171

We can directly focus on achievement levels by ethnic membership, defined in terms of children’s home language. Figure 4.2 displays mean grade 7 English scores for youngsters who speak Afrikaans, Nama-Damara, Oshindonga, or Oshikwanyama at home. The latter two groups reside in the impoverished North. Similar to the breakdowns by former racial authority, youngsters from Afrikaans-speaking homes outperformed Nama-Damara and other black children. These white pupils averaged just over nineteen correct items on the grade 7 English exam, compared to twelve and eight correct items for Nama-Damara and Oshindonga speakers, respectively.We discuss below how Nama-Damara parents are better integrated into the commercial wage sector, a black group but one which historically resided within Namibian towns of the central region.3 Listening comprehension in English was significantly higher than reading comprehension for every ethnic group except Afrikaans speakers. Rukwangali children (n=158), for example, marked 43 percent of the listening comprehension questions correctly, compared to just 25 percent of the reading comprehension items. Nama-Damara children were the highest performers among pupils of color on reading (42 percent correct) and listening comprehension (50 percent). Afrikaans speakers correctly marked 73 and 69 percent of these items, respectively. Patterns of early literacy in English at grade 4 closely followed those observed in grade 7, and no significant gender differences were detected. Girls by grade 4 outperform boys in Oshindonga literacy, rather than English, with the average score about 10 percent higher for girls.4 We turn next to this issue of variable literacy levels between English and one major African language. Two Literacies: Oshindonga and English Children in the North are commonly bilingual or trilingual, at least for basic levels of oral proficiency. They grow up in households speaking an indigenous African tongue.To deal with shop owners, government officials, and some school principals they are required to speak in Afrikaans or English. Our research team was curious as to whether basic literacy in a major African language (Oshindonga) is related to proficiency in English. Oshindonga was selected for the assessment, as it is a major Owambo language in the North.Textbooks and instructional materials in Oshindonga were distributed to some schools during the years leading up to independence. More recently the SWAPO government has attempted to accelerate this move toward bilingual materials. Our study represented the first time that literacy was assessed in an African language for a large sample of Namibian students. It was unknown 172


Figure 4.2 Namibia achievement scores in grade 7 by child home language, 1992 Baseline

what grade-level norms were to be expected in designing our brief assessment exam. For the fourteen Oshindonga items that our test designers believed were appropriate for grade 4 children, the average number of correctly marked items was seven (among 997 sampled children). At grade 7 pupils averaged over nine questions correct on the Oshindonga exam (n=377). Children who spoke Owambo languages at home, but not Oshindonga, performed at similar levels. For instance, Oshikwanyama children had scores statistically identical to Oshindonga speakers. Not surprisingly, ethnic disparities in Oshindonga literacy were not as wide, relative to gaps in English literacy. Part of this good news is conditioned by bad news: these different black African groups in the North live in similarly low levels of poverty. So, the suppressing effect on achievement, stemming from family poverty, appears to be similar across these three ethnic groups. Is literacy in one’s mother tongue related to literacy in English? Two opposite arguments have been advanced on this question. In some settings children who first attain written literacy in their home language display a more effective transition to English (August and Hakuta 1997).The policy strategy is to recognize the cultural boundaries of language development and then emphasize that the school institution can advance written literacy in the child’s mother tongue.The opposite dynamic—an empirical pattern without a clear policy theory—stems from the fact that English involves a foreign body of knowledge that may not be advanced by skills or language scaffolding acquired at home. This causal representation suggests that the 173

acquisition of a colonial or European language is so embedded in the school institution that home processes or parental practices are rendered irrelevant. This argument is evidenced by the empirical fact that math achievement is less consistently explained by home factors (relative to school factors) than is language proficiency within many poor communities (Fuller and Clarke 1994). We discovered that Oshindonga and English literacies were moderately correlated as early as grade 4, despite the statistical floor effect observed for English scores. That is, despite observing that many black children marked less than four items correctly on the English exam, overall scores were correlated with Oshindonga scores (r=.39, p