Young aspiring elite

In Rundu, a town of 60,000 inhabitants in Namibia, social anthropologist Mattia Fumanti has conducted research on the formation of local elites. In looking at the town’s history, from the colonial to the postcolonial time, Fumanti has explored the emergence of different generations of elites in the town public space. His work shows how the process of elite formation in a small Namibian town is fraught with contestation as different generations try to gain distinction and recognition in public.

In Rundu two generations of elites, a liberation elite of SWAPO educationalists, and a youthful educated elite competed for distinction in public through distinctive rhetoric.
– While the SWAPO elite emphasised their role in the liberation struggle and their achievements in education, the younger, aspiring elite talked more about performance in power – how they felt dissatisfied with the existing leadership and lack of delivery of public services. However, they seldom challenged the SWAPO elite in public. Instead they tried to negotiate behind the scenes for power, says Mattia Fumanti.

In more recent years, there has been a change in rhetoric at the national level in Namibia, Mattia Fumanti notes. Today the leadership is keen to promote private entrepreneurship, especially among the youth. The argument runs: ‘We can’t hire you anymore in the public sector, so you might as well open up your own business.’ In addition, the rise of Pentecostal churches, the image of successful entrepreneurship in popular culture and new ways of communicating through social media has contributed to different types of aspirations. Whilst in the past education was seen as the key for upward mobility, distinction and recognition, today the emphasis is on business, prosperity and conspicuous consumption. All these trends have led to many new enterprises popping up. However, few are successful, and many soon close down.

Many people, especially among the youth, want to set up a business nowadays. Being a civil servant or an educationalist no longer commands the same aspirational drive of previous generations. Instead, people dream of becoming successful businessmen.
– Unfortunately, despite their hopes, dreams and aspirations many entrepreneurs soon find themselves in dire economic situations with sometimes dramatic consequences for their lives and well-being.   Diagnosis of mental illness and reported suicide seems to be on the increase in contemporary Namibia, as elsewhere in Africa, says Mattia Fumanti.

To this end he is starting a new project in order to explore the possible relationship between entrepreneurship, capitalism and mental illness.

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