Parenting into Two Worlds: How Practices of Kinship Fostering Shape Development in Namibia, Southern Africa

Jill Brown, Abril Rangel-Pacheco, Olivia Kennedy, Ndumba Kamwanyah - Parents and Caregivers Across Cultures


African child-rearing has been documented as primarily social in nature and driven by community, responsibility, and respect for elders (Nsamenang B (1992) Human development in cultural context: a third world perspective. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE; Weisner et al. African families and the crisis of social change, Bergin and Garvey, Westport, CT, 1997). Socially distributed care is common and reflects strong kinship ties that serve as a social welfare system in times of need as well as the glue of teaching tradition. The practice of child migration (fosterage) in and out of kin networks in Namibia is prevalent, with as high as 40% of children not living with biological parents (Brown, Child Africa Interdisciplinary J 1:4–10, 2009; Ministry of Health and Social Services (MOHSS) [Namibia] (2003) Namibia Demographic and Health Survey 2000. Windhoek, Namibia: MOHSS). This chapter examines the cultural logic of child care in Africa, focusing on one variation of fosterage, okutekula, among the Ova-ambo in Northern Namibia. We explore how parents are using the practice to parent into both the formal and the informal economy. Theories of the economy of affection (Hyden, The economy of affection, In: African politics in comparative perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 72–93, 2006) and social exchange theory (Molm, Coercive power in social exchange, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1997) help elucidate the motivations that guide parents in Namibia. Ethnographic fieldwork and survey data help to paint a portrait of the flexible and intuitive boundaries of okutekula in the face of rapid social change.