3 February 2010

Namibia: Swapo Succession Race Heats Up

THE debate around who will succeed Hifikepunye Pohamba as Swapo Party president is again ruffling feathers in the ruling party.

The ascendancy of Pohamba to the party presidency saw a bitter rivalry among party faithful, leading to the sacking of Hidipo Hamutenya as Foreign Minister by former President Sam Nujoma in May 2004, four days ahead of the Swapo extraordinary congress.

Hamutenya was in the running for the Swapo Party presidential nomination, challenging Pohamba and Nahas Angula for the 2005 presidential elections. Pohamba won the race in the second round runoff between him and Hamutenya.

Nujoma then accused Hamutenya of "clandestine political activities" which "have clearly illustrated that you have been sowing seeds of disunity".

At last week's Politburo meeting the issue of who is likely to succeed Pohamba as party president was one of the talking points.

The debate, it is believed, was ignited by a recent report in a local weekly asking whether Swapo is ready for a non-Oshiwambo-speaking president.

Both the former and the current presidents are Oshiwambo speakers, while the vice president, Hage Geingob, is a member of the minority Damara tribe.

Insiders said Swapo secretary general Pendukeni Ivula-Ithana was particularly irked by the Windhoek Observer article, which suggested that the time has come for a non-Oshiwambo-speaking Swapo president.

Ivula-Ithana saw the article and the sentiments expressed in it as divisive.

The Observer report was based on an interview with Swapo Central Committee member and Deputy Minister of Regional, Local Government and Housing, Kazenambo Kazenambo. The report quoted Kazenambo as saying that it's unacceptable that the next Swapo president should also come from the majority Oshiwambo-speaking tribe.

A senior party figure allegedly objected to Ithana's comments, asking why no one had taken issue with Youth League Secretary Elijah Ngurare, whose comments over the years were also seen as divisive. The figure is said to have cited Ngurare's standoff with former NBC acting Director General Matthew //Gowaseb as a case in point.

Prime Minister Nahas Angula allegedly interjected, saying that Kazenambo should not be blamed because he was sent by someone else. When approached by The Namibian Angula refused to comment on any party-related questions, saying he works for Government.

Geingob allegedly jumped into the discussion, saying that Angula's statement seemed to have been directed at him, since he was next in line and that he was a non-Owambo. He allegedly challenged the Politburo to summon Kazenambo to explain himself and proposed that the issue be put on the agenda of the next Politburo meeting.

However, Geingob told The Namibian that he was not present at the said meeting.

When approached for comment, Kazenambo was unapologetic, saying he had committed no crime and would not retract his statement.

He added that whoever interpreted his comments as divisive was a "hypocrite" because there were no "tribal reservation on positions in Swapo".

"This is not a taboo, those who have a problem are the ones causing division," he hit out, adding that he went to war for equality and that there were no second-class citizens in Namibia.

Kazenambo further said that those who had a problem with what he said, could call him to explain. "I am a Herero Namibian, and I am also looking for a Herero Swapo president," he said.

Sources in the know told The Namibian that Ithana was "perplexed" by Kazenambo's comments because the party had already decided that Pohamba was going to be succeeded by his deputy, in this case Geingob.

Ithana declined to comment on the allegations.

A Central Committee meeting held in July last year approved draft rules and procedures for the election of its office bearers, clearly outlining the line of succession.

The document states that the party's presidential candidate will come from the top four party leaders in order of seniority.

The documented line of succession will avoid a repeat of the 2004 Swapo extraordinary congress when Pohamba had to vie against Hamutenya, who has since left the party and formed the Rally for Democracy and Progress, and Prime Minister Angula.

If the sitting President cannot be re-elected because of the two-term constraint, the document states that the ruling party's vice president will be the automatic choice as the party's presidential candidate.

If Geingob is able to hold onto the vice-president position at the 2012 Swapo congress, he will be in line to contest the country's presidency for the 2014 presidential elections.

In the case of the vice president not being available, the secretary general is next in line, followed by the deputy secretary general in case the SG cannot stand or declines.

With only two years to the next party congress, the succession debate is expected to heat up as the congress approaches.

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