WHEN founding president Sam Nujoma left this country in 1960 to open another front in the battle for the liberation of Namibia he did so with the support of Namibians in their diversity. Prior to his departure - his political life, his fortunes and misfortunes, as he would tell in his autobiography 'Where Others Wavered' were enmeshed with the struggle of his teachers, political mentors and early nationalists such as Hosea Kutako through the Herero Chief's Council including Aaron Hamutenya and Gabriel Mbuende.
President Nujoma's life in the Old Location with these early nationalists, including his life of struggle in exile does put in sharp focus Swapo's liberation struggle as a brief, but important interlude in the history of this country. As such, President Nujoma's history must be read with early narratives, which were in their own right formative in his own life as leader of the liberation struggle under Swapo.
When we look at Swapo's history through this perspective, it becomes evident that the struggle waged under the leadership of Swapo and Sam Nujoma was not the beginning, nor was liberation and freedom an end in itself. This was in the main prefaced by the idea of an oppressed people longing for freedom from colonial brutality. Even Swapo's own mutation on 19 April 1960, from the Owamboland People's Organisation, was to capture the idea of a people and their collective desire for freedom. This idea of freedom and liberty found early expression in the collective oeuvre of Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi, Chief Nehale lya Mpingana, Samuel Maharero, and including Hosea Kutako and Reverend Michael Scott as petitioners at the United Nations.
The legitimacy conferred on Swapo at the zenith of the liberation struggle as the sole representative of the Namibian people through the efforts of Swapo's leading men such as Hage Geingob, Hididipo Hamutenya and Theo-Ben Gurirab, attest to the continuity of the idea of liberty and freedom as one to be pursued by Swapo in the interests of Namibians. What I seek to highlight through this conversation is the view saying that in an independent Namibia, Swapo is not just a political party - it is an idea. It is an idea about the struggle of a people living and sharing a country in their diversity. Inevitably, Swapo has found it hard to live up to the great expectations it had created at its founding. It has been impressive as a ruling party at times - often less so - and has fallen short of our great expectations.
Admittedly, the expectations of a free people living in one country are not always coherent. They are not always concrete and cannot easily be satisfied by a party with competing interests and one that is increasingly being held hostage by factional self-interest, the reckless pursuit of wealth including the denial of the idea of liberty and ideals of social justice. Alongside this slight, but tangible sense of disappointment dealing with pressing national challenges, there is above all the growing fear that the current debate about leadership succession with its veneer of normality is just one that could conceal a much uglier culture of politics and country.
In the months ahead, with Swapo consumed by this succession debate to the extent that it borders on institutional darkness about the issue, the party's rank and file, including ordinary Namibians, must ask probing questions.
What type of a country are we seeking to fashion through Swapo's candidate for the national presidential elections? What do we owe to one another in this conversation as a people who speak about unity in our diversity?
Issues of competence, ability to provide leadership and vision would and should certainly be clamouring for the attention of the rank and file en route to congress. However, to provide authentic and honest answers to these questions and conundrums would also demand nonsense to be trashed.
To defend the founding idea of Swapo would imply that cadres exorcise themselves of the nihilism with which they seek to deal with succession. You don't defend the founding idea of Swapo by referring to rules that govern the selection of leaders. To do so is just to advance a proximate argument for overt tribalism.
Rules in Swapo's messy democracy, with its own inherent institutional weaknesses are not a sufficient condition for the creation of a certain political party - consistent with its founding idea. Thus, impulsive references to rules can conceal our moral bankruptcy and our tribal undertones of exclusion when in essence we may have to debate the type of ruling party the rank and file should build at a particular historical juncture.
Rules are procedural and for them to lead to a certain idea of a just political party or society, they must be accompanied by Swapo's founding idea, whose leitmotif was liberty and its companion, FRATERNITY. To be fraternal is not merely a consequence of rules, but is a human instinct flowing out of the compassion we have toward others who are not of our tribes, ethnic groups or race.
Swapo is at the cusp of writing a different chapter in its history, including one that could shape the texture of future Namibia. The party should have the courage to defend the idea of a compassionate people united in their diversity. To do so, would not just demand the rigidity of rules, it demands deeds, a conversation about what the soul of Swapo should be or look like - and importantly the defence of what Swapo actually is, an idea.
Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is a PhD-fellow in political science and researcher at the Centre for Political Research at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, France.