13 November 2012

Namibia: Leaders Up for Sale?


JUST where is Namibia headed? What was the motive for the secretive dinner held at State House last week with a select group of business people at a cost of no less than N$100 000 per person? Whatever it was, that dinner raises worrying questions about the future of Namibian politics.

So far no one seems to own up to the event. About 50 businesspeople were invited. About 20 turned up. The only criterion made public for those invited was that they had to give a minimum of N$100 000, allegedly for the Swapo congress taking place from November 29 to December 2. But that alone doesn’t make much sense, as Swapo has been publicising its fundraising campaigns so far.

Some of the people who were invited say the drawcard was that they would have direct discussions with the President of Namibia and of Swapo, Hifikepunye Pohamba, as well the rest of the Swapo leaders who make up the ‘Top Four’ together with one or two policy wonks in Government. Some claimed they would be invited as guest to the congress.

With Pohamba, the Swapo quartet is thus completed by Swapo’s

vice president Hage Geingob, its secretary general Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and her deputy, Nangolo Mbumba.

Iivula-Ithana and Mbumba have said they were not aware of the dinner. The head of the congress fundraising committee, Rosalia Nghidinwa, also said she knew nothing about it. The same response came from Presidential Affairs Minister Albert Kawana and some senior State House officials. Couple their responses with the fact that no one is taking responsibility for the dinner, and the intrigue grows around the motive.

If it was an innocuous event there would be no need for secrecy.

That Swapo leaders are aggressively seeking out businesspeople suggests that political power and influence has moved from the villages and township streets to the auction block. One of the businesspeople was horrified to be invited with a “pay for access” attitude.

Who chose the dinner guests anyway? Were they invited because they were the biggest employers or taxpayers?

How can even the not-so-ordinary people compete with a N$100 000-a-head ticket to have one-to-one access in order to lobby leaders for their interests to be made into policy and legislation?

If anything, that dinner suggests the gap between the rich and the poor will only grow because the ones with money will have easy access to power and thus get some rewards.

Politicians would have a hard time turning down requests for favours to those who booked a place around a dinner table or hang out together informally. Actually, there may be no need for an obvious quid pro quo (in the form of written requests and approvals) because the mere fraternising makes it easy to implement what each wants.

Countries like the United States, which have had long unholy alliances between politicians and business moguls, are struggling to reverse the trend whereby leaders are all but for sale. They acknowledge how corrupt and ineffective their political system has become.

Take Namibia off the auction block before it is too late for the country and its citizens, especially the majority poor and vulnerable who cannot afford to buy access to their leaders.

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