columnBy Gwen Lister
IN over two decades of independence, Namibians have failed to clarify the difference between the public and private in politics and use of state funds and resources when it comes to political campaigning.
With the Swapo presidential race hot underway, there's a strong sense of deja vu about the use of state resources by the candidates. This should make us wonder about the calibre of the three, one of whom is certain to become our next president. Small wonder too, that we are losing the battle against corruption because not even the leaders seem to know what's right and what's wrong.
THERE'S nothing new about the use of state resources for political campaigning. The media write about it, but nothing seems to change and political leadership doesn't seem overly concerned about public perceptions, instead choosing to block queries or fudge the issues, rather than be transparent and accountable and tell Namibians what they need to know. This inevitably muddies the waters around the various candidates who also give the impression that what is of interest to the public is in fact 'not their business'. Perhaps we should be looking at the candidate who (at the very least) complies with openness and honesty in the way they manage their campaigns?
I would also have liked to see the three face to face in a public debate to see how they match up against one another. I'm aware that there are those who feel that such 'western-style' debates aren't appropriate for Africa, Namibia in particular, but I don't see why not. Surely Namibians have the right to see how leadership copes in the face of tough questions? Unfortunately though, for the voting public, politicians remain largely shielded from our view.
The first Swapo presidential contender (because he is currently the vice president of the party) would quite possibly have decimated his two opponents in a public debate. Hage Geingob has personal stature, is articulate and known to be a good administrator; but he is also perceived to be ego-driven, ultra-sensitive to criticism and with a penchant for a luxury lifestyle. His hire of the presidential jet for his campaign is seen as indicative of the latter. But his staff fell short on explaining the circumstances around the issue, and so are responsible for fuelling public speculation on the matter.
Could he be the glue to hold it all together and get Namibia back on track with his administrative capabilities, or will he be on the defensive given his tribal affiliation or let his ego get in his way, and his love of luxury result in our most lavish presidency to date?
The second presidential contender (currently the secretary general of the party) has not always won friends as Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana has habitually been seen as a 'hardliner'; her public statements often bordering on the offensive towards those she perceived as 'enemies'. She does appear to have made recent effort to tone down and appear more broadly accommodating. She is also a strong woman and the first to contest the Namibian presidency, although women's issues haven't necessarily topped her agenda in the past.
Could Iivula-Ithana follow Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia and Joyce Banda as Malawi as the third woman president in Africa, and if so, could she keep her reactionary tendencies in check enough to give good account of Namibia at home and in the rest of the world, and will she be able to be a president for ALL Namibians rather than just the Swapo following, which is where her real loyalty has always been.
The third candidate (currently Minister of Local Government and Housing) is the most unlikely and most unimpressive candidate for president in both physical stature and character. Jerry Ekandjo, favoured by the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL), is said to have the best chance in the race, given that the incumbent and former president will support him if he is perceived to be the popular choice.
Undoubtedly both presidents (who privately endorsed Geingob) are clearly not playing open cards, and this may have deeper resonance and even potential negative impact once the race is done and dusted. Ekandjo was always a fairly popular 'internal' leader of Swapo, but never in the forefront like others. He too is somewhat reactionary in his views and probably won't shine on an international stage. He would certainly have fared worst in a debate between the candidates.
The question is whether Ekandjo as a president have the muscle to be his own man, as he possesses a certain naivete, or would he be dependent on a team of advisors to get him through? Would he also have the ability to be a president for all Namibians, or would the Swapo constituency take precedence above all else?
I'm not convinced that any of the three would stand tall and 'unwavering' over issues of corruption and abuse of state resources. I just don't think it matters enough to them. I'm also concerned about some in the inner circles around the candidates in question; and I regret Namibians didn't have had the chance to watch them debate the burning issues of the day to be better able to judge their capabilities.