The Namibian (Windhoek)

Namibia: Swapo On the Right Track

WHAT has happened in Swapo over the past two months may not be of seismic proportions.

In fact, the changes afoot in the ruling party may correctly be characterised as being as slow as the formation of dunes in the Namib Desert. But nevertheless, bravo that change is taking place.

Historians in decades to come may very well talk about formations similar to the petrified dunes on the outskirts of the Sossusvlei in the south of our beautiful land. But give it a century on this path and Swapo would have created unmovable mountains and bequeathed Namibia a solid foundation of democracy.

Sam Nujoma tried and failed. Well, he had to sweat and go through a stage of anxiety to impose Hifikepunye Pohamba as his successor. Yet, even the most iconic Namibian would accept he failed to cement the personality cult and a culture of personally anointing leaders in Swapo.

President Pohamba, it has now come to light, also tried to emulate that revered puppet master by asking his comrades to accept the party ‘hierarchy’. He flopped, and might flop even more dismally than Nujoma if his preferred candidate Hage Geingob fails to hang onto the post of Swapo vice president.

Even Elijah Ngurare, the Swapo youth league secretary, must be content that his push for “guided democracy” failed. How, otherwise, would he have managed to energise the youth to get interested in his party’s inner-circle political activities, which had been monopolised by people who should have retired to pave way for the young?

There will be many in Swapo and outside who think that allowing candidates to compete, and so publicly, would damage the party. They must step back and ponder instead about the inherent strengths of openness and a healthy exchange of views. If Swapo continues on this path, it can only stay strong. And Namibia will be the better for it.

The idea of having an oracle to anoint leaders is counter-productive. One person or a small group of people can never have their pulse on the needs of a nation.

Nowhere in the world has the suppression of people by a few lasted. In Africa, many examples abound. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was reported to have used the country’s oil wealth and gave his citizens all basic material goods that they needed (for example that newlyweds received a ‘starter pack’ house, vehicles and cash allocation). Even that was not enough. Don’t believe the propaganda that it was the ‘imperialists’ who got him out. Outsiders in any situation would need the connivance of a substantial number of citizens to get rid of their government. So Gaddafi was undone by the pressure cooker in which he tried to suffocate his people’s civil liberties – everyone needs to vent.

Some may point to China as an example of how a one-party state works well. That would be missing the point because even a benevolent dictatorship reaches its sell-by date. So those looking east must be careful not to get entranced by the dragon parades.

What is important is for Swapo members to appreciate that greatness begins with small steps and the party must genuinely build on the principled stance it has taken to make sure democracy is entrenched to spur the country to our own unique brand of prosperity.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF are a good example of what a lack of honesty and genuineness can lead to. They can shout at the top of their lungs and blame Europeans, Americans and “imperialist agents”. They can claim that they needed to institute a revolution for the land. But the facts are bared for all to see. They have been in charge of Zimbabwe and messed it up. And the main reason is that they were not genuine about building the country as an open democracy for all Zimbabweans. Even a kind-hearted man as Kenneth Kaunda had to deal with the shock of people tired of a one-party state..

Mugabe and his people were not willing to give up power when a substantial number of Zimbabweans felt it was time to kick out the old guard. The entire Zimbabwe is the poorer for that, and Mugabe has been forced to eat humble pie and work with the same Morgan Tsvangirai whom he vowed never to entertain, even over his dead body.

The latest campaign for positions in Swapo may not have been the most elegant or informative, and candidates not among the most articulate. But the path that Swapo has taken is the best for Namibia no matter who gets the reins of power.

The country needs to keep moving away from stagnation and paralysis. Genuine and democratic change of leaders is the sure path to follow.

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