interviewBy Lorraine Kazondovi
Windhoek — Following the watershed 5th Swapo Party Congress and the surprise Cabinet reshuffle by President Hifikepunye Pohamba, New Era journalist Lorraine Kazondovi spoke to celebrated Namibian academic and political analyst, Professor Joseph Diescho, to solicit his expert opinion on the current political climate in the country following the congress.
Professor Diescho, what is your assessment of the recent 5th Swapo Party Congress? What was the difference between the 5th Swapo Party Congress and that of the 4th Congress of 2007?
"The main difference between the 2007 and the 2012 congresses was that there was better management of the intra-party politics of the Swapo Party. This is indicative of the maturity of the ruling party in so far as the leadership is more responsive to the interests of the people in general and the need for change in particular. There was also greater anticipation on the part of the citizens to see whether the consternation and negative politics seen before were to happen again. Most serious was the extent to which the three candidates for the most crucial positions ushered into Namibian politics a culture of primary electioneering, whereby the contestants campaigned individually so that those who had the chance to vote had a clearer perspective of who the candidates were and what they stood for. In other words there was more participation than we have witnessed in any congress before. This makes the outcome more credible and respectable across the board, even among non-Swapo Namibian citizens. The 5th Congress was indeed one of the best moments in Namibian politics - post-independence. This was in more ways than one a watershed congress of the ruling party."
And in your analysis were there any lessons that the party learnt from the 2007 congress if we consider the fallout that followed the so-called Nyamu notes and the creation of the RDP?
"Swapo as the party in government for over two decades has learned that it is better to allow people to participate meaningfully rather than to depend on the dictates of the old African politics of the 'Big Man' syndrome to direct affairs. The two presidents held lightly their own preferences so as to allow the participants to vote for their candidates without fear. In this way, whatever fallout there might have been was masterfully avoided. This shows that Swapo has become a learning organization from which other parties can learn."
Do you expect a more united Namibian nation with the re-election of Dr Hage Geingob as vice-president of the ruling party? And what changes do you think Dr Geingob could bring to the party and even to government?
"With the re-election of Dr Hage Geingob, I cannot help but believe that Namibia will be more united than before, for the following reasons: Geingob is in my view the best embodiment of the Namibian constitution and its spirit. Not only was he the midwife at the birth of the constitution as the most capable chairman of the Constituent Assembly, but he has, over the years, acquitted himself in a more exemplary fashion than others in his league by standing up for the values and precepts of the constitution. Now that he has been affirmed by winning a difficult election on his own terms - not as a favour by someone - he can only grow in confidence as a leader in his own right and do things without looking over his shoulder; he can truly do more and make his own mark on the Namibian political landscape and hopefully on the African continent. In my humble opinion there are two individuals who have understood the need for unity for Namibia and cared for the idea of one nation: Sam Nujoma and Hage Geingob! He is also a fixer, so the party is likely to be less self-congratulatory and more self-critical than before. The party is also more likely to be less angry and belligerent towards the opposition and critical voices than before. A more self-confident Geingob is very good for Namibia as a player in African politics."
Do you agree with critics who think that non-Oshiwambo Namibians are pinning too much hope on Dr Hage Geingob possibly becoming the next president? Are we likely to see major changes in terms of empowerment of the groups that feel marginalised when Geingob is affirmed as State President?
"I can understand why there are expectations that non-Oshiwambo Namibians might have of Geingob, just like Africans have of president Barack Obama by virtue of coming from them as the marginalised and not the mainstream officialdom. In many ways this is unfair on him because we ought to look to him as a Namibian first and anything else second. I am very humbled to appreciate that the people who elected him included many Oshiwambo-speaking Namibians. I therefore take my cue from them who chose a non-Oshiwambo person as leader, and disregarded tribal or ethnic lines. They showed a level of maturity that is needed in our nation. I expect an era of bold politics from Geingob. I see him uniting the nation more than we have seen thus far. I have reason to believe that he will be less afraid of challenging dissent than we have seen before. If he continues on what he did when he was Prime Minister, we are likely to see him welcoming merit and skill more than we have seen hitherto when mediocrity and blind loyalty were rewarded at the expense of the nation. Understandably, he will be constrained by the politics of the party, but given the manner in which he was returned to power, namely that he put out his opponents in the first round Mike Tyson-style, can only give the self-assurance and confidence to do what he feels strongly about and wants to leave as his legacy. Geingob has been lifted as the choice for the next president of the country in a manner that he never knew before in his political career. He is now his own man, acclaimed as such by the Namibian people through their representatives who were at Safari Court."
Do you expect new changes in a Geingob presidency?
"If there is one person who can implement policies in a manner that was not possible since independence in 1990, it is Geingob. One way to do this is to cast his eyes on the whole of Namibia and the potential the country has, not only on those around him, and who don Swapo scarfs. This has been the biggest cause of failure in Africa - that leaders do not utilise available and potential resources in their countries, but distribute largesse amongst those who are more of a liability than assets to their nations. The test is for Geingob to fail."
President Pohamba has just reshuffled Cabinet and has redeployed Dr Geingob to the portfolio of Prime Minister with Nahas Angula redeployed as Minister of Defence. In your view, who are the major winners in this Cabinet reshuffle?
"The Cabinet reshuffle by President Pohamba is indeed one of the best things to happen since independence. Most significantly, the Office of the Prime Minister, which has been lacklustre since Geingob went on virtual study leave, has been renovated figuratively. It now has a physical address, has an occupant and its light has been switched back on! Geingob, to all intents and purposes, restores elegance and a vibe to the Office of the Prime Minister. The major winners from this Cabinet reshuffle are Swapo's name and the Namibian nation."
Do you have any advice on how the country could overcome implementing government programmes and policies that are seen as major challenges?
"It is indeed time for the leaders in Namibia to start believing in their own people regardless of their political views and party membership and consider them as contributors to the development and future of the country and the nation's wellbeing. This is so because political parties, important though they are, come and go, but the nation stands. Political parties and their loyalists may and do lose elections at times, but the nation must never lose! Swapo is not Namibia and Namibia is greater than Swapo and/or any political party. Those in positions of leadership ought to realize that they only have a fortuitous privilege to serve, not to be served. Imagine the progress if we could harness all the potential there is in the country and not recycle used and damaged goods all the time!"
A number of critics think it is time for professionals to be posted into strategic positions based on merit, qualification and capabilities and not posted based on Swapo Party loyalty. What do you make of this? There is also the view that some ministers have been 'recycled' for too long and that non-performing ministers should simply be shipped out. What is your view on this?
"The cabinet reshuffle is by all means a step in the right direction. One would have hoped that President Pohamba would have created more space for people who can help deliver on the noble promises and ambitions of the government. There are definitely people in ministries whose sell-by dates have come a long time ago, and who need to go and enjoy their pensions now by doing what they are doing now, namely nothing! These are good Namibians who have done their bit, but who have run out of ideas, out of time, and out of shape. This is so because the Stone Age did not end because there were no more stones, but because human beings found better ways and new methods to survive!"
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
"Times like these call for humility and grace. As a nation, and in spite of our weaknesses and shortcomings, we need to acknowledge one another when we do the right things. This time, our thanks go aplenty to President Pohamba, the Swapo Party leadership and all the sons and daughters of the soil who participated in the 5th Swapo Party Congress for turning a new page on Namibia and this great nation's future. Omake!"