7 December 2012

Namibia: Why Not Hage Geingob?


UNDER the theme of ‘Why Not Hage?’, Team Geingob scooped a tsunami-like victory at the Swapo congress last weekend in Windhoek.

Now the social media are abuzz with news that in a Cabinet reshuffle President Hifikepunye Pohamba has appointed Geingob back into his prime minister’s seat. What a comeback for a man who went through all the rough and tumble of politics!

I admit that for a moment, amid all the partisan accusations and all that we know about the political culture within Swapo, I am one of those who thought that HG’s political career was over. I could not fathom where all the hyped confidence in his campaign team was coming from. They proved me wrong; Swapo proved me wrong. And the delegates proved me wrong. A cursory observation on the totality of the congress election outcome suggests that there was no loser, but Swapo, democracy and Namibia won.

Now that the congress is behind us and HG is obviously edging closer to becoming Namibia’s third president, I can’t help but to think ahead and ponder about what President Geingob’s Cabinet would look like. Will he stick to the script and continue with the current ministers? Would he try to bring in new blood and technocrats with skills and expertise in policy and economic issues? Or would he pull President Abraham Lincoln’s ‘team of rivalry’ approach? In the US, President Barack Obama gambled with that approach: he retained and appointed some Republicans in key positions and his cabinet, including Secretary Gate for defence. He also appointed Hilary Clinton, his chief rival in the fierce Democratic primary contest in 2008, as his secretary of state. Hilary turned out to be outstanding and even helped Obama with his re-election as her work made him look good in the eyes of Americans in terms of his foreign policy agenda.

All these questions about HG’s Cabinet make-up are important, but the sad part of this thought, however, is that it does not give opposition parties a fair deal. It is indeed troubling that here I am already talking about HG’s presidency as a foregone conclusion, without even having had the presidential election. In any society, opposition politics is a vital part of what makes democracy tick. Their presence makes politics bend (ok, maybe not always) towards more democracy. Therefore they should not be written off or treated as an afterthought, but the sad part of Namibian politics is that, unless there is a divine intervention, we already know that Swapo and its preferred candidates will win big come 2014.

Importantly, this campaign and congress took place at a moment where Namibia’s footprint on policy implementation is very weak. Unfortunately, the campaign was not about bread-and-butter politics. Nor was it about policy challenges. Instead it was about who among the three candidates was more Swapo … populism at its best. The onus now falls on HG to unite and rally his comrades behind him. After all, he is the VP for all Swapo members/supporters and not just Team Geingob. From the photograph of him embracing Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, it seems that he already has started this process, but will he extend the same to the leaders of SPYL [Swapo Party Youth League], a wing that viciously campaigned against him?

On a personal level, although for the most part he remains above the fray, there is a lesson for him that when it comes to opposition parties, on numerous occasions he himself has also been guilty of the same tactics employed against him.

But the good news for Swapo, by making him their standard-bearer for the 2014 presidential elections, a tall order has been set for anyone thinking about contesting to become Namibia’s next president. There is a reason why it seems that Namibians from all walks of life have shown a keen interest in the outcome of this congress. I suspect that the Namibian people (the delegates too) have in mind his leadership during the drafting of the Namibian Constitution, his technocratic skills, and his time as the first PM (well, maybe not so much about his second term). Why? This is simply because Namibians are tired of politics as usual. They are hungry for a leader who can get things done, a leader who puts the nation above politics. Above all, they want a leader who understands the policy and economic challenges of our time.

It is in this context that HG still has a bridge to sell the Namibian people. Therefore if he cannot live up to these leadership qualities, just like his campaign slogan says, why not consider someone else?

*Ndumba J. Kamwanyah is a public policy consultant and an Africa blogger for the Foreign Policy Association.

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