opinionBy Gwen Lister
AFTER years of what can best be described as fairly ineffectual leadership, President Hifikepunye Pohamba made his first decisive move when he sprang into action with a post-congress reshuffle almost immediately after the election of Hage Geingob to the vice presidency of Swapo.
Only two days after the Geingob victory, the president realigned the ministerial team in line with the will of the congress, clearly brooking no argument in the process. Decisive leadership (not to be confused with authoritarianism) is so crucial for focus and clarity of vision for a country as well as change. It is hoped that this will be a hallmark of future governance.
WITHOUT commenting on the merits of the cabinet changes, I nevertheless found it refreshing to see President Pohamba as sure of himself and his decisions as he was when he reshuffled the team. Perhaps it was his relief at seeing his era in the presidency was coming to an end, because most Namibians accept that he was a reluctant candidate in the first place. And when the party spoke at the congress, President Pohamba not only listened, but he acted immediately. In this way, the distinct camps that had been formed around in particular the Geingob and (Jerry) Ekandjo candidacies, were defused and simmering rumour and speculation about the process, put to a fairly immediate stop. In the process he made what were for him personally clearly difficult decisions, such as the removal of the incumbent Prime Minister Nahas Angula. But Pohamba rose to the challenge and made them. He must be commended for this.
I am almost certain that it was this decisive and firm leadership on his part that contributed to both sides accepting the outcome – win or lose – and agreeing (at least on the surface) to work together in the interests of Namibia.
While President Pohamba’s reshuffle was (mostly) in line with promoting the Geingob inner circle of support, it was not exclusively so. And hopefully, since Pohamba has now shown the way and not hesitated in his implementation of the wishes of the congress pertaining to leadership, Geingob too – so long unsure as to the real sentiments of either former or incumbent presidents towards his taking over the reins of power – will feel empowered and encouraged therefore not edgy and uncomfortable as the countdown to his takeover commences.
It seemed clear too, from the initial conciliatory statements he made after his win, towards both his opponents and the media, that the president-to-be is in a relieved and relaxed state of mind. The real test of course, will come later. Geingob is not a reluctant head of state and he doesn’t have the Pohamba characteristics of humility and uncertain ego. Which could be both good and bad things, depending on whether he maintains his current attitude of inclusivity and promise to rebuild and regain the public trust.
As someone on Twitter pointed out this week: Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2007 called on ANC delegates not to choose someone of which most South Africans would be ashamed of, that is Namibia’s wish too. Pohamba never shamed us like President Jacob Zuma has South Africa, but he didn’t necessarily do us proud either.
While Swapo is still overwhelmingly the most popular political party, the people have lost a lot of faith and hope in the government, and it will be Geingob’s task to instil a new confidence if he can. Namibia does not need a dictator to fix things, but it needs a firm and decisive and honest hand at the tiller. Scepticism will remain until he can prove that it is not the power he is interested in, but the opportunity the presidency offers to mend our broken country.
His predecessor’s indecision came across largely as a weakness and did not positively impact on governance or the fight against corruption, which presently so badly erodes our public life.
Geingob does not lack decision, but his challenge will be to use this characteristic to good effect by being tough when he needs to be – especially against graft, entitlement, public service non-delivery, parastatal bailouts, poor ministerial performance, even conspicuous consumerism etc – yet be compassionate towards those truly in need.
And for starters, because he has been in the post of prime minister before, he can start showing he means business with immediate effect, and to fix negative public perceptions by leading by example. And where there remain doubts about him, whether it is about financial gratification on his own part or those he is close to, he must remove such concerns without further delay to ensure a clear road ahead and pride in our new presidency.