20 October 2017

Namibia: An Inside Look Into the Swapo Party Nomination Process


THE competition for the Swapo Party's top four positions takes place after every five years - a process that pits aspiring candidates to battle for nominations before the party's elective congress.

The congress is the highest decision-making organ, and has the final power to elect the party's leadership. Historically, the person elected as the party president ends up being the party's torch-bearer in the presidential and national elections, of which the next round is slated for 2019.

Candidates are nominated at the politburo or the central committee platform, and are endorsed by the central committee to compete at the congress. With the central committee endorsement also starts the official campaigns as candidates try to outdo, outperform, outwit and outmanoeuvre one another.

There is where the role of the roughly 600 delegates to the congress comes in handy. The power shifts to them to officially select the leadership of the party. Delegates are party members from the regional, district and local structures of the party, as well as the party's wings and affiliated organs.

It is a must that delegates be courted by the candidates because they bring their own conscience, as well as the conscience of their political constituencies. That's to say that a delegate may vote on the basis of his/her own conscience, or based on the conscience of his/her constituency. You also cannot rule out a fear or belly-driven vote!

But all eyes are at the nomination for the party presidency, a process that somehow has evolved from what we have today. The Founding Father ran as a sole candidate during his time. Only after he retired did the system open up to competition.

Hifikepunye Pohamba, Nahas Angula and Hidipo Hamutenya (God bless his soul) were the first in the party's experimentation with a non-sole candidacy. A milestone it was for inner-party democracy.

This evolution, however, came at a price, and almost cost the party dearly in terms of unity. The 2004 campaign was vicious, malicious and gave the Swapo party politics terms like 'hibernator', 'Omusati clique', and 'the Nyamu notes'.

Pohamba, the preferred candidate of the Founding Father, squarely sailed through. Angula flip-flopped at the last minute - a move seen as tactical withdrawal to make it easy for Pohamba.

Hamutenya, who was fired from his ministerial position before the congress, lost badly, to the extent that he ended up resigning from the party to form what is today known as the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP).

The second round of a non-sole presidential candidacy would pit Hage Geingob, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and Jerry Ekandjo against one another. That was in 2012, to be precise.

Dirty tricks, character assassination and personal attacks characterised that campaign more than issue politics. The coinage 'Agenda 2017' in reference to a political plot to unseat the current president was born out of those events.

Geingob emerged victorious, and ended up to lead Swapo to a decisive victory in the 2014 national and presidential elections. This would be the first time the Swapo party fielded a non-Owambo candidate in its existence.

In round three, 'Masalads', 'this reporter', 'those in the know', and 'the curious citizen' are new coinages added to the Swapo political lexicon.

Come congress next month, the delegates will have the difficult task of choosing among Geingob, Angula and Ekandjo as their choice for the Swapo party presidency.

All three are long-serving members of the party, who served in the highest echelons of the party and government. They also know Swapo like the palm of their hands.

Of course, Geingob also brings with him the power of his office as the sitting president. However, his ability to unite the party is under the microscope. That he also wants all the top three positions to only be occupied by his preferred candidates is questionable.

Citizen Angula brings his simplicity, humbleness, and non-materialistic nature. However, is he running for a good reason? His flip-flop to run at the last minute is also questionable.

Then there is Ekandjo, who is an in-xile Swapo stalwart. He led and organised Swapo activities inside the 'belly of the beast'.

But there is a perception out there that under his leadership, the ministry of youth and sport has become dormant. The question on the lips of many is: if he cannot run the youth ministry, would he be able to run the party, and eventually the country?

I am not sure whether this matters, or what yardstick the congress delegates will use when they cast their votes in November. But what I know is that issue politics is what has been lacking in the Swapo nomination process and campaigns as they have been overtaken by personal politics. This time, let it be a campaign based on issues rather than personalities.


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