1 December 2017

Namibia: Winners and Losers From the Congress


The 2017 Swapo congress is history, with Team Harambee having whitewashed Team Swapo both at the top four positions of the party and the central committee.

President Hage Geingob, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Sophia Shaningwa, Marco Hausiku obviously had a good Sunday night in that most tightly watched race. In is the slate leadership. In is also one centre of power, and out is the two centres of power.

The crushing victory has not only closed the debate about one centre of power versus two centres of power but has also put Geingob in charge, completely consolidating his power over the Swapo party. It is no longer Nujoma or Pohamba's Swapo but Geingob's Swapo party. The ball is in his court to play as he wishes.

What to watch is what is he going to do with that absolute power of one centre given to him by the congress electorate? His action therefore will determine the future of the Swapo party and the legacy he will leave behind after his term.

What is clear is that he is inheriting a party that is falling apart, not a united one Swapo would like us to believe. The comradeship, rock-like unity and solidarity that characterised the yesteryear mighty Swapo party are gone with the wind.

In victory, Geingob must work to move the party towards its glorious past that is the unity of purpose. From his acceptance speech we can see that he has already started that journey. But his conciliatory words must be matched with concrete deeds to avoid what the 2012 congress did not do, which is to have an after-congress strategy to reconcile and unite the two camps.

Reconciliation must not only be at the leadership level but also horizontal among ordinary party members/supporters.

Geingob also won on another level. That is the level of having opened himself to be challenged by his own ministers, therefore making himself vulnerable. He was openly challenged, questioned, criticised and even called names. In Africa that is a new story never heard of.

Equally, Jerry Ekandjo and Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana are winners too. By challenging their boss, they have punched two holes into the ceiling of the politics of fear. That, too, is a new story unheard of before.

Team Harambee's supporters also scored big. They executed a fine campaign, and it paid off. From the top four to the central committee, candidates they supported and campaigned for sailed through.

Another winner is party Swapo. It is no longer the same old Swapo but a zebraic party whose central committee has been given a facelift in terms of old versus young; men versus women; exile versus inxile and regions.

But, apart from Team Swapo being shellacked, there were also plenty of losers. The leader in this category is issue-politics. The campaign lacked a clear issue in that it did not really provide substantive debate and discussions of critical issues affecting the party and the nation.

Candidates (and supporters alike) were preoccupied with vendetta politics and whatever they could sell to the delegates (who happily participated) instead of focusing on the big picture. Even the debate about the two centres of power was discussed in the context of congress (which was short-term) instead of long-term. No wonder the congress had to postpone its resolutions to an extraordinary congress sometime next year.

Another loser is Swapo unity which is badly bruised. President Geingob's acceptance speech was conciliatory and unifying but are the two camps ready? Swapo might have found a way of rationalising the division in the party as part of inner-democracy.

But camp Harambee and camp Team Swapo are not dead yet. The congress might be over but division and the simmering tension will take time to heal. The fate of the party and that of the nation rests on Swapo's ability to stop wasting time and resources on the infighting and instead refocus itself as a party of big issues and ideas.

The secretary general of the party also lost. Instead of being in the centre politics during the campaign, he appeared one-sided. The crux of the matter is that both camps are Swapo and both deserved a neutral secretary general irrespective of the differing positions. His one-sided approach, in terms of resources and support given to the camps, has created the impression that the party was favouring one camp over the other.

Then there is Namibia's best educator Nahas Angula (affectionately known as Citizen Nahas). As a very principled individual, perhaps Nahas wanted to make a statement. But it seems to me that his last-minute decision to enter the election was not well-thought out. The congress results are there to back me up.

Lastly, the pundits and the media who largely predicted a tight contest. The projected margins of victory and defeat were completely off the radar. How did we miss that?

* Ndumba Kamwanyah is deputy director at the University of Namibia's centre for development and teaching and learning improvement. Follow me on Twitter:@ndumbakamwanyah


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