Namibia: Unfinished Business within the Ruling Party

By Gurirab, Axaro | New African, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Namibia: Unfinished Business within the Ruling Party


Gurirab, Axaro, New African


There is a new president at the helm, but the jostling for position within the ruling Swapo party, which started in 2004, has not ended. Would the adversaries' long-held dream that the strongest and most viable opposition in Namibia emerges from within the ranks of Swapo itself, come true? Axaro Gurirab reports from Windhoek.

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"Can you believe it: the sun is still rising in the East and setting in the West!" So exclaimed a colleague of mine on the occasion of the inauguration of President Hifikepunye Pohamba on 21 March 2005. This simple observation was quite profound because until then many people had been at their wits' end trying to imagine Namibia without Sam Nujoma, the president of the ruling Swapo party.

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He had been the country's first president, for three consecutive terms of five years each--from 21 March 1990 until 20 March 2005. The constitution limits the presidential terms to two, but a special amendment made it possible for Nujoma to serve a third term.

Therefore, on 21 March 2005, Namibia took a bold step in its political transition, thus disproving the Afro-pessimists who had in typical fashion prophesied a traumatic doomsday scenario for a post-Nujoma dispensation. On its part, Namibia once more made a historically significant and gallant contribution to the democratisation of Africa.

The political transition had seen a heated contest between three Swapo heavyweights, namely Swapo vice-president Hifikepunye Pohamba, current prime minister Nahas Angula, and former foreign affairs minister Hidipo Hamutenya.

At the extraordinary party congress in May 2004, Angula fell out in the first round, and Pohamba ended up winning the second round overwhelmingly against Hamutenya. Pohamba continued his winning ways as Swapo presidential candidate during the national elections in November 2004, obtaining more than 75% of the votes.

The question on everyone's lips is: Will Swapo survive? Or will this political behemoth collapse under its own self-weight? Have the losing factions within the party really accepted their fate?

These questions are relevant because during the week leading up to the May 2004 extraordinary congress, Nujoma fired Hamutenya as foreign minister, as well as the then deputy foreign minister, Kaire Mbuende. It was thought at the time that Nujoma, who was personally campaigning for Pohamba, took these drastic steps in order to send a strong message to the congress delegates about who he liked and did not like.

The "persecution" of Hamutenya did not stop there, however. At the party's electoral conference in October 2004 to select the parliamentary party list, Nujoma produced a list of names which he said had been drawn up by imperialist agents. Needless to say, Hamutenya was on the top of the list, as were his closest and not so close comrades. And for the first time in independent Namibia, Hamutenya and some prominent party cadres did not make it to parliament. It was only towards the end of last year, by an ironic twist of history, that Hamutenya moved up the party list to replace Paulus Kapia, who was forced to resign following allegations of corruption involving millions of US dollars in the highly controversial Avid/Social Security Commission scandal. All of these and other developments in the ruling party are causing many people to believe that there is a lot of jostling for position beneath the surface, which is expected to reach boiling point as time approaches for the next ordinary congress of Swapo in or around August 2007.

All sorts of questions are now popping up: Will Nujoma stay on as party president? Will he stage a comeback as country president? Will Pohamba become the new party president, and thus serve a second term as country president? Has Hamutenya disappeared from the scene completely, or is he, the master strategist that he is, brewing up a stunning campaign?

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