Magazine article New African

Pohamba: The Man, the Leader, His Legacy ... and That Prize

Magazine article New African

Pohamba: The Man, the Leader, His Legacy ... and That Prize

Article excerpt

Last month, Namibia inaugurated a new president, Hage Geingob, to take over from Hifikepunye Pohamba (?pictured, below), who after 10 years in power, left office with fond accolades from Namibians and a $5m Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to boot. From Windhoek, our correspondent Tom Mbakwe reports on how Pohamba will be remembered.

Judging from the views of the Namibian people, and especially from opposition politicians, Hifikepunye Pohamba (who handed over power on 21 March to the incoming President Hage Geingob in a lavish Independence Day inauguration ceremony in Windhoek), was a special breed of leader rarely found on the African continent.

It is normal for ruling party members to praise a sitting president. To get opposition leaders and their supporters (especially in Africa where the opposition never accepts defeat in elections --elections are always stolen, they claim) to sing the praises of a president who does not come from their party is truly out-of-Africa, if not a testimony to the calibre of the president in question.

On that score alone, former President Pohamba deserves to have won the 2014 "Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership", sponsored by the foundation run by the Sudanese business mogul, Mo Ibrahim, who made his money in telecoms.

Established in 2007, the Ibrahim Prize recognises and celebrates excellence in African leadership. Its main goal is to encourage African leaders to fully dedicate themselves to defeating the development challenges facing their countries, by improving the livelihoods and welfare of the people while consolidating the foundations for sustainable development.

On 2 March, the independent Prize Committee, consisting of six eminent Africans and one European, chaired by the former Tanzanian statesman, Salim Ahmed Salim, announced Pohamba as the 2014 Ibrahim Prize winner.

Making the announcement in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Salim Salim said: "President Pohamba's focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia's consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the Prize Committee.

"His ability to command the confidence and the trust of his people is exemplary. During the decade of his presidential mandate, he demonstrated sound and wise leadership. At the same time, he maintained his humility throughout his presidency."

The Tanzanian was effusive in his praise, adding that "during the decade of Pohamba's presidency, Namibia's reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable, and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights."

For all that, Pohamba, like the three former Ibrahim laureates, will get a $5m award paid over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life thereafter. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation will also consider granting a further $200,000 per year for 10 years towards any public interest activities and good causes that Pohamba would like to carry out.

Stepping out of Nujoma's shadow

Truly, for those who have followed Namibia closely under Pohamba's governance, not one word of Salim Salim's eulogy was amiss. He was a much-loved president who managed to extricate himself from the shadow and big boots of his celebrated predecessor and benefactor, Sam Nujoma, who handpicked him as a successor before he stepped down in 2005 after 15 years in power.

How Pohamba succeeded in stepping out of Nujoma's shadow without offending him, while wooing the opposition figures and parties who had been at loggerheads with Nujoma during his 15-year reign, is a feat that puts Pohamba ahead of his peers by a country mile.

In many countries across Africa, sitting presidents and their mentor-predecessors tend to trade insults in public and thereby denigrate the high offices they hold or held. Two notable examples come to mind--Zambia (Levy Mwanawasa and Frederick Chiluba) and Ghana (Atta Mills and Jerry Rawlings). …

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