Fear in leadership leads to insecurity. Then, defensive mechanisms are promptly employed and deployed to silence dissenting views. Namibia’s third President, Dr Hage Geingob, is not doing very badly. But he is also not doing very well either. Very often, he comes across extremely insecure and angry. Insecurity at the top can result in flawed judgements and decisions, which taint leadership. Geingob campaigned soundly well during the 2014 Presidential and National Assembly Elections. His rallies were always decorated with that omnipresent billboard bearing the founding and former presidents, Dr Sam Nujoma and Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba respectively, followed by him as the next president. “If you vote for Comrade Geingob, (Yours Truly), also known as Omake or the Unifier, you will help continue the legacy of leadership which is united. To have three iconic leaders of a country appearing together is unheard of elsewhere in Africa and the world,” said Geingob at one of his campaign rallies. In the end, Geingob triumphed to power with 86 percent of the votes. Oddly enough, he surprised all and sundry when he pushed through controversial constitutional amendments that created the Vice Presidency. National Assembly seats were also increased from 72 to 104. National Council seats jumped from 26 to 42. That Geingob did not wait to be sworn in as President to make those changes defies understanding. Critics saw such changes as rewards for those who had campaigned for him. The overhead cost played a backseat role.
Today, some people strongly feel that President Geingob has become unpredictable, far removed from the “continuity legacy” he so eloquently championed during the election campaigns. He espouses democratic values. But he does not brook dissenting views. Two years down his presidency, he is a different man. Several people who handed him that victory have left him. And they have no good stories to tell. With Swapo’s elective congress slated for November this year, Geingob is sure his seat is not entirely out of the danger zone. That insecurity sends his head spinning 360 degrees. He sees several people as potential threats. Given the poor performance of the economy since he took over, his fears are not farfetched. At the 2012 Congress, Swapo fielded three candidates – himself, ministers Jerry Ekandjo and Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana. The two lost the race. They did not just publicly accept defeat. They humbly vowed to campaign for him in 2014, despite dirty tricks and de-campaigning against them before the congress. True, as a ‘unifier’ that he says he is, Geingob did well by bringing back both Ekandjo and Iivula-Ithana into cabinet – a move applauded by many as a step in the right direction to maintain unity in the Party. But such confidence-building measures were knocked off balance by his purging bravado, which saw four young Swapo Party Youth League leaders – SPYL Secretary Dr Elijah Ngurare, Dee Nauyoma, Job Amupanda and George Kambala being expelled from Swapo. The four supported Ekandjo.
They never appeared before a disciplinary committee as provided for in the SWAPO Party Constitution and Code of Conduct. When former President, Pohamba, resigned as President of Swapo in April 2015, Geingob was appointed by the Central Committee as acting President until this year’s congress. He is the party’s Vice President. As both Acting and Vice President, Geingob was suddenly very powerful. He chaired the Swapo Politburo meeting which expelled the four youth league leaders. They challenged their expulsions in the High Court and won the case. High Court Judge Collins Parker told Geingob and Mbumba that they had gravely violated the Constitution of Swapo Party and its Code of Conduct by not following set procedures. It was a costly mistake. The Top Four selectively read and quoted the Constitution and Code of Conduct to please themselves. They read the two documents with faces in mind – their faces. In the end, they sufficiently embarrassed themselves before the High Court. The humiliation of having a High Court Judge lecturing the Top Four on the Constitution of SWAPO and its Code of Conduct was not easy to swallow. But no lesson seems to have been learned from that constitutional blunder. Geingob and Secretary General of Swapo, Nangolo Mbumba are now telling people that he is not just acting but full President of Swapo – another grave and daylight violation of the Constitution of Swapo. The Constitution says the Swapo President shall be elected by the Congress. No extra-ordinary congress was ever held to elect him.
Mbumba condones this violation and resents anyone who points it out. But those who raise such concerns are not against Geingob and Mbumba. They are against abuses. They are consciously concerned about the health of the party. They say so solely to perfect Geingob’s leadership style, aligning it to what the Constitution says. They are Swapo to the boots. For them, there is no alternative to Swapo. They strive to make it stronger by loyally pointing out wrongs and defending the Constitution. Violating the Constitution of Swapo sets a dangerous precedent which the Party would have no control over in future. Where there is no constitutional respect, there will certainly be no constitutional order. Geingob and Mbumba have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Swapo Constitution, not to violate it. If they don’t uphold it, who will? It only means one thing – they hold such violations dear, and the oath cheap. Recognizing the difference is the beginning of wisdom. There is a political thread that runs through these violations – that is Geingob should go to this year’s congress unopposed. Yes men and yes women around him endorse this move. That Geingob does not want to be challenged defies logic. In 1997, Geingob challenged the late Hendrick Witbooi as Vice President of Swapo. He withdrew at the eleventh hour after some wise elders advised him not to contest. Some sycophants around Geingob are quick to peddle self-serving analyses that the Swapo Presidency has never been contested. Fair enough. But neither Nujoma nor Pohamba had ever asked any presidential hopefuls not to contest against them. Nobody just gathered enough courage to do that. If anybody today strongly feels that he or she can do better than Geingob, so be it. Let the best man or woman win. And Swapo moves on.
Geingob does not take criticism lightly. But some years ago, he was quite comfortable to harshly liken Dr Nujoma to disgraced dictators such as Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda and Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, arguing that there were attempts by “presidential coteries” to encourage the president to be “presidential.” He also claimed that during his presidency, Dr Nujoma concentrated political power in himself and delegated only “trivial decision-making tasks.” Geingob wrote in his Doctoral Thesis: “These sycophants, who surround the president, are interested in their own survival and seek to please the president by informing him that he was very popular with the people. He continued: “This sycophancy may be reflected in their behavior of promoting omnipotence of the presidency. It can take many forms, such as the way the president is addressed (head of state and head of government, commander-in-chief, tatekulu, revolutionary, founding father) as has been the case in Zaire under president Mobutu and Malawi under president Banda.” Geingob was neither charged nor expelled from the Party for making such disparaging comparisons. But he is extremely busy today charging and expelling people from Swapo on fictitious and spurious charges, as if he is spotlessly clean himself.
What offences have Dr Ngurare and his colleagues really committed? Convince us and we will understand. In the greater scheme of national interest, these trivial charges should never overshadow our national development agenda. That we have leaders preoccupied with such spurious charges is mindboggling. Namibia faces many challenges. More than half a million people live in informal settlements. Unemployment is very high, especially among the youth. Our education is a mess. Thousands of young employed youths are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty – paying exorbitant rental fees for the rest of their lives because they are unable to get plots to build their own decent homes. And this, against the mushrooming of flats owned by tycoons who have teamed up with corrupt municipal councilors to acquire large tracks of plots in towns, while thousands of people rot on the waiting list, being told that there is no serviced land. These are the challenges that should preoccupy Geingob and Mbumba, not bragging about Geingob being the sole candidate for the party’s presidency. The nation needs an inspiring leadership to overcome such challenges. Telling people that you were born under a tree may be a good anecdote to humble beginnings. But it does not inspire and propel the nation to greater heights. Telling them magic wand solutions to poverty does inspire the nation to emulate examples, work hard and be successful.
For example, tell the nation how Geingob got rich so quickly when everybody knows that he was struggling to pay municipal bills a few years ago. Sharing such experiences will encourage Namibians to emulate your example and encourage us to work hard. It arouses in us the productive potential and initiatives to emulate and pursue such successful stories. The youths are not a problem in this country. The problem is the inability of the leadership to engage them constructively. Swapo needs a serious soul-searching assessment and self-introspection. It cannot be business as usual. Things are going very badly. Swapo Party Youth League, SPYL, is no longer the vibrant and militant wing that it once was. To convince me that all is well is like telling me to believe that the Pope sells condoms. The inability of the party leadership to manage the post-2012 congress fallouts is regrettable. And great minds in Swapo – and there are many in the leadership – are stone silent about all these wrongs. I resent such deafening silence. It is this silence that will destroy Swapo in the end. The old guards still do not want to accept that times are changing. Either they think that Swapo without them will disintegrate or it owes them for the rest of their lives. That mentality is the reason the once formidable United National Independence Party, UNIP, in Zambia is no more.Today, UNIP is a wreck of its former self. Let us save Swapo from that fate. Praise singers destroy. They do not build. When former president Kenneth Kaunda appointed himself as chairman of the Board of the Zambia Industrial and Mining Corporation,
ZIMCO, the entire UNIP leadership nodded this as a “wise move.” The rest is history.
True, people are quick to draw parallels to what happened after the 2004 and 2012 congresses. But the fallouts are not the same. In 2004, the late Hidipo Hamutenya refused to accept the outcome of the elections. In 2012, both Ekandjo and Iivula-Ithana publicly accepted the outcome of the congress. So too did Dr Ngurare, who went out of his way to campaign for Geingob to win, only to be slapped with expulsion letters after the victory parade! The key to make Swapo healthier and greater is in Geingob’s hands. He needs to play open cards with his colleagues in the leadership. Geingob allows problems to almost spiral out of control and becomes the herb that fixes them at the last minute. Last year’s salary negotiation for teachers is a case in point. That is not dealing with others in good faith. More than anything else, Swapo needs to devise new strategies on how to deal with an enlightened youth. The leadership cannot just foist anything on them and expect them to clap hands. They will certainly ask questions, sometimes controversial ones. Good leadership is about engaging them honestly and frankly, without dehumanizing them by asking ‘where they were when we were in Tanganyinka.’ Can any man ask his children where they were when he got married?
As a human being under pressure, Geingob can quite understandably succumb to petulant political irritations that may cause him to churn out some uninspiring tantrums. However, when his tour of duty comes to an end, people will judge him on what he has done to make tomorrow better than today, not on how many people he has expelled from Swapo. This is Geingob’s rendezvous with history, his date with destiny. How he discharges this noble duty will define his legacy. Time will tell.
NB: Asser Ntinda is the Editor of Namibia Today, a Swapo weekly newspaper. The views expressed here are his own, and not necessarily those of Namibia Today nor of this publisher.