Ben Ulenga this week revealed the reasons that necessitated his return to the Swapo Party, 18 years after he ditched the party to build his own political fortress. Known as the founding father of the Congress of Democrats (CoD), Ulenga earlier this year reunited with his former Swapo comrades and he took no time to deny that he was the brainchild of CoD. Swapo secretary-general Nangolo Mbumba confirmed Ulenga’s return to Swapo’s political fold, saying the former CoD head re-joined the ruling party at the beginning of 2017. “He[Ulenga] joined us at the beginning of the year but this is not a funfair,” said Mbumba bluntly. Ulenga’s return failed to draw the pomp and fare that reverberated in the party when Rally for Democracy and Progress(RDP) founder Hidipo Hamutenya returned to Swapo in 2015.
Speaking to The Patriot this week, the former Robben Island prisoner said his return to Swapo should not be seen as betrayal to those whom he convinced to follow him to CoD. “People thought that I betrayed Swapo when I left, I didn’t betray. If I disagreed on an issue, that is not a betrayal. That’s a wrong perception of democracy. Why should it be seen as a betrayal, did I kill anybody?” he queried. When asked about the impact the move to re-join Swapo will have to CoD, its members and political aspirations, Ulenga retorted: “No, it[CoD] is not my brainchild. Nothing will happen to it. Why should my joining of Swapo be linked to what will happen to Congress of Democrats?” He went on to say: “You are asking your questions based on a wrong assumption. Parties are not personal projects, you must get that out your head. A party is supposed to be pushing certain aims and objectives. There shouldn’t be anything personal. When I join a political party, it is not for personal reasons. Parties are social organisations. People should not ask ‘what happens if is so and so is not a member’. Asked whether he had not betrayed his former CoD by returning to a party that they once fought against tooth and nail, Ulenga said: “If people are following Ulenga, they must follow me[in joining Swapo]. If you join a party based on a person that you are following, then you are just a follower of a person. Then I will just say follow me.”
CoD was formed by Ulenga and other notable Swapo members in a bid to protest plans to amend the constitution to enable President Sam Nujoma to run for a third term. Ulenga added: “To betray is like, you know what Judas[Iscariot] did to Jesus? He sold him out. When you sell somebody to their enemy, that’s when you betray. I fought for freedom in this country. Freedom means the personal power to go and come as you wish. To think freely on your own without anybody saying you cannot think like this. You disagree and you change your mind, that’s freedom. So there is no betrayal. If you follow people, you will feel betrayed,” Ulenga concluded. When CoD was at its peak in 1999, it won seven seats in the National Assembly. In 2004, the party won five seats and in 2009, the CoD won just a single seat. However, the last blow was during the 2014 Presidential and National Assembly election where CoD failed to gain a single seat. The defeat was followed by Ulenga’s resignation as party president in 2015.
Ulenga is not the first defector to re-join Swapo after rebelling and challenging the status quo within the ruling party in recent years. Hamutenya returned to Swapo, barely seven years after leaving the party. In a memoir published by Hamutenya in a local daily that year, the RDP founder said fondly of Swapo: “I’m happy to say that Swapo is once again the all-inclusive party it used to be, where a spirit of unity and comradeship prevailed. The new enlightened leadership, under the leadership of my good friend and brother Hage Geingob, has gone a long way in restoring my confidence in this great party.”