…An analysis of Swapo’s Road to the 2017 congress
As expected during this season when the Swapo Party as ruling party will be approaching its 6th Con- gress, the general atmosphere will be polluted by cynism, opportun- ism and speculation conjecture. True as it may be, Swapo Po- litburo member Jerry Ekandjo appears to be unnerving Presi- dent Hage Geingob’s camp by simply making any slight move. It’s downhill towards the Swapo’s elective conference in November, but Ekandjo has not said or done anything to categorically indicate that he wants Geingob’s job. Yet, as the underground jos- tling and lobbying continues, the leadership battle will be the great stomping elephant in the room, and Geingob has shown that he is very much spooked if the words and actions of those who are fear- lessly campaigning for him are anything to go by. When the Elijah Ngurare-led Swapo Party Youth (SPYL) in- troduced the ‘guided democracy’ narrative in the Namibian context in 2007 – the youth body seeming- ly ensured that the then President, Hifikepunye Pohamba would go uncontested at congress for the party’s presidency – smooth it went, Pohamba was not chal- lenged for the top position.
This was with a view to prevent internal discontent between com- rades and to ensure maximum unity within the party, SPYL argued at the time. In fact, the 2004 showdown which saw Hidipo Hamuntenya packing his bags and leaving the party is another reason why the party felt that the fate of democ- racy in the party should be guided and not left to chance. Throwing its weight behind Pohamba in 2007, SPYL stated: “The SPYL supports the sole can- didature of Comrade Hifikepunye Pohamba as President of SWAPO Party.” At the time, the Ngurare’s SPYL was met by heavy criticism from critics and the press alike, who accused the youth wing of being undemocratic fearing that guided democracy would stifle internal democratic constetations.
SPYL brushed off the criticism in a media interview saying: “By guided democracy – we do not mean no election or no open contest or limited democracy as alluded to, what we are saying and putting forward as our common denominator is inclusive political participation of all SWAPO mem- bers who are vying for the top four positions in SWAPO Party. Furthermore, all the interested comrades must be afforded rele- vant and fresh information and no one, and we mean no one, should be excluded and consequently the Politburo and the Central Committee of SWAPO Party must agree and collectively provide four names. Now, however, 10 years down the line, the very same guided[- controlled] democracy is nowhere to be seen to ensure a smooth transition of the incumbent act- ing-President (Hage Geingob) to the party presidency unopposed. Consequently, the situation has cast doubt over consistency, tradition and lack of a clear suc- cession strategy in place in the ruling party.
2004 Extra-Ordinary congress (May 2004)
In 2004 at the party’s Extra Ordinary congress, President Pohamba was the party’s vice president, hence President Sam Nujoma made sure that Pohamba would become Swapo’s presiden- tial candidate at the 2004 national elections. The congress would also mark the beginning of the end of Nu- joma’s illustrious era as State and party president. Meanwhile, ensuring that his anointed candidate got the notch was not an easy exercise for Nujoma as Swapo faithful and crowd-favourite, the late Hidipo Hamutenya would not allow the torch to go from Nujoma to Po- hamba without a contest. The relationship between Nu- joma and Hamutenya went from bad to worse when the former stripped the latter of his ministe- rial portfolio ahead of congress. At the time, three candidates vied for Swapo’s top position, namely: Pohamba, Hamutenya and Nahas Angula. However, in a Nujoma-engi- neered move, Angula withdrew as a compromise at the 11th hour. Returning the favour, Pohamba appointed Angula as his premier during his first term as president. In the end, Pohamba emerged victorious while Hamutenya and his clique came out of that con- gress wounded.
In a memoir, Swapo mouth- piece Namibia Today’s editor, Asser Ntinda writes of Hamuten- ya and aftermath of the 2004 extra-ordinary congress: “When we go into elections, we go in there as individual members of the Party. We win as such, and we lose as such too. People should not fall back on their tribes and ethnic affiliations when they lose in elections.” A senior party figure attributed the swift and non-polarised 2007 Congress on the Guided Democ- racy principle saying “it helped to navigate party issues and to bring cohesion in the party.” “Jerry was asked to stand down in 2007 and not challenge Hage for the VP position, that is a fact we all know. At the time there was no doubt that Jerry was going to win that battle because Hage had just returned from the USA and he had little support in the party. Jerry obeyed and everything went smoothly, can you imagine what would have happened had Jerry decided not to stand down?” ques- tioned the party member. The member added: “At the time Ngarikutuke Tjiriange was also asked not to challenge Pen- dukeni Iivula-Ithana for the sec- retary general position but he refused to stand down, in the end he ended up losing badly. It is important that as a party we navigate party affairs to maintain unity because election processes have the potential to cause fac- tionalism.” The member however claimed that in 2012, the party went back to its old ways whereby any mem- ber decides that they wish to stand without proper consultations. “We have chaos now because people did everything based on emotions at the expense of the provisions of the Constitution. The politics of the incumbency came into play, hence you heard then president Hifikepunye Po- hamba speaking of one-bullet,” said the member.
With the 2004 extra-ordinary congress leaving some Swapo members with permanent scars and casting others into the politi- cal wilderness, the 2007 congress was nothing short of flawless. This time around, Swapo’s president for over 40 years, Nu- joma stepped aside and handed the party’s instruments of power to Pohamba. On the other end, analysts at the time believed that Nujoma would hang onto the presidency due to the precarious situation that the party was in and let Pohamba retain his vice president position. Similarly, there were fears that the events of the contested 2004 congress would come back to haunt the party. However, like in 2004, Nujoma pushed for Pohamba to go unop- posed for Swapo’s top position. Furthermore, when Nujoma had sealed the presidency’s spot for Pohamba, Jerry Ekandjo (sec- retary for information at the time) – a force to be reckoned among Swapo’s rank and file emerged as favourite to land the vice presi- dency position against Geingob. After having received highest number of votes (395) in the election to the Central Committee of SWAPO at the party’s August 2002 congress, Ekandjo’s pop- ularity in the party came as no surprise. Ekandjo was asked to withdraw to pave way for Geingob as a ‘wel- come back’ present from Nujoma, for having sent Geingob into the political wilderness in 2002. Prior to the 2007 congress, the Politburo initiated the process of nominations of the candidates for the top four position positions – guided democracy. It was the SPYL and the NUNW that proposed the motion which led to a resolution to make Presi- dent Pohamba the sole candidate.
Fast forward to 2012, another Swapo congress year. Like the preceding congresses, it lived up to its billing expectations. The run-up to the 2012 congress was characterized by rumour mongering, tribalism (a call for a non-Oshiwambo President[Gein- gob]), late night meetings, calls for a female[Pendukeni Iivula-Itha- na] president and incidences of character assassination. Geingob was even accused of not being a card-carrying member. The then Swapo SG, Iivula-Itha- na, Jerry Ekandjo and Geingob battled it out tooth and nail for the party’s Vice-Presidency after Swapo resolved that the party’s presidency would not be contested to see Pohamba complete his term as President. In essence, this meant, the victor in the vice presidency race would automatically be Swapo’s presidential candidate in the 2014 national elections. Again, like in 2004, Swapo was torn apart. It was about whose camp party members sided with, irrespective of their political cre- dentials. As a result, like in 2004, the 2012 congress would also go down to which candidate the incumbent party President supported at the time. As was the case in 2004 and 2007, Pohamba mimicking his master Nujoma backed his depu- ty, Geingob to succeed him.
In 2012, Pohamba nominated Geingob for the position of Swa- po-Party Vice-President. At the time, this was a vivid gesture to political spectators and Swapo members that he(Poham- ba) was preparing the ground for Geingob to takeover once he leaves office. Subsequently, just 30 days after handing over state power to Gein- gob on 21 March 2015, Pohamba relinquished his role as party pres- ident paving way for Geingob as acting party president, a position that he has held until this day. According to the Swapo consti- tution, an extra-ordinary congress should have been held within 90 days after Pohamba vacated the position to either “endorse or elect” his successor.
Such a congress has not seen the light of day. However, despite his relentless efforts to ensure that Geingob, the acting president ascends to full Presidency, both at party and national level – in 2017, Pohamba is nowhere to be seen at a time when Geingob needs his blessing the most. According to insiders, Pohamba is said to be hesitating to endorse Swapo’s acting-President for the Swapo party Presidency. It is said Pohamba pledged his support for Geingob in 2012 on condition that – in return, Gein- gob would pave way for current minister of international relations, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah to take over the reins of both party and national presidency once Geingob leaves. For Pohamba’s demands to be met, Nandi-Ndaitwah should emerge as vice president at this year’s congress to put her in pole position to take over from Gein- gob in five years’ time. However, Pohamba’s wish looks unlikely to succeed.