Can Swapo handle having a party president who is not the president of the country?
Jerry Ekandjo and Nahas Angula are poised to challenge Dr. Hage Geingob for the position of Swapo president this weekend.
The position is currently vacant, but should Geingob lose the contest, the country will be headed for an uncertain political scenario, in which there are two seats of political power – one at State House and another at the Swapo headquarters.
Swapo’s congress has always been slightly out of tune with the national elections because they are scheduled two years apart, but this year’s congress is already underlining the grave problems that could emanate if there was infighting between party and national leaders.
The situation gets even more complex should Ekandjo win and Geingob decides to remove him from Cabinet. This could lead to Ekandjo making life hard for Geingob from the party headquarters. All these are scenarios that can manifest into reality depending on the will of the delegates.
So how does the party move forward? With Geingob set to remain president of the country until 2019 regardless what happens at congress, what will the Swapo president be doing from now until then? How does the party ensure that there are no squabbles between the new Swapo president and Geingob?
The two centres of power issue raises serious questions about why Swapo has not linked its elective congress cycle with the country’s national election cycle.
Analysts have already warned that two centres of power could create a political paralyses while others feel that a Geingob loss would equate to a vote of no confidence.
Mr. Phanuel Kaapama, a politics lecturer at the University of Namibia, said a “political paralysis” would be created if a candidate other than Geingob emerges victorious as party president.
“If you look at the nature of our politics, presidents of the republic emerge through the party. (But) you will have a state president, for the first time in Namibia’s history who has been rejected by his own party, that for me will create a serious political paralysis,” said Kaapama.
To back this claim, Kaapama said: “If you have Hage Geingob as a State President and somebody else being elected as the party president, given the negative campaigns we have witnessed between the different teams, I foresee a serious political paralysis that will create problems for the proper functioning of the state.
When you look at the Namibian Constitution, it provides for an executive president. He has those (executive) powers. (But) now a president that does not have control over a party will find it difficult to exercise those powers…especially a president that has been rejected by his own party.”
Kapaama says challenging Geingob is a “sugar coated” vote of no confidence from some party members.
“This notion of two centres of power is a sugar coated way for delegates to pass a vote of no confidence in the acting president[Geingob]. What will happen after we have two centres of power? I foresee a situation where, by the end of his[Geingob] first term, Swapo will come up with a different candidate. And then they[Swapo] will revert to the one centre of power.
Because if you are saying Hage Geingob is not good enough to be the president of the party, will you come back and say “but yes he can continue being president of the country?” It’s a sugar coated way of expressing a vote of no confidence,” he said.
Speaking at an event this week, Swapo presidential candidate Angula said the major reason as to why Team Swapo is contesting for power against the Geingob-led Team Harambee is to rescue the party from taking the wrong direction.
Angula said if power is concentrated in one individual, it corrupts.
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is what we are trying to avoid,” said Angula to further cast doubt in a Geingob-led Swapo.
Angula added: “Swapo party is moving in a wrong direction. We run the risk of finding ourselves in a similar situation like ZANU PF of Zimbabwe, a situation acknowledged by the president of Zimbabwe himself that the Party has gone in a wrong direction as a result of violation of party constitution, its principles and values by those who have championed personal ambition and interests at the expense of the Party and national interest.”
To this remark, Kaapama called upon those holding the view that absolute power “corrupts” to provide evidence as to how it corrupted Geingob’s predecessors.
“When you say absolute power corrupts absolutely, did absolute power corrupt Nujoma? Did absolute power corrupt Pohamba?” asked Kaapama.
He added: “Had it been a problem, we would have dealt with it when Nujoma was in office. So the issue is that there are certain people that have a problem with the personality of the current president.
So if we say absolute power corrupts absolutely, give us evidence of that during Pohamba and Nujoma’s terms and whether we have evidence now (during Geingob’s tenure).”
Furthermore, another analyst that The Patriot caught up with was director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Graham Hopwood who said Namibia cannot be compared to Zimbabwe in the two centers of power context.
“In Zimbabwe, the argument for moving away from one centre of power in Zanu PF was mainly a reaction to the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. But Namibia is not a dictatorship and there are checks and balances in place that can be used to prevent abuse of power,” stated Hopwood.
He further noted: “The President[Geingob] faces criticism over his leadership style which can come across as overbearing and even bullying. At the same time the current SG Nangolo Mbumba has been accused of not creating a level playing field for candidates to contest. These complaints may have some validity but could probably be dealt with through internal processes without having a completely different set of officials heading the party.”
According to Hopwood, failure for Geingob to land the position of party presidency will undermine his final two years in power.
“It will probably lead to a new contest over who should be the presidential candidate in 2019. The main challenge for the party post-congress, irrespective of the result, will be the necessity to reconcile and heal the wounds caused by a rather bitter campaign,” he said. Hopwood argued that Team Swapo has not presented enough of an argument to convince most delegates that Geingob is not the right man for Swapo’s top job.
“In order for the party to choose another candidate, there would have to be a fundamental reason for the party to shift away from what would be a logical connection between the two posts – Head of State and party president – and from past practice.
Although Team Swapo has argued vociferously that the Swapo constitution has been violated, I don’t have the sense that this is a persuasive enough issue to cause most delegates to vote for alternative candidates at the President and VP level,” he charged.
Another analyst that also spoke to The Patriot was deputy director at the University of Namibia’s Centre for Professional Development and Teaching and Learning Improvement, Ndumba Kamwanyah who maintained that the purported two power centers is a “none issue”.
“I really don’t understand why were even debating this issue of two centers of power…it’s a non-issue. Many people are interpreting it in the sense that first they wanted a sole candidate and it did not go through; then they wanted to say that the President is not the acting president but he is the president of the party and that also did not go through. Now, the debate has shifted to one center and two centers of power,” charged Kamwanyah.
He went on to suggest that the debate is deliberately being twisted to sound as though the party wants to pass a motion of no confidence in Geingob.
“In reality, in modern times, parties should readjust themselves to the changing times whereby if you are a leader, you cannot say I only want to work with people that I am comfortable with. Also, it must be noted that this is within the party[Swapo].
So it really defeats my logic that people within the same Party, one at Katutura headquarters and another at State House cannot work together…that it brings a huge paralysis on the government affairs. They can work together. The most important characteristic of a leader is to be able to work with everybody,” Kamwanyah said briefly.
He believes that two centres of power will benefit Namibia greatly in the longer term as it creates room for checks and balances.
“I think the major problem that we are having is that we are debating two centres of power in the context of the congress. And that is the short term because we speaking of the current president and those that are running (against him).
To do justice, we should discuss it in the longer term. If we are thinking of Hage Geingob, Jerry Ekandjo and Nahas Angula, that will not do justice to the debate,” said Kamwanyah.