Want some insight in Namibian politics? I am no expert but have 16 years (1995-2011) of writing on Namibian politics in The Namibian newspaper and can probably offer you a bit more than you know about the who's who in the Namibian political zoo. You will also find a few articles commenting on other issues of concern in the country. Hope you find it interesting. - Christof

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Truth Behind The Chaotic Teachers’ Strike

LEADERS of trade unions affiliated to Swapo have always used workers as a stepping stone to getting a seat in Parliament.

The illegal strike by teachers was another opportunity which some wanted to use to raise their stakes but it all went horribly wrong.
After the National Union of Namibian Workers affiliated to Swapo, many union leaders walked over to full-time politics on the party’s ticket after making loud noise about one of other workers’ issue.
Among the first to do so was former secretary general Bernhardt Esau. In 1994 he announced that the NUNW was considering forming its own political party, causing major discomfort between the party and the unions. He was quickly summoned to Swapo headquarters and made to retract his statement.
Also in 1994, Esau, John Shaetonhodi and late Walter Kemba, were listed on former President Sam Nujoma’s choice of 32 of Swapo candidates for the 1994 parliamentary elections.
Fast-forward five years and the late Gabes Shihepo organised the biggest demonstration of communal farmers calling for land reform to be speeded up. Within a month he was appointed as Deputy Minister of Information, even though the demonstration was held under the Namibia National Farmers’ Union banner.
A year later, Shihepo was followed into Parliament by the late Ponhele ya France who, as NUNW President, had made threats of a Zimbabwe-style land grab during a May Day rally, accusing “Namibians of European origin” of being unwilling to co-operate in redressing the discrepancies brought about by colonialism.
Among the more recent unionists to follow a similar path were former NUNW president Alphäus Muheua and the Namibia Public Workers Union’s Eliphas Dingara.
So many union leaders seen as firebrands fighting for the rights of the masses have, in a way, deserted them for seats in Parliament.
So it was no surprise that cheap politicking, at the expense of union business, was the order of the day when it came to the illegal mass strike of teachers.
The union leaders knew the channels to follow within their unions but because of personal fights with others at their leadership level they opted to use the masses to fight their case.
But even in using the masses they could have followed a different route – to organise them towards a mass recall of union leaders who purportedly failed them instead of directing their anger at the Government, pupils and parents.
And when they had the teachers on their side, they failed to lead them in the right direction when they opted for an illegal strike.
This was done especially because some leaders had, by then, been suspended and it was inevitable that they would face consequences at workplace level.
So they decided to create chaos and make Nantu ungovernable. It was self-interest. They feared being pinpointed as culprits and facing the wrath of the law alone.
In opting to take teachers along the route they did, union leaders knew very well that it would be very difficult for the Public Service Commission, as the employer, to take action against a mass of teachers. It was go big, or go home, for the leaders.
They had one thing in mind. If it reached the stage that it did, they would use the well-known slogan of ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’, and make sure that if Government did not discipline the teachers, a condition would be added that they also be reinstated in their positions.
For those leaders, the levels the strike reached had nothing to do with the inequality and hardships experienced by a normal teacher in the village, and which fuelled their discord.
These are the people who have made the unions powerless in their negotiations with, for example, the Government.

Because of the self-interest of some union leaders, the workers continue to suffer with low wages, unreasonable dismissals, unabated retrenchments and a general disregard for basic human rights.

For those unionists it is all about their political future; there is nothing in it for the workers.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Swapo Race Shenanigans: Taking Us 7 Years Back?


WHILE the motormouth campaign managers of Hage Geingob and Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana fought it out in public, Jerry Ekandjo’s foot soldiers continued their work quietly among the Swapo faithful, resulting in a major shift within the race for the party’s vice presidency.

It is no secret that Ekandjo has the ambition to become Swapo’s number one and ultimately the country’s leader.
At the November 2007 congress, Ekandjo’s supporters were already ‘all systems go’ to challenge Geingob for the party’s vice-presidency but withdrew at the eleventh hour. This was done “in the interest of party unity”.
At that stage some within Swapo warned that it would have been ‘suicidal’ for Ekandjo to stand especially since unity in the party was fragile due to the shenanigans that led to Hidipo Hamutenya leaving Swapo and President Hifikepunye Pohamba being declared as the preferred candidate.
At that congress the keyword was ‘guided democracy’ and it was introduced by the Swapo Party Youth League, who also flatly opposed any additional nominations from the floor.
The same congress also saw the late John Pandeni withdraw against Iivula-Ithana in the race for the Secretary General position.
So there was a plan and it dates back years and not months as some of Ekandjo’s opponents would make themselves believe.
To her credit, Iivula-Ithana also played her cards well at that congress and Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, who dared to stand against her, has since become history.
But the race between Geingob, Iivula-Ithana and Ekandjo has now reached the home stretch. There is no holding back any longer. Therefore Ekandjo’s bullish attitude. He knows very well that it is now or never. But so too for Geingob and Iivula-Ithana.
The fact that Utoni Nujoma has moved for the Secretary General position has finally confirmed as many speculated about a possible Nujoma dynasty. But about that, some other time.
For now the waterfall of leaks and the nitpicking and mudslinging that characterised the 2004 campaign within the party has re-emerged. This includes the re-emergence of a faceless character calling himself ‘Ananias Nghifitikeko’ who previously used e-mails for a smear campaign against some candidates. This time Nghifitikeko is even on Facebook and has started attacking certain individuals.
Unfortunately the uncomradely kerfuffling is not helping to improve democracy within the party. Previous experience has taught us that too much factionalism can take its toll.
Of course, as in any other competition of this magnitude, there are bound to be squabbles and divisions but it should not be allowed to reach the level of political buffoonery we experienced in 2004.
The Swapo vice presidency race should be about what each candidate can offer to the country first and also to the party. Remember even though some in Swapo feel that what happens within the party is the prerogative of the party, when Swapo sneezes the rest of the country gets a cold. We can’t argue this fact away.
We should be looking at what each of the candidates will bring to the table in terms of: Benefits for the country? Their strengths and weaknesses? Is the individual a person in his/her own right or ultra-Swapoist? If not how would that affect the country under the ‘rule’ of such a person?
Who of the three is a pragmatist who can link theory and practice? Who is in the centre? And how will their ideas promote democracy in the country and advance us in terms of bread-and-butter issues?
Those opposed to Geingob claim that under him democracy will basically mean the ability by a small group of people to purchase and to own while under Ekandjo we might see democratic centralism which will make the ruling party stronger than it was even under former leader Sam Nujoma.
The debate should be such that, once the congress comes, those who represent the grassroots will have a clear idea of where to put their cross.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gangsterism, Selfishness, Killing RDP

AFTER attending public rallies of the Rally for Democracy and Progress in Windhoek and at Omuthiya following the party’s establishment a few years back, I told some of my newsroom colleagues that nothing about the RDP is different from Swapo.

And when some inquisitive minds picked my brain about the party’s chances in the first presidential and general elections they contested, I predicted that they would get between seven and nine seats in the National Assembly.
Recent events are proof that I was not far off the mark.
A lot of ink has already been spilled analysing the impact the recent divisions in the main opposition party will have on their future role in the country’s political arena.
Yet it is worth putting things into perspective because, as those who have long been around in Namibian politics will agree, the Rally for Democracy and Progress is actually repeating the same mistakes committed by the Congress of Democrats. And both parties were established primarily by people who had left Swapo.
It is important to note that politicians get in trouble when desire nixes their memory. Therefore the nitpicking and mudslinging, although not as public as happened at CoD, are clearly only a scramble for the party’s soul as those at the centre of it feed their own insatiable greed to take over leadership and not necessarily to lead the party to greater heights.
When it became clear that a new political party was on the horizon because of Swapo’s treatment of Hidipo Hamutenya and those who supported him during the 2004 election for Swapo candidacy, many decided to join that new party because of Hamutenya.
They felt that their hero had finally made the move and he would be the solution to many problems Namibia faced. But there were many others who joined because they hoped to get positions. Others also left Swapo not because they saw Hamutenya as the solution but because of their hatred for former Swapo leader Sam Nujoma.
Some of those who joined the party did so because they hoped to revive their political careers as their peers in Swapo started regarding them as spent forces.
There could be other categories, but a minority of genuinely concerned Namibians also joined RDP because they were looking for a viable alternative to Swapo. Their only goal was to break the two-thirds majority and to ensure that Namibia’s democracy remained vibrant.
But there was always the risk of a personality split because of how those who led the formation of RDP had operated when they were in Swapo. Many of them undermined the party leadership if they didn’t agree with how things were done.
In the last few years before they left Swapo the majority of them spent their energies to orchestrate conflicts and direct disorder in their quest to make it look like Swapo was a party full of divisions, backbiting and hatred among comrades.
I am not saying that it is all peace and happiness in Swapo. But I am emphasising the extent to which some people went about creating the impression that the new party they were about to establish was the solution to everything.
But now that they are in positions of responsibility, where they are required to   deploy the power given to them as leaders, some leaders are failing to deliver.
One of the reasons for this is because the trust of followers was based partially on the wrong reasons. There was a perception created that the RDP leadership would always remain united and able to fix the disunity problems which were being experienced in Swapo. Another perception was that they were better leaders than those in Swapo.
Thus the disarray and political gangsterism seen elsewhere in Namibian politics would have made way for unity in RDP.
However, selfish individual goals have overtaken the purpose for which the party might have been established and if Hamutenya had not acted with the recent suspension of three leaders he would have been seen as a lame leader.
But the RDP’s problems won’t be resolved by Hamutenya alone.
Others too should agree to let go of personal agendas. Already we have witnessed that since being elected to the National Assembly, the RDP has yet to play a  significant role. For instance, they have yet to propose a bill.
If personal issues continue to dominate the inner operations of the party, the RDP will become a disaster as a vehicle for people’s political hopes and as a parliamentary player. In fact it will not have any hope at all. They need not look further than those around them in the National Assembly.
There’s no fudging with unity in political parties as many in CoD will tell you. You win or you don’t.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Succession: Shouldn’t We Also Think Outside The Box

CANDIDATES have strategies to win the race in Swapo but do they have the strategies to run the country? And do they have the qualities of a leader the country needs?

These are but two of the most crucial questions that Swapo and any delegate to the congress later this year must ask before deciding on the presidential candidate.
Instead too much time and effort is wasted on personalities and character assassination and who will benefit through tenders or prepare the State for collective piracy if their candidate wins.
Even though Swapo was known as the traditional hope of the oppressed and there is a feeling among some of its members that others have no right to poke inquisitive noses into its affairs, ignoring what is going on in the party is as good as cutting the thread that holds the country together. Swapo is the ruling party since Independence and therefore everything it does matters to outsiders also.
With the debate on succession thus limited to the Politburo, Central Committee and the congress, it should be the sole business of everyone else who thinks they are obliged to have a say to use available platforms to try and influence party members on the type of candidate to be elected. It is only right to do so even though it is not written in stone that the Swapo candidate will become the next President of Namibia.
It is a fact that the majority of Namibia has relegated the responsibility of choosing that candidate to around 500 delegates at the congress.
As for now the names of the party’s Vice President Hage Geingob, Secretary General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, Information Secretary Jerry Ekandjo, Prime Minister Nahas Angula and Deputy Prime Minister Marco Hausiku are all being touted as candidates to take over the party leadership from President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
All of the above have had their share of time in Cabinet and should by now have shown their capabilities.
Since Independence Swapo has hammered home the message of peace and tranquility. In fact even though former President Sam Nujoma emphasised economic independence towards the latter years of his rule, and Pohamba (being the continuation of programmes) reiterated these words, Namibia now needs a manager as President.
The next President should be able to steer the ship with very clear aims and be able to mobilise Cabinet, top ministerial management as well as the private sector with clear economic goals.
It should be someone who will manage Cabinet in such a way that ministers must present regular reports on progress of programmes undertaken but when they fail to deliver, sideways reshuffling should not be the option.
They should know that even though there are traits of servanthood in their leader, such a person will not tolerate laziness, lack of honesty, and will not hesitate to fire those who fail to carry out plans.
It means someone who is willing to take unpopular decisions in the interest of the nation and not a politically well-connected elite group.
When the second term of President Pohamba started, we were told that he had given each minister a set of goals/targets to achieve. The mistake he made was that those targets remained confidential between him and the ministers.
If he had gone the transparent route of revealing each minister’s target, he would have been more empowered when taking steps against a non-performing Cabinet member.
As it is now, he can keep track of the delegated work, but who says that he is in fact doing that? How do we know that his non-performing ministers face his wrath? And what type of wrath is it that we don’t actually see?
Also, our next President should be someone who will not generalise targets but zoom in on them with short-term deadlines. Even though we have Vision 2030 as an overall goal, there are many short term solutions which can make it a success.
Only a seasoned navigator can steer the ship in that direction.
We have many candidates, some of them even outside the group I referred to earlier.
Therefore, if need be, the delegates must start to think outside the box.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Swapo Succession: Marching Left But Walking Right

IN Swapo not everything the party leaders say from the public podium is ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. In many instances the word ‘party’ is used to achieve personal goals and also coerce members into a certain thinking or direction. Take, for instance, the decision taken by the party’s Politburo and rubber-stamped by the Central Committee that there should be a lid on the succession debate until ‘the party’ decides otherwise. It makes one wonder who ‘the party’ then is. Is the party the Politburo or is the party general membership at section, branch and regional level? It was decided that campaigning should not be allowed until ‘the party’ decides otherwise nearer to the congress. What that decision basically means is that ‘the party’ is the Politburo. It is the Politburo who decides when campaigning will start. But most importantly, it is also the Politburo which decides who should stand for election and in what position because the names will be first thrown in the hat at that level before being submitted to the Central Committee and later to the congress. It means that, first, someone who is not at Politburo level has almost a zero chance of being named as a candidate for a top four position. Not that I am arguing for a complete outsider as leader of the party but to point out the exclusiveness of the presidential race. Secondly, there has been no instance where the Politburo had invited nominations for the top four positions prior to deciding on the candidates. What it has done is to nominate and endorse them at Central Committee and congress level before elections take place. Therefore, the Politburo is in fact the ‘party’ which the leaders refer to when they talk about the succession debate, when people should start campaigning or who the candidates will be to stand for elections. I know that some will argue that the congress delegates still get a chance to nominate a candidate from the floor, but what chance does such a person have of being elected? When does such a person campaign? So the question really is whether it is truly a Swapo tradition, as many leaders claim, not to campaign before congress. To whose benefit is such a move? What impact, if any, do the continuous claims of availability of someone like Prime Minister Nahas Angula also have on the succession campaign? What about former minister Helmut Angula’s claim that the next president of Swapo must also come from the Tanganyika group? Am I wrong in concluding that the seniors in the party want the succession debate to continue on their terms and that they want to decide where and when it should be held? Is what is happening not to their advantage? Recently, my colleague Asser Ntinda wrote that “those who are pushing for a public debate on this crucial issue (of succession) outside (Swapo) Party’s structures are not necessarily members” and that it will be “a fatal mistake” if the party “plays into the hands of such elements” by discussing it publicly. According to him outsiders want to hijack the debate and should thus not be allowed to do it. Ntinda and many others in the party know that what happens in Swapo is of interest to Namibia because it is the ruling party. There is no way Namibians can pretend how Swapo runs its affairs has no effect on the country. In many things already our Government has become a reflection of who Swapo is. Therefore outsiders have the right to poke inquisitive noses into the party’s affairs even though Swapo evangelists like Ntinda might argue that what the party does is its business alone. If outsiders, especially those with genuine concern for the country, cannot help guide the democracy that we have the party’s flames of internal fires ultimately descend into energy-sapping but useless fights within the Government also. Therefore, there’s no fudging in politics. You win or you don’t even if you are a so-called outsider or onlooker and with Swapo’s succession debate publicly marching left but physically walking right, there is also a need for a debate both in and outside party structures.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is Ours A Government Of The Few For The Few?

FOR a former classmate of mine, it feels like the world has turned against her. Unemployed, a single parent, she faces taxi price hikes, electricity increases soon and the City of Windhoek has demolished her new 'kaya'. After being promised a job and better living conditions, she had hoped her vote would change life for the better but it is ‘a luta continua’ for her and many of her neighbours in Windhoek’s Okahandja Park. And she is a person who has been trying all her life to live within her meagre means. Like many others in her area she has complained vigorously to the City of Windhoek authorities about the hygiene and other conditions in her area but all they have done is make promises. Before the last elections politicians promised the settlement reduced water and electricity tariffs, better housing, shopping centres, a health institution and free school. Now that they have waited so long, she was part of the group who decided to set up new shacks as winter approaches. Hers was close to her mother’s but the authorities moved in fast to break it down. I wonder why they habitually choose to do the breaking down in winter and only in places where hunger and the struggle for better living conditions are so critical! Can one blame her for thinking that the shack demolition brought back the memories of the illegal removal she went through with her parents during the 1959 Old Location debacle? And if that was an inhumane exercise, what about the shack demolitions they have gone through in an independent Namibia? A better life, as hoped for by those martyred in the liberation war and those who died in the Katutura removals, is surely out of grasp for people like her mother who have lived to tell the tales of that epic battle with municipal authorities. In fact, such tales will continue to be told to the ‘born-frees’ but only the venue of the battle has now changed. For instance, earlier on, some of her neighbours were among those who made the long daily trek across the city to the rubbish dumps to collect food and other items to make ends meet despite sometimes being sjamboked by the security guards at the dump. She is but one of the many Namibians who authorities keep telling that they have set up a task group to investigate their living conditions or reasons for the continued struggle at dumps. Many such investigations end up in empty promises or temporary solutions like giving them piecemeal jobs here and there for which they earn a pittance. One such case was when some of them were taken up to do work at a certain place and their ‘pay’ was food (under the food-for-work programme). After some time the same project was tendered out to someone else who was receiving money and employed other people. Why, if one may ask, was it not possible to also pay the first group in cash? What makes them different or inferior? It is worthwhile to mention that authorities have become used to threats by the people. When there is an uproar over services, some even join in the complaints although they have been voted into office or given key jobs to work for the people. One gets the feeling that whatever the people will do or say to complain about services, politicians and authorities know that they (people) do not have any hope in hell of changing things. It is sad that the land of milk and honey which many expected at independence (rightly or wrongly so) is extravagantly real for some and excruciatingly absent for the majority of the people. A small group of people continue to live well at the cost of others and one cannot fault those who have a sense of resignation that the possibility of a better Namibia is nothing more than pie in the sky. Our leaders need to guard against the general feeling building among many at grassroots level that the only demonstrable point of political contact defining common citizenship between the highly and the lowly placed is only the vote. People feel they only become important when their vote is needed. I am leaving you with a question: Is ours truly a Government of the people for the people? Or is it a Government of the few for the few?

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Dreams of Rundu’s Unsung Hero

NEARLY nine years ago, I met one of the unsung heroes of Namibia – a courageous woman who stood up to discrimination against HIV-positive people and lived a dream of seeing a cure against the disease.

The Wednesday before I met Roswitha Ndumba of Rundu in person on a Saturday, I spoke to her over the telephone. She was down with a bout of flu and told me that she was just hoping to live to see that Saturday.
She wanted to tell her story to the world and she had many (roughly 130) others, led by her, who wanted to do the same.
Roswitha did not only live to see that Saturday, but saw around 3 200 days and nights (nine years) before she lost the battle against the virus this year.
During those nine years, she learned to survive and later started building bridges of hope.
When Roswitha first told her story publicly, another icon in the fight against HIV, Emma Tuahepa-Kamapoha, had her arms around her in Rundu’s St Mary’s Parish Church. Many others were by her side, like the Minister of Health Richard Kamwi and prominent campaigner and people’s favourite, Lucy Steinitz.
They came out under the banner of Lironga Eparu – an organisation established by people living positively with HIV-AIDS. Lironga Eparu means ‘learn to survive’.
Indeed Roswitha learned to survive.
When I visited her home the first time, the former principal of a primary school had lost all her belongings and was living with a sister.
In fact, the then 40-year-old campaigner only had a bed in her room and used empty boxes in which to keep her remaining clothes.
She lost her soldier husband two years earlier due to an AIDS-related illness. She had walked out of their home when he brought a second wife under the same roof.
Soon thereafter she became sick and lived with her mother in the village but her brother collected her, had her tested and the four siblings were given N$1 000 each month to buy her drugs.
Roswitha soldiered on and many who saw her lying almost half dead in the Rundu Hospital could not believe their eyes when she became stronger to the point where she started an organisation called Kavango Bridges of Hope.
Roswitha became a beacon of hope in the region and was not only the voice of the HIV-positive people but also raised funds for material support and empowered the people through training and counselling.
She also started a rights group called ‘Women’s Rights for Change’.
Roswitha built many bridges that were not visible to the eye but created a sense of hope and life for those who test positive for HIV.
Her dream was to see the Kavango Bridges of Hope going strong and becoming a national organisation for people living with HIV.
At some stage Roswitha said she was “not thinking about death anymore. I never gave up even when I was seriously ill”.
I visited Rundu this week and saw how Roswitha’s dreams are dying a slow death.
The building is now used as a printing shop as no one seemed to have taken the baton from her to take the organisation forward.
If it continues the way it is going now, all her efforts would have been in vain.
More importantly, those who have been left behind will feel increasingly hopeless as HIV will become the victor by killing not only her dreams but also the dreams of many other HIV-positive people.
It is important that those who lead serious campaigns with dreams such as those of Roswitha ensure that there will be continuity long after their departure.
Not only that, but to instil passion and drive among those who follow, so that the dreams will last.
Roswitha lived for nine more years and showed that there is life after HIV.
Although she is no longer here, with the anti-retroviral drugs available, anyone can live their dreams like Roswitha did and Emma is doing right now.