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, July 26, 2010

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.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Let’s Tackle The Land Issue Once And For All!

SOMETHING is brewing in Namibia, especially among people who call themselves the /Khomanin in the Khomas Region, and it should be of serious concern to our leaders.

This is the same community who, more than 15 years ago, camped at ≠Arexas (also known as Aukhaikas) outside Daan Viljoen to claim their ancestral land rights.
This week their traditional leader Josephat Gawa!Nab told the /Khomanin people through the Damara/Nama radio service of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation that he is taking back what belongs to them “whether there is a death or not”.
The community gave him a petition and demanded he responds within 30 days but one of them said “not even he will stop us” and that they were heading back to their ancestral land regardless.
“We waited for 20 years and now we feel like orphans wandering around. We had enough of that,” another shouted.
The off-hand remarks carry a very radical critique on the land issue in Namibia. It means that nearly two decades after the country’s Independence, many people remain in the same landless situation. But more about that later.
First, it was clear that the whole petition handover ceremony was set up. Why else would the community stage a public demonstration and hand over a petition to someone who is not only known to support them but is part of their campaign!
The /Khomanin group is a very subtle movement. While they might look like a small group to the authorities, they are quietly being joined by people from as far afield as Omaheke, Kunene and the South.
That is an indication of the growing unhappiness, not only among them, but many landless people.
I do not support claims for ancestral land. It would lead to chaos because, among other reasons, it would be very difficult for some to prove that their ancestors owned the land. If they fail to provide documentary evidence, it could lead to more frustrations and unnecessary fights.
The answer is in fast-tracking the land reform programme.
Many have described the land question as a painful and sensitive topic yet the wheels of justice have been very slow for the last 20 years.
A few years back a Legal Assistance Centre report said that at the current pace of resettlement, it will take around 100 years to get everyone on the Government’s list a place they can call home.
This despite there fact that since 1995, Government had been setting aside about N$20 million per annum in the National Budget to purchase land, and this amount has since been increased to N$50 million a year.
One of the main reasons for the failure of the land reform programme has been the willing-seller-willing-buyer approach which is cumbersome. But then land expropriation was introduced and even that has loopholes which those who want to hold onto large tracks of land are exploiting.
The result is that more than 200 000 Namibians who want land remain on the Government’s waiting list.
While there are differing figures on the land that has already changed hands – Government claiming to have placed more than 300 farms in black hands and the commercial farmers stating that their records show more than 1 000 – the issue needs a genuine and honest reflection from all sides.
If someone has four large farms of which they use one for holiday hunting, one for weekend farming, one for a lodge and another to entertain overseas friends, surely that is excessive when you compare it to what people like /Khomanin, meaning people from Khomas, have.
The /Khomanin demands should thus be seen as a springboard and treated as such. Beneath it is a threat that could boil over into an ethnic unhappiness.
Already many are unhappy about the way the people – many of them grandparents – were being pushed around and jailed for taking up this issue.
So let’s tackle the land issue once and for all!

* This column first appeared in The Namibian

Friday, July 9, 2010

Parties seem to have gone back to sleep

LAST year’s presidential and national elections had one thing in common – Caprivi and the two southern regions of Namibia seemed to be rethinking their allegiance to Swapo.

The performance of the opposition in several constituencies of the three regions gave some the impression that a shift in political power was emerging, while Swapo apparatchiks perhaps sat up to take note of their fading influence in those parts.

Political analysts were unanimous that Swapo’s performance in some constituencies of the Hardap and Karas regions was a clear indication that the voters were unhappy with either the local leadership or what they were getting out of their membership to the party.

In fact, political infighting at local and regional authority level resulted in many casualties and a feeling that certain groups in the party were promoted at the expense of mainly indigenous people from the regions.

The high number of votes received by mainly the Rally for Democracy and Progress also signalled that the electorate has become aware that they can turf out those who try to lead them astray.

The impression created was that the electorate had shown those in high office that their positions came as a conditional gift – you keep them only as long as those who gave them to you allow you to keep them!

As a result most observers believed that the 12 months leading up to the next election (local and regional ones in November this year) will be crucial.

In fact, I thought that political parties, especially Swapo and the RDP, would become involved in a battle for the soul of Karas, Hardap and some constituencies in Caprivi.

Yet, I get the impression that RDP is not much different to Swapo!

Both groups, as well as other opposition parties, including new ones, have gone back to sleep.

Since the December election hardly any political rally by the opposition has taken place in those areas to explain their intentions to the masses, yet, come November this year, they will scream to high heaven of impending danger if the ruling party continues to rule there.

It is a proven fact that successful political parties have a penchant for directly interacting with voting masses. The best time to improve your image as a political party is to campaign and reach out to the masses when everyone else is more distant or removed from the people.

Given the anxiety which political leaders went through as the results trickled in last December one would have thought that politicians had learnt something.

How wrong I was. The same flaws are still in play.

In fact, politicians continue to concentrate on minutiae of political contestation such as who should stand in which district and who are the hibernators in which party.

I would not be surprised if we have a below 30 per cent voter turn out in this year’s November elections because the purges happening in Swapo, coupled with the lacklustre approach from the opposition, is likely to discourage voter turnout.

For me, RDP has left in the streets the hundreds of votes they picked up in the South in last year’s election.

Not only are they absent in Parliament, despite being voted in, but they are also not seen as championing the aspirations and wishes of the people who voted for them.

There are so many issues out there which the political parties can use to jointly tackle with social movements (the Basic Income Grant and the land issue a case in point) but it seems none stand a snowball’s chance in hell to get the attention of the politicians until a month or two before elections.

Ultimately, it tells us a lot about the state of our political parties, doesn’t it?

* This column first appeared in The Namibian

Monday, July 5, 2010

Imagine a Namibia without Nujoma

FORMER US politician Chester Bowles once said: “Government is too big and too important to be left to the politicians.”

He was 100 per cent right. I want to take his quote a little bit further by stating that a Swapo without Sam Nujoma is too big and too important to be left to Swapo alone.
That is why I have decided to raise the question: If Nujoma dies tomorrow, who will be his successor as the main power broker in the party?
Who will succeed him as the one who holds the party together? Who steps into his shoes? Who will hold things together when Swapo is clouded by his absence? Where will the power come from? And will democratic centralism (which requires that the ruling party should provide direction to the government of the day) in Swapo still remain as powerful as it is now?
I don’t think people wish for Nujoma’s death, and that includes myself.
However, it is time we start thinking about a Swapo without him.
With the word ‘successor’, I do not mean someone who can just take over as a leader of the party. For that we already have President Hifikepunye Pohamba and others will follow in time.
I also don’t argue that Nujoma is irreplaceable. I am one of those who said more than six years ago that he had served the country brilliantly but that it was time for him to make way for new blood.
At that stage I also expressed concern about the perceived lack of ingrained culture of succession in the party.
I am thinking along the lines of a United National Independence Party in Zambia without Kenneth Kaunda or the Kenyan African National Union Party without Daniel arap Moi and the impact their absence had on the election performance of the two political parties.
That means I am looking towards someone who has the gravitas of a struggle background and also the necessary charisma to pull the party in a new direction and at the same time hold it together.
Of course, charisma alone is probably not sufficient to guarantee the survival of a party in the future.
Pohamba has since taken over but, for me, being a good person does not equate to effective leadership.
Judging from the open infighting between Swapo cadres, he also appears not to be able to stamp his authority.
You need more than just being a good person but then again we get some strongly Machiavellian characters. A good person also cannot wield that type of leadership.
The others include the cantankerous type who foments things like tribal wars and dictatorships.
For me Pohamba is best described as benign but I am not convinced that he has what it takes to hold things together in Swapo.
If one throws the net wider it will mean zooming in on the likes of Hage Geingob, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, Nahas Angula, Marco Hausiku, Jerry Ekandjo and possibly also Nujoma’s son Daniel Uutoni Nujoma.
Do any of them have the characteristics displayed by Nujoma who held the party together for more than 40 years or will it result in a power vacuum and intense power struggles?
Another key question will be: What does Nujoma have? What makes him tick? Who is therefore the ideal person to replace him?
This can be coupled with questions such as whether people will still be loyal to the Nujoma-less Swapo.
I am raising all these questions because Swapo needs to brainstorm them.
They cannot afford a vacuum as experience elsewhere has shown that such a situation can be exploited.
Perhaps one of the key issues is whether he mentored or coached someone to take over from him and indications are that he has not.
Is there still time for him to do succession planning even though he is no longer the leader of Swapo? Will such a move be seen as him interfering with or remote-controlling party structures?
I believe now is perhaps the time for the party to start interrogating the ‘Nujoma succession’ in order to avoid a power vacuum and the subsequent exploitation of such a leadership lacuna.

* This column first appeared in The Namibian