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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lift The Ban And Let Democracy Be The Victor

I HOPE the penny drops in the Swapo hierarchy and President Hifikepunye Pohamba decides to lift the advertising and purchase ban the Government imposed on The Namibian almost 10 years ago.

The President must realise that it is the sensible thing to do and that Cabinet made an error.

Cabinet banned the paper on December 5 2000 with claims that the newspaper was hostile towards Government and too critical of its policies .

They were soon followed by the likes of the Swapo Party and its youth league, National Youth Council as well as many Government-sponsored agencies.

The decision was of an arbitrary nature and violated people’s right to information.

At the time many defenders of press freedom and freedom of expression urged The Namibian to take the matter to court.

In fact, in Botswana, where that country’s government instituted a similar ban on Botswana Guardian and MidWeek Sun, there was a court challenge and the move was declared unconstitutional.

Editor Gwen Lister chose not to take the same route although the paper would have won the case hands down.

She believed, among other things, that challenging and winning against the Government would have been used against the paper by some who would then have bolstered their argument that The Namibian needed Government and couldn’t maintain its independence.

Although it was the democratic right of former President Sam Nujoma, his Cabinet or any other citizen of Namibia to criticise or take issue with the newspaper itself or its independent editorial stance, or for that matter, not to read and/or advertise in The Namibian if they chose not to do so, the ban was an indictment against our professed democracy and certainly a blot on the Government’s press freedom record since Independence.

And if the ban is lifted, there must be no illusion that it will influence the newspaper’s way of reporting. The tradition of the past 25 years must continue.

The Namibian has a role to play and an independent and responsible press can only benefit the country.

The past 10 years have been trying times in terms of penetrating several key markets but the newspaper has at no stage depended on either Government advertising or its purchases for survival.

Therefore lifting the ban will also not mean that the Government will be subsidising the paper in any way.

In fact, when the ban was announced almost 10 years ago Government advertising accounted for just over six per cent of the paper’s total advertising revenue; and newspaper sales to Government were around 400 per day.

In 2001 the paper’s circulation was around 26 000 copies per day, based on sales figures for Fridays.

At the moment that figure has surpassed 40 000 and readership surveys have estimated that up to 17 people read one copy of the newspaper in northern Namibia.

This shows that any adverts Government places in the newspaper will be for the sole purpose of reaching the readers of The Namibian, which has the biggest daily national audience. The purchase of the newspaper by Government, likewise, will be done so that officials can inform themselves of what is happening in the country.

The Namibian survived the apartheid era, made the transition from pre-independence donor dependency to a position of financial viability and has clearly shown that it have overcome what many thought would be a major economic obstacle.

It is more than just a newspaper and its business model is one of very few success stories in Namibia.

As Lister put it at the newspaper’s 25th anniversary celebration last month, The Namibian thrives on a “solid work ethic, commitment and a feeling of ownership in what we do”.

Over the past 10 years the paper has put back into the community no less than N$15 million through sponsorships of the Newspaper Cup football tournament, a fully subsidised weekly Youthpaper, which targets the youth of our country in an attempt to empower and uplift them, and various other projects. The same cannot be said about many companies run and owned by so-called comrades.

If the ban is lifted, it will show that democracy, and not The Namibian, will be the victor and that Cabinet has matured beyond the stage of ‘struggle politics’. Press freedom, and more importantly an independent press, are vital to the wellbeing of any democracy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How The Local Vote Can Change Things

A YEAR ago people from Asab vowed not to vote in the presidential and national elections because they felt left out with no electricity and water for a village on the main road.

Twenty-four hours after The Namibian published the story, Asab residents were visited by high-ranking Government officials who came to inquire about their needs and less than a month later a newspaper advert was out calling for tenders to electrify the place and surroundings like Gründorn.
Asab now has electricity as well as an information centre while plans are at an advanced stage to set up a service station and a shopping centre.
I believe that following the article, officials actually ‘discovered’ that money had been budgeted for the electrification of Asab and other villages in the Hardap Region and that it was just an oversight that the projects hadn’t been pushed through.
The people from Asab stood up for their rights and it paid off.
Similarly, many communities around Namibia have been demanding certain services since Independence.
Just 30 kilometres north of Asab, some residents of Gibeon still use the unhealthy bucket toilet system. They are not the only ones in that boat because a few years back unhappy Bethanie residents actually emptied their buckets at the doors of the village council!
In recent months we have seen several communities standing up against their elected representatives to demand better services at places like Okahandja, Grootfontein and Otjiwarongo.
But, as in the case of Gibeon, residents of places such as Okahandja have long been complaining about the services without seeing change.
The elections are a powerful tool for such communities to bring about change but their hands are tied.
Electing their representatives directly to town and village councils is probably their only hope for change.
In the beginning Swapo had planned to have only the first two elections with the party representative system while the 2003 local government election was to have been conducted using a ward system.
It means that towns would be divided into wards and for each ward, only one representative would be elected. It is called the winner-takes-all system.
A year before the 2003 local elections, former Deputy Minister of Regional, Local Government and Housing, Gerhard Tötemeyer, tabled the Local Authorities Amendment Bill and introduced the proportional electoral system instead of the ward system.
He argued that while the winner-takes-all system had the advantage of direct representation, it was unfair to minorities.
Others also argued that the proportional system would ensure greater gender representation.
While he and others who motivated the move might be right about that, voting for a party instead of a candidate directly mean that such person’s first allegiance is to the political party they represent on the council.
The end result of such voting system is that it hardly provides a chance for issue-based voting in which rational voters will collect information on each candidate, party or organisation in the race and decide on what she is she believes is the best option to serve the community’s needs.
As it is currently most of our voters do so along the lines of party loyalty, ethnicity or opt for a protest vote.
Most of the United Democratic Front voters in Kunene and Erongo, for instance, are in the ethnic category and use their numerical advantage to out-muscle opposition even though they might not be happy with their services they receive from their councillors.
Others identify with the political party and so only look for the slogan or sign when they enter the voting booth to show their loyalty.
The other group of voters who are not happy with the party or organisation’s representatives will either stay away from polling or go for the best option left.
That is how many voters from Keetmanshoop, who were not happy with Swapo in last year’s election, voted for the Rally of Democracy and Progress. They wanted to give them votes in protest against Swapo.
Similarly, some voters in the Khomas Region tactically opted for RDP instead of, for instance, the DTA or the Republican Party. They wanted to prevent a Swapo majority and thought the best chance for that was to vote RDP.
If Namibia introduces the ward system at local authority level, people will vote for their candidates of choice directly and hold them accountable without such candidates being protected by political parties or other organisations.
If it does not happen, expect the trend of local community associations to re-emerge while independent candidates will also have a go in some towns and villages.
Swapo will probably expel them from the party but that won’t be the solution for long.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Elections? What Elections?

NEXT month Namibians, relatively fresh from voting in last year’s presidential and national elections and still waiting for the outcome of a court challenge, will be expected to vote for new regional and local councillors. I would be surprised if even 35 per cent of the electorate turn up for voting!

There is hardly any mention, from any political party, of the elections that are six weeks away.
The regional council election is the only platform for voters to directly elect their representatives while the local authorities handle crucial issues such as the provision of water, electricity and other important services.
Therefore, the upcoming election is one of the main events on the 2010 calendar, especially since voters only get the chance once every five years.
Alas, the election seems to be the last thing on the minds of national politicians.
Their concern was about their seats in the National Assembly last year and that was why they campaigned for two years. Now they enjoy lucrative salaries ranging from N$35 000 upwards.
If you tune in to any radio station around the country, or watch any of the ads on television or in newspapers, you will notice the glaring absence of campaign material.
In contrast, the whole of last year was almost all about the things you probably thought elections should be about: job creation, provision of basic services, healthcare etc.
And when they ran out of ideas, last year’s campaign ended with name-calling, character assassination and threats of court cases between various parties, individuals and even against the media.
This year not even half a dozen public rallies have taken place. No one is looking to move the voters with slogans or advertisements.
This despite the fact that we have seen voting in the regional and local elections dwindling remarkably since 1992.
In 1992, when the first regional elections were held, the voter turnout was 81 per cent, but this decreased to just 40 per cent six years later in 1998 and 55 per cent in 2004.
Similarly the local authority elections attracted 82 per cent of voters in 1992 but the number dropped to an all-time low of 34 per cent in 1998. In 2004 it was at 44 per cent.
This can be compared to a more gradual drop from 97 per cent in 1989, to 76 per cent in 1994 and 61 per cent in 1999, for the National Assembly elections.
The drop in voter turnout was due in part to the failure of political parties to mobilise their supporters, but also voter dissatisfaction as well as confusion over registration cards and the constituencies in which people should vote.
At the current rate there is no evidence that even a 35 per cent voter turnout will happen on November 26 and 27.
In 2004 there was a pending court case, in which five opposition parties challenged the results, when voters had to go back to the polling stations for the local and regional elections. Again this time around, opposition parties have mounted a court challenge to contest the results of last year’s elections.
While it might be too early to diagnose the impact of the pending case on the November election, there are some voters who have already questioned the need to go back to the polls when they are still waiting the ‘final’ outcome of the previous election.
And who else is best qualified to encourage their supporters to vote, if it is not the political parties? Yet, some of the parties have gone into hibernation.
Gone are the ‘new media’ and other technologies used last year to canvass for votes. The websites of some of the parties were last updated in 2009!
All parties need to wake up, dust off their campaign material and get to the voters with bags full of promises, if they are to prevent major voter apathy.
And time is not on their side.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

RDP/RP Merger: A Marriage Of Convenience And Survival

IN the Damara and Nama cultures marriage is a family affair. You can be rich as a bridegroom-to-be but will never be allowed to organise and marry alone. In fact, whoever wants to marry a Damara or Nama woman is likely to be sent home to get his ‘parents’.

Family must have a say, no matter how poor or insignificant they might appear.
Towards the end of negotiations for a bride, the family of the bride-to-be are likely to ask for a ‘apa gomas’. Others refer to it as lobola. With Damaras and Namas, it is a cow which will be handed over to the mother or guardian of the wife-to-be and the idea is to keep it in the family kraal as the ‘seed’ for the couple’s new life as (part-time) farmers. Their children will one day live off it, the elders will say.
The recent political merger between the Rally for Democracy and Progress and the Republican Party represents a similar marriage.
As the Republican Party was formed in October 1977 when Dirk Mudge left the National Party, it is no longer a young bride. It has one divorce behind it after leaving (in 2003) a disastrous marriage – the DTA alliance.
That’s when Henk Mudge, son of founder Dirk Mudge, was entrusted to reactivate the party and target the lost white vote.
For me, the idea was to continue the Mudge political dynasty and it succeeded to an extent when the RP won seats in seven local authorities councils and one for Henk Mudge in the 2004 National Assembly elections.
Mudge made no secret that he was targeting the white vote, claiming that they were being “seriously discriminated against” but the pipe-smoking politician also targeted a section of Damaras through several pentecostal churches as well as people in and around Katima Mulilo.
Therefore, while progress was made in expanding the support base of the party in especially Khomas, Caprivi and Erongo regions in 2004, the scale was still decidedly almost non-existent, especially in the North where the biggest number of voters reside.
Their total number of votes in the 2004 National Assembly elections were 16 187 but because the Namibian democracy is unfortunately littered with a series of party infightings (which have resulted in some failed projects), the RP failed to overcome ego politics and become a strong opposition.
The results were very evident last year when the party collected only 6 541 votes throughout the country.
While they were able to get one seat in Katima in 2004, the RP only managed to collect 79 votes in November last year.
At Keetmans, where they also have a local councillor, only 293 people cast their votes for the party while their support in Khomas went down from 5 040 in 2004 to 1 812 last year.
It became clear that the RP membership was dwindling and that the party, if it continued on its own, would struggle to stay afloat.
The Mudges had to look towards Hidipo Hamutenya, with whom they had serious past animosities.
Interestingly, Mudge’s RP was the first political party which, when Hamutenya resigned from Swapo in 2007, issued a statement to welcome his decision. Maybe then already Henk Mudge had a vision and saw Hamutenya as a potential comrade.
There is no doubt that it is a marriage of survival for the Mudge family and one of convenience for Hamutenya.
As RP has been dwindling over the past couple of years, there is not much in it for RDP.
Yet, they seem to have paid the ‘apa gomas’ (lobola) as Henk Mudge first needed to consult and get the blessing of his parents before walking up the aisle.
In fact, last year’s election results indicated that the RDP benefitted big time from the support base of the likes of RP and the Congress of Democrats.
The majority of supporters whom Mudge claim to join RDP with, are already there! They saw the ship sinking and jumped some time ago.
Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the RDP will cope with demands by a few RP leaders and how long it will be before Hamutenya is served with divorce papers by the Mudges.
So at the end the merger is really much (read Mudge) ado about nothing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wholesale Changes – In Public Interest?

I HAVE a feeling that I am not the only one surprised by the wholesale changes that we have witnessed on the Swapo Party candidacy lists for the upcoming local authority elections.

Having called for fresh or new blood earlier, I still insist that change is a good thing since it injects new ideas.

However, change not managed properly can be dangerous.

There is a saying that “if you don’t master change, change will master you”.

In this case, Swapo members at grassroots level decided to master change. In so doing, there is a risk of throwing out all experience and reinventing things rather than combining the two.

Clearly Swapo members at local level could not wait for the primaries to make their voices heard, electing candidates they feel will best serve them at that level.

That’s democracy for you. People elect their candidates, whether they are right or wrong. The people have spoken!

For this intervention, I am concentrating only on the local authority elections.

While the Swapo voters wanted change, experience as well as institutional memory was shown the door.

Take, for instance, places like Swakopmund (or ‘Swapomund’ as they call it in Swapo) and Usakos where only one of the current councillors from Swapo are likely to return if elected on November 26 and 27.

At Oshakati, five of the six Swapo candidates will be new as people like the Mayor Katrina Shimbulu and Deputy Mayor Skinny Hilundwa did not make the cut while at Ondangwa, only two of the current councillors stand a chance to return after the local authority election.

That’s a drastic change when you need experience to improve the status of local authorities.

Of course, the question remains whether those who were not nominated for candidacy had in fact contributed positively during their term of office. Some believe they were left out because of party inner squabbles and divisions which are bound to happen prior and during primaries.

Politics, especially in Swapo, is of such kind that during party elections your enemy’s enemy becomes your friend. As a result even people who would normally not be the right candidates for certain positions will sneak in by conspiring with a leading group to oust another obvious candidate of choice.

What one sees with the latest primaries is that even councillors who only entered the fray five years ago have been chopped, just as their feet were about to find ground.

I see the new ones trying to reinvent the wheel.

Of course, some councillors are regarded as having overstayed their welcome.

Windhoek Mayor Matheus Shikongo and long-time chairperson of the management committee Bjorn von Finckenstein are both out.

Some believe it will leave a big vacuum but I believe they had time to groom others to take over from them.

The question is whether they’re out because it was time for change or because they became casualties in a scrum of external players? We know that there were previous attempts to oust them and that they were accused of not attending party public gatherings.

That shouldn’t be the criteria.

Ideally we should have councillors in the mould of those you come across when visiting countries like China. Listening to the mayor you not only get the impression that the person knows what’s going on in the city but you can easily assume them to be senior leaders in that country because of the way they say and do things. They know their stuff.

It is thus important that those who come in will understand their roles.

At some smaller councils, there has been too much interference in management by councillors who are supposed to govern and not run the institutions.

Above everything else, my hope is that the candidates have no attitude of careerism and thus do not only see the councils as a stepping stone to a political career.

Rather they need to see themselves as people ready to serve others for the betterment of living conditions and more efficient service delivery.