SWAPO is bursting from within. The party is in a leadership crisis of unprecedented proportions – doused with persistent constitutional violations engineered from the top to achieve self-serving political ends and to satisfy personal egos.
In recent months, the SWAPO Party has suffered from political infighting and public spats. Such squabbles are designed to define who is who in the party – even if it means setting the SWAPO constitution aside to settle political scores.
How the current leadership plots to steer the party out of this stormy weather remains to be seen. But given the leadership’s inability or unwillingness to diagnose the problem correctly, a solution may only be found at this year’s elective congress slated for November.
The first misstep started with Acting President Hage Geingob when he unconstitutionally inserted himself as the substantive “president” in 2015. He knew that only the congress could hand him that job, but he chose to go against the SWAPO constitution and declared himself “president”.
When arguments against that move ensued, Geingob was unapologetic – saying that the “constitution is just a piece of paper.” Secretary General Nangolo Mbumba sang along. We are in a mess because of these two men.
Under intense pressure from some of his colleagues in the politburo and central committee, last weekend’s CC meeting was a watershed moment as Geingob finally conceded that he was not the “president” of SWAPO after all, as only “some people were calling him as such!”
That concession, however, comes too late to offset the colossal damage already being felt in all the regions. The re-organization of SWAPO structures in the regions ahead of the party congress in November should not have taken that long to conclude had the SWAPO constitution been followed to the letter.
Instead, the constitution was tossed aside, and throughout the restructuring process, some sections, branches and regional leaders conducted themselves as they pleased – trying to please and impress those they thought were leaders who should be saved at the congress.
Taking a cue from Geingob who disregarded the constitution with Mbumba’s blessing, some SWAPO leaders in the regions, with the help of national leaders assigned to their regions, connived to ensure that only those who support Geingob should be retained in regional structures technically ensuring Geingob’s victory before the congress.
But there were also other comrades who were brave enough and risked their jobs in the restructuring process by insisting, and rightly so, that the SWAPO constitution should be respected and followed to ensure constitutional order. The alternative, they argued, is anarchy.
In some cases, like in the Khomas Region, the brave ones who tried to rescue the SWAPO constitution, succeeded. In others, like in the Hardap Region, they did not. As a result, the SWAPO constitution suffered a mortal blow. To date, no region has registered as many glaring violations of the SWAPO constitution as Hardap.
Damning written complaints were submitted to Mbumba’s office from the Hardap Region, but there was never an investigation conducted to verify such complaints or nullifications of the results. The SWAPO constitution did not matter there.
Glaring irregularities were concealed and the results endorsed as “free and fair.”
Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, head of the national leaders’ group assigned to the region, suppressed all dissenting voices. And with the blessing of Mbumba, everything there was sealed, signed and delivered.
The same situation nearly played itself out in the Khomas Region when the regional conference took place in Windhoek last month. Margareth Mensah-Williams, leader of the national leaders assigned to Khomas, oversaw the whole process from A to Z. In the end, she declared the process “free and fair” in full public view.
But deep in her heart, she was compiling a secret report, raising issues with the manner in which businesswoman Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun was re-elected as treasurer, and questioning the presence of and roles played by businessmen Desmond Amunyela and Lazarus Jacobs.
Mensah-Williams wanted Martin Shipanga to take over as treasurer because he had “declared unconditional love” to Geingob. Shipanga, a former RDP member who could not meet the mandatory five-year uninterrupted membership required for anyone to hold an office, lost to Namundjebo-Tilahun.
Mensah-Williams’ secret report boomeranged. It was shredded into pieces by the Verification Team appointed by the politburo to investigate the concerns she had raised. Namundjebo-Tilahun, Jacobs and Amunyela were all cleared of any wrong doing. The clearance, however, has left an unsightly blot on Mensah-Williams’ credibility as a national leader.
Of all the 14 regions, no restructuring process was closely as monitored by both Geingob and Mbumba than the events in the Oshikoto Region. The two wanted Oshikoto Regional Coordinator, Armas Amukwiyu, out by all means possible, even if it meant setting the SWAPO constitution aside. Aware that he was also being closely monitored, Amukwiyu made sure that the restructuring process went according to the SWAPO constitution.
There were more reruns and nullifications in Oshikoto than in any other region. The regional conference there had to be delayed several times, sometimes at the eleventh hour. In the process, Amukwiyu found a new, but unconstitutional surprise challenger – Max Nekongo.
Nekongo was pushed through with the blessings of Geingob and Mbumba, without any backing from any district in Oshikoto as required by the party constitution. But then again, the constitution “is just a piece of paper.”
Penda Ya Ndakolo, head of the national leaders’ team assigned to the Oshikoto Region, spearheaded this unconstitutional move to the irritation of the regional leadership there. Fed up with nonsense, Olukonda District penned a strongly worded report a few weeks ago, expressing a vote of no confidence in Ya Ndakolo for the way he was meddling in the region’s restructuring process.
Trying to emulate his counterpart in the Hardap Region, Ya Ndakolo wanted to do “Oka-Katrina” in Oshikoto – ensuring that only those who supported Geingob went through party structures. In Oshikoto, however, Ya Ndakolo met his equals, men and women of no nonsense from section, branch, district and regional levels, who stood their ground, brandishing the SWAPO constitution as their only guide.
Despite all the reruns and arm-twisting, the results were the same. The Oshikoto Region had to finally hold its regional conference on Wednesday last week. To the irritation of both Geingob and Mbumba, Amukwiyu was re-elected as the regional coordinator.
Throughout the restructuring process, Amukwiyu was pursued and hunted down like a fox in its den. In the end, Amukwiyu proved to be a skilled fox, much smarter than both Geingob and Mbumba combined. He shrewdly waited until they came within his range and out-maneuvered them, sending them to last weekend’s central committee meeting embarrassed and humiliated.
It was a sad defeat for both Geingob and Mbumba and a rude reawakening that the SWAPO constitution should reign supreme over personal ambitions and self-centered egos. Amukwiyu did not need State House trappings to win. He only needed the SWAPO Constitution.
The registered violations of the SWAPO constitution since 2015 are just too many and scary to ignore. Some may dismiss them as irritating clouds that have come to pass. But beneath such clouds may hide some very destructive waves whose aftermath may be too ghastly to contemplate.
We may not read what is in Geingob’s heart. He may mean well. But I will never stretch my trust to the extreme by trusting a person who does not respect the constitution of the party he wants to lead as president.
True, we need peace and stability in the country. But, peace is not just the absence of conflicts. It is also the presence of justice and fairness.
Several prominent leaders of the SWAPO Party Youth League (SPYL) are bleeding in their small holes as a result of the absence of justice and fairness. Geingob and Mbumba are not predictable leaders. And that is not leadership.
What we are witnessing today in SWAPO is a sad failure of leadership. Once a party of choice, SWAPO is today far more divided than it has ever been. This is largely because some leaders we have today do not appreciate the honour, humility and integrity which come with the responsibility of positions of authority.
On our part – and out of moral laziness – we endorse wrong doing by people we have chosen to be our leaders. In what context can you really explain a leader who publicly says that “a constitution is just a piece of paper?”
It is not the penetrating and incisive questions from the youths that undermine peace and stability. Greed and selfishness undermine peace and stability. And this translates into a failure of leadership.
Nations fail not because the people have failed, but because their leaders have failed to put their self-interest and personal agendas aside and lead. Far too many leaders seek high public office today not because they want to work for the people and advance the nation, but because that is the easiest and fastest way to get rich.
In many ways, we are responsible for the mess our country is in today, largely because of the conspiracy of silence we have all succumbed to. We sit back and watch things we know are wrong, unfold. And then, we say and do nothing. We need more people with a commitment to progress, who stand above babble, not those who simply add to the noise. Any fool can do that.
Leave a mark in your life, something that will help future generations to remember that you too, once lived. Apathy and moral laziness should not turn us into silenced onlookers when things are going very badly wrong.
Asser Ntinda is the Editor of Namibia Today, SWAPO Party’s official weekly newspaper. The views expressed here are his own, and not necessarily those of Namibia Today or the Windhoek Observer.