Analysts have reacted with horror to a statement attributed to President Hage Geingob, who in a recent interview with the state-owned daily New Era, was quoted as having said there was pressure on him to appoint a bloated Cabinet because he had to accommodate all his peers in the ruling party.
“The current Cabinet is too big and there’s reason for it. President Sam Nujoma, being a founding father and a liberation hero, has natural authority. President Pohamba was a bit relaxed. But with me, I am dealing with my peers – where anybody could have taken over as president. The pressure on me to have a bigger Cabinet is bigger because all these people are my peers who want to be accommodated. It could have been worse if I didn’t do that [appoint them],” the president was quoted as having said.
In an interview with the Windhoek Observer this week, political analyst, Professor Henning Melber, said what President Geingob said during the interview with New Era was to confirm what many observers had already suggested that his expanded Cabinet and the massive increase in the number of deputy ministers under his administration, was a means to co-opt and appease dissenting elements in the party.
“Geingob’s remarks can be seen as an admission of weakness. While a strong executive power is vested in his office, he seems to indicate that he had to compromise quality for expediency to secure his authority,” Melber said.
He said Geingob admitted that criteria for being appointed as a minister or deputy minister has more to do with party internal politicking than with competence.
“Unfortunately, the price to be paid is in financial terms contributing to the draining of the state coffers. Money could be spent on better investments (such as education, health and public services) than fat salaries, fringe benefits and retirement packages to party insiders to keep them at bay.”
The professor added that the president’s statement shows that politics under a SWAPO government not only serves the people, but the party internal constellation and interests.
“The president risks his authority with such statements. He might have assumed this is appreciated as a transparent and accountable revelation. But it signals that he seems less confident and more vulnerable than he pretends to be. Maintaining that “anybody could have taken over as president,” suggests that he was not better qualified for the position than others. That makes one wonder why one should then respect his authority, if it is not based on a better competence than that of others,” Melber further said.
Upon taking office in 2015, President Geingob increased the number of ministers from 23 to 27 and deputy ministers from 21 to 35. He created the position of vice president and the new ministries of Public Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation.
He also announced that the attorney general position, which was previously attached to the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, will become a stand-alone post to ensure a quicker turnover time for legal advice.
The president also appointed five advisors on matters concerning the economy, media, the constitution, private sector, policies, youth and enterprise development.
Just before Geingob took over power, SWAPO pushed with lightning speed constitutional changes that saw the number of seats in the National Council increase from 26 to 42 and in the National Assembly from 72 to 96.
Geingob said at the time that the new government structure would be costly, but he assured the nation costs associated with the addition of new structures would be kept to a minimum.
“Democracy, governance and effective service provision require supportive structure and institutions that come at a cost. It is envisaged that through faster implementation, cost savings for the economy at large will be realised, through growth, improved job creation and improved service delivery,” he said then.
UNAM Lecturer, Ndumba Kamwanyah said the statement by the president made him sound like he is not in charge, but bowing to political pressure.
“A deeper analysis of his statement actually made him look vulnerable as the president. It also made the people he appointed look bad because he gave the perception that they were not appointed on merit, but political patronage. No employee wants to hear your boss saying that I appointed some people because they are my peers or due to pressure,” Kamwanyah said.
“Perhaps he wanted to be honest and admit the complicated situation in which his presidency finds itself, but he could have said it differently than sounding like he is not in control when it comes to appointing his team. In fact, he actually contradicted himself when few years ago he told the nation that he requested CVs before he appointed his ministers. Where does the CV fit in, if he feels pressure from his political peers?”
Professor Joseph Diescho said, in his interview with the New Era, President Geingob made a startling acknowledgement that the state of governance in Namibia was typical of what is commonly known as a “Banana Republic”.
“In sum, President Geingob acknowledged that the job is too big for him compared to the two former presidents. In acknowledging that the wage bill is too high and the cabinet too large for the size of Namibia’s economy, yet that he cannot undo this sorry state of affairs, he was either asking for help or simply admitting that he is unfit to govern Namibia.
“The president took us into confidence and cried out that his predecessors were bigger and had more room to move things around, but he is too common to take big decisions based on principles and a strong vision to lead the nation into a better future.
“We have to thank the president for confirming what some of us have said before and got punished for. There is a problem with what the president told us. Essentially, the president shared with us that he has a huge problem: he is handicapped, hamstrung and shackled by the politics of entitlement and comradeship in Swapo,” Diescho said.
He said the president’s pronouncement shows that he is more concerned about his family and friends than the country and those whom he does not see and know.
“It means that people get appointed not because they can serve Namibia as a country, but they are known to him. This means that his leadership is more instinctive than visionary about the country. This means he cannot put country above party. This means that one’s personal relationship with him is more important than what one can do for the country. The situation, therefore, is more worrisome than we thought or assumed,” Diescho said.
“One can now understand why the president’s messages about the Namibian House and Harambee are incoherent all the time. The president’s messages are more cogent outside Namibia where he has space to preach brotherhood, reconciliation and unity, whereas in Namibia he crushes anyone who dares to think for himself or herself.
“Starting with the governing party itself, Namibia is more divided now than ever before. Today Namibians are more divided along tribe, ethnicity and political party membership than before independence and there is no leadership to beckon them into ‘One Namibia; One Nation’ that once held us together. A leadership model based on peer pressure and corrupt relationships is a leadership without a vision for the future and can therefore not unite the nation around principles and ethics that can motivate others to be better and serve better.
The incoherence in his messages are so frightening in that they lack sophistication and there is great dissonance between what he says and what he does - and people can see it every day. As the saying goes, you can fool some people sometimes, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. “
He said the president constantly overpromises and under-delivers, yet blames those who see the inconsistency.
“He is quick to shoot the messenger when he does not like the message coming to him, even if the message could be helpful to him. President Geingob’s message of a stable house for all rings hollow and his conduct shows that he has little or no regard for the rules of his party and the laws of the land.
“Namibia has become a country not under the rule of law, but under the presidency that can summon boards and instruct them to ignore their own statues and do what he says as president, opuuo, finish.