Namibian women continue to be relatively marginalised in politics despite emerging trends on the continent where women are increasingly playing very important and active roles in politics, political analyst, Henning Melber, has said.
Melber was reacting to last week’s remarks by SWAPO Party Central Committee and Politburo member, Kazenambo Kazenambo, who said it was time that SWAPO, as a progressive party, elected a female president.
“SWAPO has been ready from day one for a non-Oshiwambo president and SWAPO has been ready from day one to have a woman president. SWAPO was founded to counter retrogressive vices and elements that are dividing society such as economic status and regionalism,” Kazenambo told the Windhoek Observer.
He said there are many prominent women in SWAPO capable of assuming the president position, as the party had prepared a pool of female leaders since its inception. “We live in a democratic society; it’s time we delivered a woman president.”
Melber, however, said the political landscape remains relatively male-dominated, as indicated by the comparatively low profile of women both in public discourse and in Parliament.
“Namibian society remains, despite several high-ranking women in party and Government, largely a male-dominated society. The party congress might follow this internalised pattern of giving preference to a male competitor for the party presidency and by implication, the party’s candidate for the presidential elections in November 2019,” he said.
This is despite the general trend on the continent which suggests that female Heads of State will soon appear in bigger numbers.
“The ANC in South Africa has Dlamini-Zuma, as a serious contender for the presidency, and she was already heading the AU Commission,” he said. “In Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe and other women play an important and very active role in politics,” he added.
“In Angola, [Isabel], the daughter of [President] Eduardo dos Santos, is the most powerful person in the economy. These and other examples suggest that we might soon find it less difficult for women to compete with their male colleagues.”
Melber said women in high positions in Namibia seem politically less ambitious, with the exception of a very few such as Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, who stood as a presidential candidate at the last congress.
He said those presently holding high political offices, such as Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, seem to lack any ambitions beyond the posts they currently hold.
“They might be the biggest unknown variable when it comes to the party congress. But my own intuition is that the presidency in both the party and the State for the next term remains almost exclusively a matter of men, despite the fact that women have in the meantime a much larger amount of votes and positions to compete.”
Despite his misgivings, Melber acknowledged that there were some Namibian women who have made remarkable advances not only in politics, but also in the economic spheres, citing Inge Zamwaani-Kamwi, First Lady Monica Geingos and Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun.
Another analyst, Ndumba Jonnah Kamwanyah, said he does not see a woman winning the SWAPO presidency in the near future.
“The SWAPO Party is still very much a party of men when it comes to leadership and key strategic positions. We probably have a few more years before this dream can be realised. You can even see that the party is struggling to fulfil its 50/50 mandate. So, the chance for a women presidency is very slim, for now.”
He also said that he does not think a woman will stand at the next SWAPO Congress in November. “Maybe meme Pendukeni [Iivula-Ithana] might give it a try, but I doubt that she will do so.
“You also have to know that both in Malawi and Liberia, it was situational. It was not due to gender neutral culture.”
Kamwanyah added that never in the history of the party has he seen such division and some of the nasty things that are playing out in the party now.
“Unless by divine intervention, the SWAPO Party will never be the same again after the congress,” he said.