President Hage Geingob’s upcoming trip to New York for the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) could disadvantage SWAPO Party members who are planning to campaign ahead of the ruling party’s elective conference slated for November.
With less than three months to go before the congress in November, official campaigning has not started, as the party’s central committee is still to declare the process ‘open’, as per the usual practice.
This could be the first time in independent Namibia that candidates for the top four positions have not been announced three months before an elective congress.
Questions persist about whether campaigning for positions at the congress will open prior to the acting party president’s departure for the 12th September UNGA.
This situation has been worsened by the nullification and postponement of regional conferences by Geingob and SWAPO Secretary General, Nangolo Mbumba, with some regions still to conclude their elective conferences as the acting party president continues to gather support for a sole presidential candidate ahead of the congress.
Youth, Sports and National Service Minister Jerry Ekandjo has been touted as a potential challenger to Geingob at the congress in November.
Although the ‘official’ campaign period has supposedly not started, Mbumba has allowed endorsements in favour of Geingob to continue, with the SWAPO Party Youth League endorsing the acting president for the party’s top post at its recently concluded congress.
According to sources, endorsements have been announced following consultations with the acting party president. In the case of the Khomas region’s recent statement of support for Geingob, the SWAPO regional executive members who argued against the announcement of any endorsement, were reportedly threatened into silence by the party hierarchy.
Although President Geingob’s itinerary for the UNGA and his visit to the USA is still to be announced, indications are that he is likely to be out of the country for at least three weeks, with the presidential spokesperson, Albertus Aochamub refusing to confirm the duration of the trip.
“We will make an announcement on Monday when everything has been finalised,” he said when contacted by the Windhoek Observer.
Last year, Geingob was in the US for an unusually extended trip of 24 days accompanied by an entourage of advisors, ministers and Government officials. His time at the UN and in the USA, where he delivered speeches on radio shows and at various universities, is said to have cost millions to the State coffers gaining little in return.
Based on last year’s media estimates and an unfavourable exchange rate, the president’s 2017 trip to the USA is likely to again gobble millions in accommodation, security, logistics and S&Ts for his delegation.
Last year, Geingob received repeated criticisms over the length and cost of his USA trip, with many questioning the benefits of the trip beyond the important United Nations presidential statement (one day) to the General Assembly.
This consternation came after it was reported that the State president may have considered booking the exclusive and expensive Waldorf Astoria for his accommodation in New York, a hotel bill which could have cost US$10,000 (N$143,600) per night for his suite alone.
The president claimed to be ‘saving money’ by not booking the unnecessarily expensive Waldorf and booking another quality Manhattan hotel, reportedly costing half as much, instead.
According The Namibian, Geingob was allocated no less than N$2,4 million in travel allowances in 2015 (not including hotel services, food and beverage costs) and flew more than 70,000 kilometers overseas at a minimum cost of N$3,5 million in aviation fuel for the presidential jet.
This year’s UNGA session will open on Tuesday, 12 September and will close on Monday, 25 September. Speeches from various heads of State and Government will begin on 19 September.