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Succession in Swapo is not about a person

19 October 2012

- it is about our collective aspirations

HERNRIK Ibsen, the Norwegian dramatist refers in the Master Builder to castles in the air that are easy to take refuge in. And as a basis for refuge, they are completely lacking in substance as the arguments that underpin building them in the first place. 


Over the past few weeks, notably since the announcement by Swapo that Hage Geingob was a candidate to his own succession as Vice President (VP), including the nomination of Pendukeni Ithana-Ithana to contest for the VP post, public conversations have been inundated with conspiracy theories and at times woeful, but divergent media analyses.
Without doubt, the impact of SWAPO on the political direction of Namibia is extremely crucial. Therefore, what is happening within Swapo, as a hegemonic formation is likely to generate dissimilar debates, with contradictory textures and allures.It is the stuff of leadership contests in an emerging democracy.
While the chattering classes and lay persons could be pardoned for providing in private quasi and through luck on the spot analyses about the emerging political landscape in Swapo, large sections of what ought to be the informedmedia have not been entirely helpful.
They have sought to provide more heat than light to what is arguably one of the most fundamental chapters in the history of Swapo and consequently Namibia.
As usual, they have not been sufficiently activist in their demeanour. They have not gone beyond their chairs to mobilise a potent national conversation about leadership through public forums and debates - like their counterparts elsewhere around the globe. Instead of bringing Namibians together in a conversation, they are dividing them.
Unlike media houses and other civil societies here in South Africa, which have taken an activist stance about the forthcoming MangaungDecember 2012 leadership contest within the African National Congress, Namibian media (with few exceptions) has been in its usual default mode.
It has not produced anything qualitatively new; it has not been inventive and it has not taken any new initiatives.
Mind you, very few have dedicated print space through special weekly reports about Swapo’s forthcoming congress.
Yet, these are the men and women who have taken the moral high ground about what is not being done right in the country by other sectors of our society, including government.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when civil society, including the media fails to engage in self-critique and to modernise beyond adding a Twitter account or Facebook page to its current offering.
Returning to the main thread of my conversation, two major debates and narratives about the process in Swapo and our potential future have emerged out of the limping national cacophony.One has sprung out of the ruling party, which in itself has also fed into some of the malignant media reports and pseudo analyses.
The more dangerous of these is based on hunting down the Vice President of Swapo, Hage Geingob - with editorials and op-ed pages visiting violence upon the VP without subjecting this man to a fair test of leadership.
Broadly speaking, every argument must pass the test of reasonableness. To be reasonable is also act of fairness. In the eyes of the sponsors, their arguments seek to ‘objectively’ steer the political choices of our country in one or the other direction.
The first debate is more disquieting in light of the role the media should play in shaping public opinion through providing fair information, thereby informing our choices as citizens. Alas, what we have seen in certain sections of the media point to zombie journalism in the form of desperate attempts to reverse the weight of what ought to become progressive democracy.
The most egregious example of this argument is the hysterical scare mongering around the Vice President of Swapo without subjecting him to his record as a leader, both in exile and the successive roles he held in an independent Namibia.It is scary for readers (particularly the youth) not to have read anything in print about Hage Geingob as the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. We have not heard about the VP as Prime Minister of the Republic for twelve years. We have not heard about his role in the transformation of an apartheid civil service into one seeking to respond to the plight of many Namibians. We have not have heard anything about his tenure as a senior official at the World Bank in 2003, nor have we heard anything about his role as Swapo Party Chief Whip before he eventually became Vice President of Swapo in 2007 and Minister of Trade and Industry in 2008.
Certainly, we have heardabout his purported weaknesses, which are framed maliciously, and not backed up by any facts that should inform investigative journalism.These weaknesses are merely based innuendo and deep-seated dislike for a man who has given so much to this country and his political party, Swapo.
Those who purport to champion a country where free speech, a free press and fairness are the hallmarks of a democracy have not subjected all these roles to analyses. What do these roles mean for Namibia if Swapo’s presidential candidate becomes the next head of state?Virtually no one in this angry section has asked what it means for President HifikepunyePohamba to say that he supports HageGeingob’s own succession as Vice President.Importantly, what are the possibilities for nation building and more generally leadership?
Instead of looking for new clues, these sections of the media have thrown their heads in the sand, desperately trying to rescusciteNahasAngula’s candidacy.In doing so, they are unable to see the common sense and integrity in Angula’s withdrawal from the race due to the fact he does not have the support of the sitting head of state. Through their writings, these callous sections of the media have been in desperate want of an obscene and unprincipled political stunt on the part of NahasAngula to become a candidate for the VP post. There is a theory, which I am afraid make more sense to me. It is that of men and women who are stuck in their ways to the point of not accepting any progressive agenda.When readers cannot see fairness in journalism and reporting or analyses, it is easy for them to see poisonous vices, including tribalism as informing editorial choices.
The second debate, which I think is less petrifying, is coming from sections of the Swapo Party Youth League, which under Elijah Ngurare has always been in a different political bunker than the Vice President.The mistakes that have been made thus far by the Youth League are a clear manifestation of a wing that is unable to dissect the issues at stake in the lead up to congress. The nomination of retired generals, including that of UtoniNujoma as Secretary General of Swapo, and the eventual refusal of retired generals as nominees to attend Congress on the Youth ticket points to a chaotic conversation within this body. But for the Youth in Swapo to propose recklessly a leadership slate for the top four positions in Swapo at the forthcoming congress, without any diversity (both from a gender and ethnic perspective) is inexplicable.
To conclude, what these two closed-minded debates (sections of the media and the Youth) have been doing is to avoid a conversation about leadership in Swapo as an issue that should speak to the aspirations of a country and its people. Swapo and our contribution to its leadership conversation should not be about building myopic castles in the air as Ibsen would argue, but it should be anchored in a contribution about a fair and progressive future for all Namibians.
Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is a PhD fellow in political science at the University of Paris- Panthéon Sorbonne, France