Swapo congress manifesto: Nation building, competence and renewal

09 November 2012

THE global leading superpower, the United States of America and one of the world’s foremost democracies returned in an American electoral show, President Barack Obama to the White House on Tuesday 7 October 2012.


Oddly, and in the same week, an emerging power, China will in all likelihood confirm Xi Jinping as the next President of China without open competitive elections of the American or Western type. While there are clear contrasts between leadership selection in the United States and China, there are also similarities that highlight complex processes in both these two countries.

The most obvious and overarching, which in my view attest to the success of both nations, is the question of policy competence and the ability to lead a nation at a particular historical juncture in its nation-building process. Related to this, both leadership selection processes have as a leitmotif, the renewal of the state and the projection of the country into the future. In the case of China, this implies a new generation of leaders entering the senior echelons of the Central Committee and Politburo.

For the United States, renewal comes in the form of setting new priorities, new political personnel and infusing the country with new energy and hope. Both these processes speak to state and institution building and eventually consolidation.

In several ways, such processes contribute to nation-building. This is more so the case for the United States with Obama symbolising frontier thinking in the United States.

With Swapo moving into higher electoral gear in light of the impeding congress later this month, it is fitting to reflect on how the internal and external debate about Swapo plays itself out with regard to leadership succession and its relationship to these issues.

To start with the obvious, from the outside there is no coherent and consistent debate which speaks to some of the key challenges facing Namibia and the value-added of this or that leader. What we have observed is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, without pondering the length and depth of where we are as a country and how leadership should project Namibia.

From the inside, which I think is also a reflection and mirror image of what happens on the outside, the leadership conversation does not speak to the crucial challenges facing Namibia as a country. It mainly speaks to the spoils of power tout court.

Civil society is quick to blame the ruling party Swapo for this dangerous status quo conversation around power. Yet, it is not sufficiently vibrant and has not created, consistently that is, avenues for a continuous conversation that speak to the business of our future as a country.

Worse, it does not seek to frame our conversation in terms of the structural flaws that characterise this country. It always avoids the tough questions, unless it is affected directly by government policy-choices.

I am of course referring here to the structural flaws of the apartheid economy, which perpetuate inequalities. More important, there is no place for a conversation about black-white relations,and the impact of this on our political and economic geography.

The choice by white business to accommodate a few token blacks who act as conduits to politicians has not led to the desired creation of black industrialists and substantive businessmen and women. Similarly, appointing token blacks to lead institutions or allowing them to buy shares, without promoting organic black businesses has further entrenched dependency in black-white relations. 

In addition to this, the conversation about the ethnicisation of our politics is one that is hardly addressed at any of these levels. We have observed in recent years how professionals have retreated to the politics of tribes and ethnicity.

Yet, having this conversation is likely to determine whether Namibians will live past each other or as a united people.

Instead, what we have observed is an opportunistic and zero-sum approach to such issues. Why do we need in light of congress a substantive conversation about these within Swapo and outside? Why are these important in the selection of leaders? First, as a country we have seen the best of what we could be. I frame this conversation this way because we have depleted the current resources.

The template of the past twenty-three years is no longer adapted to the business of the future. It is a template that belongs to the past for it has chosen accommodation and political expediency as twin-means to delay the hard choices we have to make as a country. Second, the inability to make these hard choices has had an impact on nation building. As such, we have been living on borrowed time with regard to nation building.

The rank and file in Swapo at congress is faced at the end of this month, with the choices of substantive nation building, competence and leadership/national renewal. Anything else that does not speak to these should be seen as a regressive agenda that goes against transformation.

How Congress delegates speak to these issues and where their hearts and minds lie on them would crucially determine the vote they will cast.  Namibians on the margins of Swapo, but who are key stakeholders in the future of this country should be obsessed with how we can severally contribute and shape this important conversation about the transformation of our country.

Alfredo Tjiurimo HENGARI is Head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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