The largest common denominator

22 November 2012

TEN days from now, we shall know the person who will become the president of our beloved Republic in two years’ time.


The campaigns for the position of Swapo Party Vice-President (VP) are now in full swing. Using American parlance, we could say that these campaigns are some kind of primaries within the ruling party, and credit is due to the SWAPO Party for engineering such a dynamic internal democratic process. All three candidates are taking their campaigns seriously and are competing with vigour and determination.

In an ideal situation, what will carry the day is the popularity of a particular candidate within the party. Of course, other extraneous factors such as public endorsements from powerful individuals may also play a role. All things being equal, popularity is the most critical, as it is related to how the ordinary members view the degree of fit between the party ideology and the particular person’s behaviour. In the minds of members, there is a notion of an ideal candidate who embodies their collective model of a party cadre; someone who eats and drinks Swapo, and who will defend the party ideology till death do them part.

In other words, party members, in general, are constantly looking for someone who has the largest common denominator with them. Job Amupanda recently sent me copies of the 1976 Political Programme and the Constitution of Swapo, and boy oh boy, the language used there is from the ideological seventh heaven!

Let me give you an ideological nugget from the programme: “Each cadre must link himself or herself, in a fundamental way, to the inarticulate, largely illiterate, toiling masses of our people, learn from them about their true aspirations, their problems, their doubts and their sense of possibilities”.

Thus, to achieve the largest common denominator, someone must, even though (s)he is not materially poor, be poor in spirit, or as Lenin would put it, (s)he must have an aristocracy of the spirit; a kind of asceticism.

Obviously, such an ideal person does not exist, so party members will perform mental calculations similar to the process of elimination until they find a very close approximation to the ideal cadre.

In previous pieces, I argued that supporters generally look for leaders who speak their language. This language is very simple, because the typical party apparatchik is someone who eats and sleeps the party ideology. The ideology of most revolutionary movements is centred on the people’s basic needs in a very fundamental way: it addresses very fundamental human needs, some of which are very mundane, and thus requires a leadership that takes these issues with a great sense of commitment.

Forgive my repetitions, but it is crucial to know which language the people want to hear. Thus, the candidates must use their tongue to connect with the masses, to caress the hearts of the people, and thereby lift them up into a world where their imaginations run wild in anticipation of a better day. Just like during the liberation struggle, we must give the people solid expectations for a better day.

The three-way contest for the VP position is presently an internal party matter, thus the candidates are not expected to come up with new missions and visions and stuff like that. On the contrary, they must affirm the party constitution and manifesto, and sell these blueprints vigorously. Paradoxically, even though these are individual contests, it is nevertheless expected of them to emphasize collective leadership and responsibility, to assure party members that their faith in the party is justified.

It is difficult for a candidate to promise prosperity for the common people when his lifestyle is almost diametrically opposed to the ideology (s)he purports to profess. There was an interesting story in the Windhoek Observer recently about the president of Uruguay, who owns a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, and who donates 90 percent of his salary to charity, leaving him with a net salary equal to N$6,500 per month! This guy, Jose Mujica, refuses to move into the official residence and prefers to live on a plot owned by his wife.

Many people I have spoken to are of the opinion that two Swapo Party leaders that come close to the ideal party cadre are Jerry Ekandjo and Nahas Angula, and that is why they have always done well at past congresses. Now that Angula is not running, perhaps that increases the chances of Ekandjo. According to his supporters, Ekandjo is the person who comes closest to the selfless and party-centred type of leadership that I tried to sketch above, and that is why he is so popular within the party.

Ekandjo’s supporters see in him someone who has the largest common denominator with most party members; someone who is willing to take the bullets for pushing a party line that could be interpreted to be “hard-line”, such as his views on land and housing.

Another name that pops up in discussions is that of the late Moses Garoeb, who many people regard as a true cadre who fearlessly spoke his mind and pushed “hard-line” party positions. Unfortunately, he passed on, but it is interesting to note that his name does come up now and then. This is further proof that there is a yearning for Comrade Swapo.

There comes a time when the honeymoon of freedom and independence fades away and the people start to realize that political independence has not yet put real bread on the table. In fundamental terms, bread is the metaphor for education, health, housing, sanitation, jobs, among others. It is senseless trying to address higher order needs when we can hardly pick the low lying fruits. The candidates must assure the membership that Team Swapo is and will always be the winning team.

Will the popularity of Ekandjo, as reflected in congress votes for central committee membership, translate into solid votes at the congress? Or is this a different ball game altogether? Will Geingob and Iivula-Ithana each come up with a strategy that neutralizes Ekandjo’s popularity?

Time will tell.

Ondjirijo. Hijo


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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