Emperor Hage Geingob II should be better than Hage I

01 February 2013

THE death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia last August led to a period of profound uncertainty in that country’s politics. I visited Ethiopia on two occasions after the death of Zenawi, a man who dedicated much of his life to the poor of Ethiopia.


Most of my conversations with Ethiopians, including my resourceful driver, academics, ruling party and senior government officials, opposition leaders and business personalities were always focussed around the legacy of the departed Zenawi. In these conversations, many did not miss an opportunity to qualify Zenawi as a diplomat, intellectual, a philosopher, and a courageous man with a single-minded commitment to the well-being of Ethiopians.

In light of these glowing adjectives, my questions would in most instances turn to the man who succeeded PM Zenawi - the unassuming Hailemariam Desalegn, a wolayta who hails from the minority Southern peoples. Such questions would probe how Ethiopians viewed the transition, and more important if Prime Minister Desalegn was up to the task of taking Ethiopia to greater heights.

The most satisfying response, which in many instances was standard in my conversations with Ethiopians, was mostly in the affirmative. Many argued that Prime Minister Zenawi left big shoes and it would be difficult to fill them. In the same vein, a former close confidant of Zenawi shared in a deep intellectual conversation that Prime Minister Desalegn should at a minimum equal the deeds of Zenawi or do better. Ethiopians would not accept less.

This type of conversation about higher expectations in light of leadership transition is also valid for Namibia. There are Namibians who demanded a different country when it comes to equality of opportunity as a means to militate against the worst excesses of inequality. The contours of this transition became more pronounced with the appointment of Hage Geingob as Prime Minister for the second time since the founding of our young republic. For many of us, it was also a Eureka moment. The dust has now settled on some of the issues that drove the passions of certain segments in support of Hage Geingob as Vice President of Swapo.

It is now back to the urgent task of governance, which in any case was a primary instinct when it comes to PM Hage Geingob. The task of progressive governance implies high expectations, which I think the new Prime Minister would be keenly aware of.

However, in light of past experience with Hage Geingob I, it is essential for Namibians to enter into a conversation of new expectations in as far as Hage Geingob II is concerned.

What should we expect from Prime Minister Hage Geingob II?

If we phrase this conversation in ethical and moral terms – what does the Prime Minister owe us as Namibians? What is his role in meeting our aspirations as a country of many dispossessed people whose hope and dreams for a better life risk being deferred? More important, as a potential future president of this country, his leadership of the second most crucial office in the land should provide certain key indicators that speak to a future presidency. In light of this argument, there ought to be a blueprint, not in the form of a traditional manifesto, but we ought to see how the leadership of the second office in the land speak to the aspirations we have for this country under a potential Geingob presidency.

I argue this way because Prime Minister Hage Geingob I phrased this country in ambitious and aspirational terms. At the time, the administrative competencies he brought to that office showed that he had the means to speak in aspirational terms.

Therefore, his return to this office ought to be reflective, corrective and forward-looking. Implicit in this argument is the view that Prime Minister Hage Geingob II must represent many things to Namibians: a philosopher, a visionary, a transactional leader and a symbol of our unity as a people. In short, in order to be these, entire he must be a pragmatic idealist.

His policy actions and what he brings to this office ought to be consistent with these higher order expectations, which are essential in the process of delivering a better future for all.

The dream of a better future should not be deferred under a leader with so much promise and experience in government affairs. This dream will not be deferred if the Prime Minister within the collective shows a high degree of impatience with the inability of the administrative machinery to deliver. It won’t be deferred if the Prime Minister draws effectively and meaningfully on the resources of this country.

The alternative is ghastly to contemplate. The American poet Langston Hughes would ask: what happens to a dream deferred? “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” For the dream not to explode, Emperor Hage Geingob II ought to be better than the first.

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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