BY Paul T. Shipale
FOLLOWING the editorial of Max Hamata, the editor of Confidante, which appeared on August 09, 2012, I would like to address the comments attributed to the former Prime Minister Dr. Hage Geingob, who is said to have likened our constitutional democracy, under the leadership of our Founding President Dr. Sam Nujoma, to that of the former notorious dictator of Zaire the late Mobutu Sese Seko and Kamuzu Banda of Malawi.
It is also reported that these comments appeared in a publication entitled, ‘Constitutional Democracy in Namibia: A Critical Analysis After Two Decades’, sponsored by the German Konrad Adenauer foundation and co-edited by the then Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s Namibia country director, Anton Bösl and Namibian academics Nico Horn and André du Pisani.
It is said that Geingob remarked that “after the second elections (1994) when, for the first time, the President was elected directly by the people (as per the constitutional requirement) and received 72% of the votes, relations between the President and the Prime Minister changed, that is after the routine and very useful consultations between the two leaders during the first term and half of the second term.”
Geingob further opined that “perhaps, the President, now having been elected directly by the people, thought that he was mandated to rule and was accountable only to the people, however, a brave cabinet and also the last SWAPO Party Congress held in August 2002 proved that the President could still be called to order in Namibia.” Geingob is also reported to have asserted that “there can nevertheless be attempts by presidential coteries to encourage the President to be ‘Presidential,” and added that attempts by Nujoma at “micromanagement are the beginning of presidentialism.” As Kamuzu Banda of Malawi put it in 1972: “(there is) nothing (that) is not my business in this country, everything is my business...”
In this regard, as a former Constitutional Law student, I would first look at these comments from a constitutional law perspective. Of course the thesis makes some interesting reading but contains incorrect points that should be addressed. Here are the most significant. The thesis’s assertion that “attempts by Nujoma at micromanagement are the beginning of presidentialism” and the issue of ‘sycophancy’
Since the good doctor’s thesis is about Constitutional Law, I presume that he must also know that there is a clear distinction between the presidential system and the semi-presidential system with the latter being much closer to pure presidentialism? Indeed, adapting from Duverger’s (1980) original and influential definition, semi-presidentialism may be defined by three features: A president who is popularly elected; the president has considerable constitutional authority and there exists also a prime minister and cabinet, subject to the confidence of the assembly majority.
These features define a dual executive (Blondel 1984), in that the elected president is not merely a head of state who lacks political authority, but also is not clearly the ‘chief’ executive, because of the existence of a prime minister. By virtue of its being called semi-presidential, the regime type in question is clearly identified as a hybrid that is neither presidential nor parliamentary, if we consider ‘presidential’ and ‘parliamentary’ to be terms denoting pure types, from both of which semi-presidentialism draws certain characteristics.
Indeed, the juxtaposition of an elected president with a cabinet responsible to parliament is the hallmark of a semi-presidential system. Thus in a typical premier-presidential system, the president selects the prime minister who heads the cabinet, but authority to dismiss the cabinet rests exclusively with the assembly majority. In a typical president-parliamentary system, on the other hand, the president selects the cabinet and also retains the possibility of dismissal.
However, under those semi-presidential systems that have a dissolution provision, the president may decide when the voters will choose new legislative agents. Dissolution is thus parallel to the defining characteristic of semi-presidentialism by which the assembly may dismiss the head of the executive branch notwithstanding that it was the voter’s other agent (the president) who initiated the appointment of the incumbent cabinet.
In this sense, this form of semi-presidentialism is much closer to pure presidentialism. In view thereof it is clear that Namibia is neither a presidential system nor a parliamentary system, but a semi-presidential and typical president-parliamentary system because the president selects the cabinet and also retains the possibility of dismissal.
The thesis contains fundamental flaws when it refers to ‘the beginning of presidentialism’ unless he is comparing the Namibian Premier to that of Great Britain instead of looking at the French Premier who is similar to the Namibian one. As a matter of fact, the greatness of the founding fathers or to be politically correct, the founding parents of our constitution lies in the fact that they came up with one of the best documents in Africa and not only that, but also made it ‘a living’ document that provides for remedies such as judicial review with all constitutional remedies typical of a liberal democracy available.
In fact, it was the then Premier who presided over the whole constitution-drafting process and always hailed it as one of the best. I remember him saying that some did not want a presidential system because they had our Founding President in mind and wanted to curtail his powers.
Dr Geingob creates grounds for suspicion concerning his best intentions when he suggests in his thesis under consideration that we must be discouraged from the practice of calling the former and first head of state as our Founding President or Father of the Namibian Nation or leader of the Namibian Revolution.
This is how he puts it: “these sycophants, who surround the President, are interested in their own survival and seek to please the President by “informing him that he was very popular with the people. The sycophancy may be reflected in their behaviour of promoting the omnipotence of the presidency” and emphasized that this could take many forms, such as the way the President is addressed i.e. Head of State and Head of Government, Commander-in-Chief, Tatekulu, Revolutionary, Founding Father etc.
But I was under the impression that some of those titles were bestowed on him by the Constitution by virtue of him being elected as President, while others were bestowed upon him by the Parliament and through the party structures of which Dr. Geingob was and is still part and parcel as a member and one of its top leaders.
Does that make him a sycophant? If we understand a sycophant as someone who praises powerful people, because he/she wants something from them, then surely, in a scientific and democratic age, irrational faith has no place in political discourse, but some people’s minds, obviously, are still marooned in a pre-scientific and undemocratic state of consciousness. For those of us with a scientific and democratic consciousness, it is our duty to test any doctrine and then uphold only those that are demonstrably valid.
And regardless of some people’s exhibited dislike for it being done, we shall challenge and correct errors, even as the next generation shall challenge and correct our own errors. In fact, it is our duty to test the validity of every idea on offer without hiding behind pseudo-intellectual jargon as Chinweizu asserted. It will thus be interesting for students of constitutional law to find out who these ‘sycophants’ who surrounded the President were at that time according to Geingob’s assertion and prove how these people were more influential than the Premier.
Some people seem prone to mistake the accolades and praises including to honour ourselves by honouring our ideals through our leaders as signifying that we are turning our leaders into divine or semi-divine, demi-dieu and therefore infallible. But that is their error. Our Founding President never asked for all these accolades and you cannot find someone simpler and humble as a leader who is ready to give an attentive ear and listen to both sides of the story as a father and true leader unlike some with flagrant bias.
Our Founding President does not live in a luxurious house unlike some flamboyant leaders who live in opulence such as the former Ivorian President Houphouet-Boigny who ruled that country since independence in 1960 until his death in 1993 and who came to personify those Third World leaders who diverted public money to develop their home village first and foremost and promptly moved the capital Abidjan to his backyard at Yamoussoukro, building an airport and magnificent new parliament with the biggest cathedral on earth of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace built at a cost of $300 million. To equate our Founding President to Mobutu who diverted state money to his personal accounts in Europe is outrageous and preposterous.
You will only find a dusty road to his home village and a decent house and not some lavish and ostentatious lifestyle with marble everywhere. Against this background, there is no doubt that the comments were made and I submit that they were made knowingly and/or purposely because Dr Geingob is reported to have made his comments at the time when he was demoted as the Prime Minister by the Founding President Nujoma to Local Government Minister, a position he eventually declined, rather opting to work for an international NGO in Washington D.C. in the USA. It’s like a sheep taking refuge in a lion’s den. Like a prodigal son, he came back home and was given a coat as the second in command in the top structures of the party and I am sure there exists excellent relations among the leadership now.
Nevertheless, my question is: why equate the man who appointed him as Premier to the notorious former dictator of Zaire? Well, I nearly forgot that he also said that the post was initially reserved for his former school mate and arch-rival Hidipo Hamutenya. Apparently he just appeared in the picture to be appeased after he was nearly taken to the Lubango dungeons. Instead of poisoning our discourse with scapegoating claims of victims versus innocents, I suggest we get off our moral high horse and desist from posing as the innocent victims of some dastardly fellow comrades.
As Max Hamata asserted, these diatribes will serve as political indices to determine their tolerance and whether they would spare their vengeance to revisit the past and resort to retributive action. I say well done in exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of what is called “A critical analysis” which is better expressed as “Flawed Analysis” from a mediocre scholarship. Let us respect the elders and leave them to enjoy their retirement in peace! Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.