The Roller Coaster Year

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK THE year 2005 that is drawing to a close has been an interesting and a dynamic roller coaster in which a number of valuable lessons could be learnt, says a prominent political analyst. Incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba took over from Founding Father Dr Sam Nujoma as president on March 21. Pohamba wasted no time and made a strong clarion call for zero tolerance for corruption. The call ultimately gave rise to a spur of revelations of corrupt dealings amongst some well-known political office bearers and gross mismanagement of millions of dollars in prominent public institutions of the country. There was also the expulsion of Jesaya Nyamu from the Swapo leadership that shook the political landscape. The move sent a strong signal to any like-minded who may be tempted to engage in the same political dealings. However, besides these political developments, Namibia’s democracy has remained stable and firm under the bold leadership of Pohamba for the past 10 months. This is the opinion of senior political analyst Christiaan Keulder who in a recent interview said the latest developments have not caused any drastic changes in the political regime of the country, but rather showed a sense of maturity in the country’s democracy. Focussing first on the swearing in of President Pohamba, Keulder said important lessons have been learnt from the changeover from one president to another. Unlike in other African countries where there is political instability, Namibians experienced a smooth transition of power. “You can change a president without ending or deteriorating democracy. People must therefore be more confident about democratic rule,” said Keulder, adding that there are still some African presidents who are reluctant to let go of power. The opposition parties’ call for a recount of the parliamentary elections votes earlier in the year also showed how effectively the legal system addressed political disputes amongst parties. “The fact that the recount was adhered to indicates what role courts can play in political disputes, while at the same time being an intervening body in political parties’ concerns,” said Keulder. Although corruption has been an issue of concern for the Founding Father, strong sentiments on graft by Pohamba prompted the unravelling of a number of prominent High Court cases, resulting in resignations of those in leadership positions. Cases like the Social Security Commission versus Avid came into the picture, where the former Deputy Minister of Works, Transport and Communication Paulus Kapia was implicated in the missing N$30-million investment. Keulder is of the opinion that the process in which these cases unravelled in the High Court shows what effective role courts can play in addressing corruption. “At least, there seems to be some sort of action taken. People who were implicated lost their jobs. Again this is a sign that there is at least a belief that the legal system can solve these issues,” stated Keulder. He explained that in a democracy the lessons learnt are “people in political power are not indispensable because they have to be seen to do the good things and not the bad”. He added that this is seen to be happening politically in the country. Therefore, for the first 10 months, President Po-hamba’s reign was praiseworthy for the strong stance on corruption where he remained solid and bold. Yet interesting developments have also been experienced in the ruling Swapo party, where there has been a “genuine unhappiness with inner party culture”. “This year, there has been a whole set of witch hunts, tribalism, division and some kind of general discontent with the party’s culture,” he said. The recent expulsion of long serving Swapo member Jesaya Nyamu from the party’s politburo is one case in point. Sentiments have been that lingering differences are still evident in the party and the onus is now on the Swapo Party to find ways and means of addressing this challenge. “It has to be tightened up and learn how to deal with differing views and problematic people,” said Keulder. However, what is notable is that this chain of events has not negatively affected the solid democracy the country has experienced over the past 15 years. The discovery of a number of mass graves presents another dilemma that the country has to deal with. “The controversy surrounding the mass graves serves as a continuous reminder of the past…and the past will always haunt us unless we look at ways of addressing it,” said Keulder. As for the political opposition parties this year, developments have been quite worrying, according to Keulder, where they made little impact not only in the recent Presidential elections, but also in the way they failed to provide an alternative political framework for voters. In a recently published book, Spot the Difference. Namibia’s Political Parties Compared, it is stated that the opposition parties are too much focussed on the past and replicating the old ways of getting top people into Parliament. This is indicative of the fact that “Namibia’s political system tends to encourage small-time politicians, several of them ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’, who wish simply to win a wedge of support in their home areas that will justify a presence in Parliament”, to quote from the book. Optimism is however expressed about the future, especially in addressing some of the challenges of corruption in the country once the Anti Corruption Commission starts its operations early next year. Keulder notes that Namibia is still a young democracy and challenges facing it can only be addressed with the changing times and years of experience from which valuable lessons can also be learnt.