Who Will Succeed the Founders?

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During the memorial service of the late Mose Tjitendero, it became clear during the eulogy and tributes that the former Speaker was indeed a member of a special group of the Swapo leadership. The late Tjitendero belonged to a generation of party leaders who were once very close and shared the same vision and ideology. This group followed in the footsteps of Swapo pioneers such Sam Nujoma, Hifikepunye Pohamba and Andimba Toivo ya Toivo and took the party and the struggle for liberation to the next level. This group was the think tank of the party and contributed immensely to Nami-bia’s pre- and post-independence history. The group consisted of first Prime Minister Hage Geingob, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Hidipo Hamutenya, current Prime Minister Nahas Angula and Speaker Theo Ben Gurirab. This group represented the middle layer of the leadership of the party and country. The majority is US-educated. It was almost a foregone conclusion that one of them will be the heir to the throne as soon as the old guard, also known as the Tanganyika Group, steps down. But sixteen years down independence lane, that possibility is becoming more remote. The group has become its own worst enemy. The – formerly – close allies put their personal ambitions above anything else and deserted each other at a time when they needed each other the most. In 1997 when Geingob contested the vice presidency of the Swapo Party, which could have put him firmly in the driving seat to become the next president, his closest friends did not support him. Geingob returned the favour in 2004 when Hamutenya contested the country’s presidency. He did not back Hamutenya. They missed out because they were all interested in the presidency – which is normal. But in the process, they forgot about the possibility that someone else might gain the presidency. So, the outsider horse Pohamba (part of the first Tanganyika Group), beat the US graduates to the post. Had they been more co-operative, one of them would have probably ascended to the throne. It was important for them to talk to each other. But, due to the their ambitions and egos, they lost the game. It now appears increasingly less likely that any of the middle layer leadership will gain the honour to lead this country. Pohamba might go for a second term, which will of course ruin the chances of these fellows. They would then be in their seventies and probably too old to lead when Pohamba steps down after a second term. So things can only turn out differently if Pohamba does not go for a second term. But sixteen years after independence, analysts are in agreement that the country needs a transitional leadership that is focused on meritocracy, modern administration, investment attraction and so on. Geingob and Hamutenya are highly competitive. They both believe in thorough work and delivery of results. You just need to look at the people around them to understand how they operate. Geingob ran a competent office. Hamutenya did the same. So, their presidencies would have been a meritocracy. But at the same time, they were also aware of the limits of their struggle credentials and the need to strike a balance – of course not at the expense of the public good. What is more disturbing though, is that the third layer of the country’s leadership (young Turks), which is most likely to take over from the old guard, lacks the quality of the middle layer. There is a deficit in this layer. It is young and seems to lack a meaningful ideological commitment or have thought up serious policies. Looking at many countries today, leaders at that level are highly educated and trained. But the majority of our young Turks do not have the necessary experience to drive the country’s development to greater heights which leaders like Geingobs, Gurirab, Nahas Angula or Hamutenya could. It is doubtful whether they will be able to take the party to the next level and inject new thinking into it. What Swapo is witnessing at the moment, is a battle for control of the hearts and minds of the young Turks. It is also about whether the baton should be passed on to the young Turks from the Old Tanganyika Group or via the bridge – Geingob, Angula, Gurirab, Hamutenya and others. The fight is on between the first Tanganyika Group and the second Tanganyika Group. It is about who controls the young Turks and therefore bequeath them the party legacy and entrust them with the power to rule tomorrow. At this juncture, the old Tanganyika Group appears to be in complete charge.