About Ethnicity and Politics

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By Kuvee Kangueehi Windhoek The Namibian political climate appears to be in doldrums. This can, to a large extent, be attributed to the dominance of the Swapo Party and the decline of almost all the other political parties. The ruling party’s dominance is expected to continue for the next decade while the other parties will struggle to grow or at least survive. An ethnic support base is seen as the bedrock of most Namibian parties and is even a consideration for top leadership, say some observers. Political parties and leaders are not elected on the basis of their policy outlooks, but rather on where they come from and how they fit into the ethnic profile of the party. Many small political parties find themselves at crossroads. For a party to grow, it must appeal to an ethnic constituency, according to another commentator. Secretary General of Congress of Democrats (CoD) Reinhardt Kalla Gertze says the reasons for political parties’ lack of growth are diverse. “Parties are ethnically composed and the size of any party depends on the size of the ethnic group that subscribes to the party.” He said it is a sad scenario because under such circumstances, political and socio-economic interests are confined within the conditions prevalent in those ethnic boundaries and are often seen in comparison to “others”. “The votes most Nami-bians cast are of ethnic loyalty.” Gertze argued that the Swapo Party is made up of the majority ethnic group of the country and is therefore a dominant party to which even those who do not subscribe to the majority ethnic group have to go for survival. DTA Member of Parliament McHenry Venaani supported Gertze’s sentiments. He said, “the ethnic factor plays a very critical role in Namibian politics and if one looks at the majority party, Swapo controls over the Oshiwambo-speaking Namibians and the massive capital injection of infrastructure in the four Os guarantees them a vote to control the country.” The youthful MP added that ethnicity is so prevalent that a party such as UDF has in the last election gained a seat in the National Assembly and a regional seat due to good ethnic politics. “CoD failed to attain any regional seat due to a lack of proper backing from certain ethnic groups although they fared second best in the National elections.” However, Swapo’s Secretary for Information and Mobilization Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah expressed a different view. She said ethnic support should not be exaggerated. She said the growth Swapo has enjoyed in terms of numbers couldn’t solely be attributed to a strong ethnicity base. “In the Swapo Party, ethnicity does not play any role and people should not confuse the demography of the country with ethnicity.” Ndaitwah said the size of ethnicity in terms of percentage has not been looked at and that could paint a totally different picture. Gertze said the social or class status plays a role and strata such as intellectuals and the wealthy are also forced to submit to the dominance of the ruling party. “With independence, we have come into power on a hungry stomach and greed has set in, leading to corruption and the subsequent neglect of socio-economic development.” Gertze however acknowledged that poor leadership in the different parties has hampered the growth of parties. He said there is a great quality of leadership in the political parties but some politicians mix up their roles by involving themselves in “real politik” and administration. “Politicians or political leaders are not necessarily administrators and administration, finance, and professionalism lack enormously and in most cases, the demarcating line between admin and finance and political decision-making does not exist.” He further said the dominant quality and mentality of liberation politics in some old timers is a big stumbling bloc. “Some of the leaders fail to transform in the wake of new approaches to leadership and they fail to grasp the challenges faced by a party.” In addition, there are many incompetent leaders who occupy positions both in parties and in parliament and who still think that their duties are to scold, discredit and defame other parties and their leaders instead of addressing the challenges that hamper good life for the people whose interest they are supposed to promote. Gertze said there is little policy development at party level. The only thing that takes place at parties similar to policy development mainly pertains to confinement, increased influence, inducement and control of members of the party, without necessarily being geared towards promoting greater democracy, freedom, efficiency, conscious, critical and informed participation of members. “Greater parts of policy development are not centred around the true sense of socio-economic empowerment/development of members.” Venaani echoed Gertze’s sentiments that there is no policy development in many parties. “Parties lack well carved policies and end up with policy sloganeering without research backed facts of advancing such a policy.” He said generally, parties lack capacities to develop proper scientific policies. Gertze believes there is room for younger politicians to play a role in Namibian politics. He added that at the moment, parties do not seem to understand the aspirations of the younger generation and how parties should involve and groom the youth. “As older people in leading positions, we do not have enough and attractive leadership and behavioural style, which could entice the younger aspirants. We inspire them not to lead and govern but to enrich themselves and to badmouth our adversaries.” Venaani, who has seen his party shrink from being the second biggest party in the country to just another small party, said the decline and the failure of growth of political parties including the DTA can be attributed to the fact that government is seen as an employment provider and civil servants are made to believe that voting for another party would mean “losing bread in their mouths”. Venaani said he has seen an internal democratisation process where parties hold regular internal party leadership positions. The three major parties in the country, namely Swapo, CoD and DTA have internal leadership races before and after elections “There exist internal democracy but not fully entrenched as those that are perceived as powerful in challenging the status quo are eternally victims of marginalisation and slight vindictive behaviours are often portrayed even in media.” In 1989, over 40 political parties were in existence in Namibia. Many of the parties were tribally based and had been involved in various South African-sponsored attempts to create an internal settlement in Namibia without the participation of Swapo, while others were set up specifically to take part in the 1989 elections. The 1989 registration requirements, the payment of N$10 000 and production of 2 000 signatures of registered voters, reduced the number of parties participating in the elections to six alliances and four political parties. In the first elections Swapo and DTA took the lion’s share of votes, jointly gaining 85 percent of the total votes. However, after independence when the South African slush funds were depleted, the economic realities set in at most of the parties and the majority if not all the parties that mushroomed just before the first democratic elections died a natural death, while the DTA went into a freefall from the 21 seats it occupied after the 1989 elections to four seats currently. Swapo continued to grow in numbers and won two-thirds majority comfortably over the last two elections.

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