Infighting Rocks CoD

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By Kuvee Kangueehi Windhoek Namibia’s second largest political party, the Congress of Democrats (CoD) faces serious leadership wrangling. The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party met last weekend and resolved to hold an extra-ordinary congress. But dissatisfied members of the NEC staged a walkout at the prospect of an extraordinary congress for the party over the coming weekend. However, despite the walkout, the NEC resolved that an extra-ordinary congress be held anyway in May at Keetmanshoop. During the weekend meeting, which was held at the Geiter Conference Centre outside Windhoek, a faction of the party that is sympathetic to party president Ben Ulenga felt the call for an extra-ordinary congress was a ploy by another faction led by party vice-president Nora Schimming-Chase to oust Ulenga from the presidency. A member of the NEC, who attended the meeting, claims that the CoD is now divided into two camps, one led by the party’s president Ulenga and the other by its vice-president Schimming-Chase. The Ulenga faction has the backing of party stalwarts such as MP Tsudao Gurirab, former MP Rosa Namises and party treasurer Kaveri Kavari, while those who have aligned themselves with Schimming-Chase are the party secretary general Kalla Gertze, Ellen Dienda and former NPF leader Moses Katjiuongua. It is believed that Schimming-Chase will vie for the position of president at the extra-ordinary congress. Her camp is convinced that since Gertze is the secretary general of the party, he would set up structures in the regions as well as hand-pick delegates to the congress who will vote for Schimming-Chase as president. The insider claims that the rise of Schimming-Chase and her group has precipitated what some call “anti-Owambo feelings”. The 2004 re-election of Ulenga as president and Ipumbu Kalimbo as secretary of the Young Democrats has apparently also raised fears of dominance of the party by people from one tribal group and that power was shifting from the Khomas Region to the central northern regions. However, the opposing faction says Schimming-Chase is not popular in the party and will never win the presidency. They claim that Schimming-Chase has also surrounded herself with people that have little contact with party members in the regions and Gurirab and Namises have the ability to influence delegates from the regions. Ulenga also enjoys huge support from the Young Democrats after the preferred candidate of Gertze and Schimming-Chase, Agapitus Hausiku, lost out to Ipumbu Kalimbo to lead the youth wing of the party. Although Hausiku was in pole position to take over the reins from Natji Tjirera because he was acting, the delegates to the Young Democrats Congress opted for Kalimbo who is a close ally of Ulenga. The delegates simply did not trust Hausiku because he went back to Swapo in 2002 only to re-join the CoD in 2003. The Ulenga group also accuses Gertze of incompetence. They claim that since his taking office in 2004, the party structures in the regions have collapsed. They say Gertze has been dedicating most of his time to the Breaking the Wall of Silence (BWS) organization and that he gave a preferred loan to Pauline Dempers, a member of the BWS. Former Secretary General of the CoD, Ignatius Shixwameni, seems to be the dark horse in the race for the top. The former deputy SG has taken a back seat in the entire party infighting and is strongly viewed as a compromise candidate should the two aspirants fail to win support. An insider claims that Katjiuongua is a great admirer of Shixwameni and could lobby for him if the chances of Schimming-Chase become slim. It is generally believed that under Shixwameni as the SG, the party flourished and was on its way up. Shixwameni also enjoys huge support from the Okavango and Khomas regions where most of the CoD votes came from during the last national elections. Our source says the party administrative machinery has suffered and basic things such as the constitution are not in place. It is alleged that the party has been operating without a constitution since 2004 because it adopted a constitution in 2001 to function until 2004. The source says that amendments to the constitution after the 2004 Congress as well as resolutions taken then are nowhere to be found. The insider says the issue of the constitution has been raised at many NEC meetings, but Gertze informed the meetings that the minutes of the congress were lost. Contacted for comment, Gertze denied most of the allegations against him and said if he lent some money to Dempers, it was in his personal capacity. He said the aim of the extra-ordinary congress is to review all statutes such as the constitution, political programmes, manifesto and policies and to provide effective leadership for the party and ensure the effectiveness and relevance of the party with the realities of Namibian politics. “The extra-ordinary congress will ensure renewed focus on issues that directly affect the lives of the Namibian people.” Gertze said the extra-ordinary congress should open up ways for stocktaking and assessment of the party, thereby endeavouring to search for remedies to aspects that hamper the effective role of the party. Ulenga declined to comment and said he was in hospital. The CoD was formed in March 1999 after the high-profile departure of Ulenga from Swapo. Ulenga resigned his post as High Commissioner of Namibia to the United Kingdom in October 1998, citing his unhappiness with former President Sam Nujoma’s plans to run for a third term. At the launch of the party, Ulenga was joined by ex-permanent secretary Gurirab, former Swanu activist Schimming-Chase and Kavari.