The CoD ‘Civil War’

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The Ben Ulenga CoD project is stumbling and perhaps crumbling. Matters have reached breaking point – hence the viability of the project is suspect. What was billed the country’s opposition democracy project of all time by Ulenga when he quit Swapo in 1999, has been reduced to a house of cards, a battleground where leaders are bloodying each other’s noses in a no-holds-barred fight. Internecine personal attacks are rife and the party has been turned into a most undemocratic political opposition show – or so it would seem. Reasons for the CoD’s tottering on the brink are not hard to come by. First, you have a pack of cards that do not match, and shuffling them is proving difficult – if not impossible. They simply slip through leaky fingers. The squabbling and mud-slinging within the CoD has been made worse by allegations of tribalism and regionalism. This spreads a very unpleasant odour. It is sad to see that what was supposed to be a government-in-waiting or the second-most important and largest political party in the country after Swapo has become a political battlefield. And so what could have kept this assortment of personalities with different agendas and interests and political divergences on the same road. To put it differently, how did Ulenga and company converge politically – was there a meeting of minds at all or was it just a matter of blindly following the wind? These questions and many others we leave to history to answer. What we know now though is that with their conduct at the extra-ordinary congress last weekend in Keetmanshoop, the bigwigs in the CoD have much to answer for to those who elected them to office and continue to do so. Add to that the party’s failure to manage a leadership crisis and you have very few of the ingredients left an alternative government needs. The main opposition party in general has simply failed the test, and Ulenga in particular has done so because the buck stops with him as president. There is no doubt that both Ulenga and fellow leaders are responsible for the malaise their party finds itself in today. But, more so, Ulenga the leader has failed to hold the party together. He has allowed opposition against his leadership to grow to a crisis point. He, more than anybody else, has not shown strong leadership during a difficult time. He has wavered badly. His hands-off approach and weak leadership style – disguised as democracy – has failed him and nurtured an open rebellion against his leadership in what almost turned into a palace coup at Keetmanshoop. Under his guard, the situation has drifted from bad to worse starting with the Young Democrats internal fights. Ulenga knew all along that there was a group in his inner circle that was opposed to his leadership. He also knew that this group was plotting against him and he too was probably plotting against them. And yet, he chose to do nothing until the twelfth hour. He was almost swept aside at the extra-ordinary congress. Ulenga’s inaction and indecisiveness points to an inability to manage power and is a show of weak leadership and/or judgement. His inexperience at handling a crisis is now there for all to see. If Ulenga had simply run down his party, we would have probably not pointed a finger at his leadership. But the CoD as a recipient of public funds through parliament is answerable to all Namibians and that is why we question those entrusted with its leadership when things go wrong. The CoD congress proceedings were a farce and the knives were out. The CoD is a victim of itself and has itself to blame for these happenings. Its leader, whom we hold in high esteem as a person, has to draw serious lessons from this debacle. As someone who aspires to lead our nation one day, Ulenga must understand that politics is not for the faint-hearted and the timid. It is no picnic. This is serious business, and more so, the art of managing power.