By Kuvee Kangueehi
There is deafening silence about the upcoming Swapo Party Congress. The party’s top leadership has been quiet and party structures have been instructed to no longer endorse or suggest preferred candidates for the party presidency for the upcoming congress. Notwithstanding this, behind the scenes lobbying, campaigns and individuals positioning ahead of the congress at the end of the year, continue.
Meanwhile, the ultimate power broker in the Swapo Party – its president, Sam Nujoma – has been very quiet in the build-up to the congress – a silence that has been met with uneasiness in some quarters of the party.
Although Nujoma has not publicly declared whether or not he will stand for re-election as party president, party insiders say the former Head of State has at least indicated to a few individuals that he will not stand and will step aside and push for his deputy, Hifikepunye Pohamba, to succeed him. It is believed that Nujoma’s decision to vacate the highest party seat is meant to avoid a rift between himself and the current Head of State – the man he backed to the hilt to succeed him at the party congress of 2004.
And when Nujoma steps down, he will not be lost to the party completely. He is likely to be given an ‘honorary’ or non-executive party chairmanship pending the amendment of the party constitution at the congress to provide for just that. The non-executive chairmanship would be symbolic and would be modelled on the same lines as the Founding Father of the Nation status.
Having read the signs of the time, Pohamba is readying himself for the job and has put the necessary machinery in place to kick-start his campaign ahead of the November congress.
His right-hand man at State House, Ndali Kamati, was recently dispatched to the four central northern regions to lobby these regions to back Pohamba for the party presidency, according to sources.
Insiders claim that it was Pohamba who personally instructed the Secretary-General, Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, to send out a circular that barred regions from declaring their favourite candidates in public after the Oshana and Karas Regions declared Nujoma as their presidential candidate. Pohamba, who undertook a week-long trip to the four central regions last month, is back again to visit these regions this week.
With the presidency of the party almost a done deal, considering that there does not seem to be challengers unlike in 2004, the race is on for the vice-president position. Those contending for the vice-president have their eyes on the country’s presidency after Pohamba.
The transition at the very top when Nujoma goes is expected to be smooth, but the battle will be for the vice-president position and that of secretary-general.
The vice-presidency position is no longer seen as ‘ceremonial’, unlike when it was occupied by Hendrik Witbooi, but rather a stepping stone to the country’s presidency.
For Swapo, which has long been accused of not having a definite succession plan after Nujoma, the upcoming congress will dispel this notion, as Pohamba would be the first person to have moved from Vice-President to become Party President.
However, Nujoma, as the only tested power broker in the party, still wields enormous influence and is likely to sway the congress to back a candidate of his choice for the vice-presidency.
New Era is reliably informed that Nujoma has a number of candidates for the position, among them the current Minister of Lands and Resettlement, Jerry Ekandjo.
Deputy Minister of Labour, Peter Iilonga, Ekandjo’s former Robben Island colleague, is said to be the driver of Ekandjo’s campaign, assisted by Presidential Affairs Minister, Albert Kawana. Also waiting in the wings for their time, and should Pohamba choose to become a one-term president, are Dr Abraham Iyambo and Saara Kuugongelwa Amadhila, according to sources.
Ekandjo is one of Nujoma’s most trusted lieutenants, an unquestionable supporter and has never wavered in his defence of Nujoma.
Loyalty and steadfastness are qualities Nujoma strongly values and for which he has generously rewarded party members. However, pundits say Ekandjo is not a reformer – a crucial quality that Swapo needs in this phase of transition.
Ekandjo is seen more as a populist, who interacts well with the electorate and especially with Swapo’s rank and file. While he appeals to the masses, and is an asset, especially at a time when the party is believed to be beset by internal divisions, he was until recently not regarded as an heir to the top two positions of the party – this, despite him having garnered most votes at the party’s previous congresses.
However, observers believe Ekandjo’s challenge for the throne is likely to come from a most unlikely quarter in the person of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Pendukeni It-hana, whose support base in Swapo is the same as Ekandjo’s. She is regarded as the main agenda-setter in the party at the moment. Ithana, despite carrying the tag of being divisive because of her assertiveness and courage to stand for what she believes in, has since 2004 been linked to one of the top four positions in the party. Being a woman counts in her favour, as the party has indicated that it wants women in its top four positions.
Although Hage Geingob is tipped for Deputy Secretary-General, some party insiders believe that finally his time has come to take the V-P position. He remains one of the most senior party members both in parliament and at politburo level, and age is not on his side. He is one of the few remaining Swapo parliamentarians from the Constituent Assembly, which he chaired and was responsible for the drafting of the country’s constitution.
Lately, he has steadily been making a political comeback after his return from the United States and subsequently rejoining parliament as an ordinary member. Having served as a back-bencher for just over two years, the former Prime Minister is now firmly in control of the Swapo Parliamentary Caucus as its Chief Whip.
He has also been recalled to the highest decision-making organ of the party, the politburo.
This is proof enough that Geingob’s star is rising and that he has mended ways with the party’s power broker.
Party insiders claim that party members who backed him when he lost the V-P position to Witbooi at the 1997 congress have regrouped and could again throw their weight behind him for the V-P position.
Despite support from Nujoma being vital in his quest for the position, support for Geingob from Ithana, who may exit the V-P race in the early stages as a result of behind-the-scenes repositioning, may also prove crucial.
The current deputy secretary-general of the party, John Pandeni, is one person who has silently risen in the party and could just be the dark horse in the race – coming into the fray at the most unexpected hour.
Even if he does not vie for the vice-presidency, he is almost guaranteed a place in the top four positions, especially that of secretary-general, making him an automatic politburo member.
Party members speculate that he may also be the right compromise candidate, that if the power brokers in Swapo cannot agree on an Ekandjo, Geingob or Ithana candidacy, they may just as well fall back on Pandeni.
Although some strong Hidipo Hamutenya supporters still believe there is a glimmer of hope for him to secure a position at the upcoming congress, a party member claims that he is not so keen to enter the race at this point because his candidacy may ruffle some feathers. Instead, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah is likely to be proposed by some of the delegates to the congress for one of the top four positions.
Another possible candidate to be proposed for secretary-general, or less, is Tuliameni Kalomoh, sources say.
One party member observed ” … if Hamutenya gets in the top four, it will give him a foothold within the party, and with his family ties with Pohamba he could align himself with the sitting president and diminish Nujoma’s influence”.
Strangely, there is no word about Swapo elders such as Nahas Angula and his namesake, Helmut, Marco Hausiku and others.
Libertina Amathila, another potential contender, has indicated that she would like to take a low profile in politics and would not be in the thick of things after her current term.
Meanwhile, in the run-up to the congress, there are two central committee meetings scheduled to direct the congress agenda and also hammer out any differences that may unsettle the smooth running of the congress.