The rise and spectacular fall of the RDP

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With a dwindling support base and a free-flowing exodus of its bigwigs, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) is hanging onto its physical existence only by its fingernails.

It is a situation that political scientists foresaw since the establishment of the party some eight years ago, so this is basically a matter of chickens coming home to roost.

With chaotic leadership battles – such as the disbanding of its youth league leadership earlier this year – and a gradual loss of credibility, it is hard to imagine how the party will reclaim the status it once enjoyed in its heyday.
Firstly, the party was formed in 2007 on flimsy grounds, with sugar-coated suggestions that it came into being as a result of Swapo’s loss for vision.

Yet the “vision” referred to was really rooted in the outcome of the 2004 Swapo extraordinary congress, where Hidipo Hamutenya was roundly beaten by Hifikepunye Pohamba in the race to become the country’s next president.
Hamutenya’s supporters – including Jesaya Nyamu – could not stomach the democratic outcome of that congress and some, led by Nyamu, hatched plans to destroy the ruling party from within. For this Nyamu was eventually expelled.

Upon its formation, the RDP was gloating in self-importance. The party felt big and an authentic challenger to Swapo’s dominance – this without a clear roadmap and ideologies that could swing votes in its favour.

The RDP was brought back to earth though in 2009 when it retained eight seats following its debut national election participation. The lengthy court cases challenging the outcome of those elections did not help cement RDP’s credibility as a party that embraces democracy and its sometimes brutal outcomes.

Last year’s humiliating defeat in the parliamentary elections, where its seats were reduced to four, was blamed on Hamutenya who was then urged to hastily submit his resignation as party president.

Hamutenya complied with the request and jumped ship to return to Swapo with his family a few months ago. This week, more of his followers returned to the ruling party.

Jeremiah Nambinga, RDP’s current president, has quite a task at hand. He seemingly has not drummed up hype around the RDP brand going into this month’s election – largely maintaining the sluggish pace of the RDP that we’ve come to know in recent years.

RDP needs massive surgery if it is to recover from its current frail state. The party needs to redefine itself and come up with an ideology that locals can identify with.

One of the unexploited avenues of Namibian politics is the radical revolutionary approach that speaks to the aspirations of the masses. Blaming Swapo and accusing it of losing vision while they themselves are not clear on what their vision is will not save the RDP from its current free-fall.

Hamutenya has lately been seen as a politician who has lost his appeal and swag, but the fact that many people are now following him to Swapo is an indication that he remains influential in his own right.

It would be naïve of anyone to think that the high-profile defections announced this week would be the last from RDP. There are clear indications that more RDP leaders would defect to Swapo soon – for reasons such as RDP’s own lack of appeal and ideological direction, as well as the perceived opportunities (political and economic) that Swapo offers.

The outcome of the latest defections will likely be felt when the country goes to the voting booth in the Regional Council and Local Authority elections, slated for November 27.

It is difficult at this stage to see any reason why anyone would go in the opposite direction, to sign up for RDP membership, but the national assembly elections in 2019 would be the perfect measurement of the size of the dent, if any, that these defections may have on the former official opposition.

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