I recently attended the 24th Congress of the International Political Science Association in Poland where we also discussed, as political scientists, regimes and system legitimacy – including the analysis of the relationship between central and local governments.
In Namibia, political scientists have long studied and analysed this relationship with a view to illuminate the public. As political scientists, let it be said, we do not need permission to analyse and form opinions on anyone forming part of our area of observation; be it presidents, ministers, bishops or thieves.
This is what one Vita Helmut Angula, who recently wrote an article against my views, must learn. No political party, church or kingdom can obstruct our inquisitive minds for our loyalty is to the tradition of knowledge and academy.
When the Second Regional Councils Amendment Act 16 of 2010 and the Special Advisors and Regional Governors Appointment Amendment Act 15 of 2010 were hurriedly passed through parliament in 2010, political scientists alarmed Namibians.
I joined my colleagues, on 31st January 2014, cautioning that “while the Regional Councils Act 22 of 1992 makes provision for members of the regional council (consisting of elected councillors) to democratically elect among themselves a person to serve as governor of that respective region – the Special Advisors and Regional Governors Appointment Amendment Act 15 of 2010 takes away this democratic practice, exporting it to the president.
This created a democratic deficit. Governors are the only high-ranking political office-bearers not subjected to any form of people’s will; councillors are elected – the president is directly elected – ministers are firstly elected to parliament. Governors now attend meetings of the regional council without voting powers – birthing an effective governance quagmire.
I had argued further that “most government officials have clear reporting structures – through directors, line ministers and eventually the president. It is for this reason that some governors, after receiving cold shoulders, resort to intimidation and bullying tactics.”
The conclusion and overall perspective of this caution was that these amendments, motivated by Swapo’s desire to control Kunene Region, rendered governors as nothing but dolls of the president; serving at his behest and utmost pleasure.
When the matter of the audio recording, said to contain negative tribal undertones of Omaheke governor Festus Ueitele, became public, and the subsequent response, including the community protest, commentators concentrated solely on the tribal undertone characterising this discourse and not the dimension of regime and system legitimacy.
Unlike the chairperson of the regional council (RC) who is directly elected by the community and subsequently fellow councillors, Ueitele was appointed by the president. It is the chairperson of the RC, not the governor, under whose supervision state funds are administered and development programs conceptualised and executed in the region. But it is governors who deliver the state of the region address (SORA), some may retort.
We will quickly inform you that the SORA is an account compiled by the RC administrative teams and not the governor’s office whose human resources capacity is limited to a personal assistant, secretary and special advisor. Those who disagree must be quickly directed to a recent audio recording of Kunene governor Angelika Muharukua confirming this reality. In the case of Ueitele, his recording that agitated the community already found a consciousness opposed to the imposition of individuals on communities.
Let’s follow the events since the audio went viral in April 2016; last month, Ueitele called a press conference where he denied the remarks and branded them as false. On the 25th June 2016, President Hage Geingob ordered the governor to issue a public apology to the Ovaherero community to restore the spirit of peace, unity and trust within the Omaheke Region.
The order was not surprising because this is indeed what we long predicted would happen. What is surprising, however, are these words attributed to Ueitele by New Era earlier this week: “I will let you know in due course whether I will apologise or not.”
It is surprising because the order of the president wasn’t optional. The president is clear on his expectations: “concrete steps” to calm the situation and to issue a “public apology to the Ovaherero community”.
What does the above mean? Firstly, if the governor is to execute the order, apologise as directed, it would mean that he will find the political grammar constituting a retraction and swallowing of his earlier statement that denied the remarks and branded them false.
It would mean that the remarks are now truthful and acknowledged hence the apology to the Ovaherero community. Since these words of the governor are available on audio recording, when he apologises on this part he would immediately earn a new title; a liar and a political swindler dealing in manufacturing of stories.
Further, the apology will vindicate the community and further strengthen their case and resolve to face the embattled political appointee. It will be hard, in future, for the community to believe anything the governor says, without concrete evidence, given this experience.
If Ueitele does not apologise, something that is highly unlikely given our politics’ high ranking of the stomach above principles, he would be defying the appointing authority at whose pleasure he serves.
The appointing authority is unlikely to accept defiance because his political advisors will immediately remind him that such can be repeated by the other remaining 13 political appointees. If he doesn’t apologise, the community will be further agitated and continue to further delegitimise the governor. The milk has already been spilt. Had society listened to political scientists on the dangers of the Second Regional Councils Amendment Act 16 of 2010 and the Special Advisors and Regional Governors Appointment Amendment Act 15 of 2010, we might not have been here.
As political scientists, we will keenly continue observing, studying and analysing politics no matter who says what. As matters stand now, Governor Festus Ueitele is in a catch-22 probably wondering why he surrendered his parliamentary seat to receive orders like a waiter.
- Job Shipululo Amupanda is a co-author of the book ‘Affirmative Repositioning – Awakening a Generation’ that will be published soon. He is a lecturer in political science at the University of Namibia.