Namibia has listened to 26 State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs) before, and they served an important purpose of offering the lawmakers from both houses, as well as the general public an opportunity to hear straight from the Head of State in one place at the same time what he thought was the state of wellbeing of the nation.
We have heard, seen and learned enough to be able to discern and put things in perspective with boldness and honesty, while placing the interests of the nation in the centre. At this point it appropriate to give credit when and where credit is due and raise the volume on things that we are proud of and lower the volume on things that we do not wish to carry with us into the future, near and distant.
To start with, it has to do with the levels of expectations that delivered the Geingob presidency to the State House. Geingob won by higher popularity than his two predecessors and the nation, rightly, expected him to take Namibia into orbit.
The first real common man, from a minority ethnic group, with a wealth of experience and exposure to the world of politics and administration, with the highest level of academic education a president can have, and with a reservoir of hands-on administrative and professional skills he had accumulated over the years.
It is fair to say that with Geingob’s first SONA, there was electricity in the air and at Tintenpalast that was never experienced before. The nation’s joint session of lawmakers witnessed a man on a mission; the nation heard a futuristic statement by the Head of State on a range of pertinent issues affecting the nation.
They heard annunciations of principles and a sense of urgency. In his first SONA Geingob punctuated matters that we all thought he was seeing as vital ingredients of the massive mandate he was given by the nation’s electorate. His use of the metaphors of the Namibian House, where no one should feel left out, were biblical and very powerful.
His confidence levels rubbed off on many of us. Those of us who have followed Geingob’s political career could feel his heartbeat during the address and wanted to believe that the invitation into this Great House for All was an articulation of an abiding dream of our third President.
Indeed we wanted to believe that it was a long-held dream – something he had thought and cared about immensely as part of his internalised national philosophy-cum-agenda for a Namibia, where all inhabitants enjoyed dignity, worth and protection, as he swore upon taking the oath of office.
We wanted to believe that his style was going to be based upon profound national interests that chased him to leave the country and his Standard 1 learners in search of a bigger and better place for them all, and their children.
He started his inaugural address on 21 March 2015 with a call that this was the day that the Lord has made and that all should rejoice in it.
In his first SONA he went to the Book of Matthew and gave a short homily, as it were, about the wisdom of building a solid house, not in the sand, but on the rock. In the last 25 years, Namibia built a house on a rock, for which we ought to be grateful to those who toiled at it, individually and collectively.
Geingob went to parliament for his first SONA fired-up and spoke from the heart. Even those who had misgivings about his public speaking skills were affirmed by his new energy that they too were in the right house at the right time for the right reasons – not politics, not language, not class, not tribe, but their birthrights as Namibians, as Afrikans and as human beings!
With his first SONA, Hage appeared very conscious of the moment, and that his presidency was about taking this nation beyond the stability and consolidation of democracy to a higher level, that of economic emancipation for all in the inhabitants of the Land of the Brave. We thought he was ready to respond to the aspirations of a 26-year-old nation, moving forward from the hostile politics of liberation to an inclusive governance style.
For instance, he mentioned the words ‘nation’ and ‘the people’ more than the party that he is now fighting to lead, at the expense of his mandate to be all people’s President. The word ‘Swapo’ appeared only once, whereas the word ‘nation’ appeared 36 times! He was mindful that his 87 percent electoral mandate could not have come from Swapo members alone, but from the majority of Namibian citizens.
For some reason, President Geingob dropped the ball after his first SONA, as his subsequent public utterances and comportment became more and more belligerent and unnecessarily defensive. His attitude towards the media became increasingly bellicose. His demeanour has changed from giving hope to inspiring fear and uncertainty. His speeches became longer and longer.
President Geingob’s press meetings and SONAs are increasingly becoming a symptom of something bigger, namely that the wellbeing of the citizens is less important than the political interests and future of one individual.
Geingob’s often-positive public language is at variance with what he does and what many people are experiencing at his behest.
There is a great dissonance between rhetoric and action that point to political disorder. This is, to all intents and purposes, a crisis of leadership typical of the Afrikan post-independence syndrome wherein leadership is about political and financial security of individuals who depend on the patronage.
In this climate, job security and career opportunities depend upon the extent to which appointed (not elected) state officials either choose to remain silent and timid, or obsequious, or simply go to work yet do not care about other people or the nation – at all.