Beyond the 6th Swapo party congress

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In a democracy, the politics of politicians can impulsively be dazed by short-term considerations. Calculations for power, alliance formation with the view to the next leadership election could cloak the life of a political party.
It is true that electoral contests for power can feed the vital organs of political parties. But if ambition, the lust for power is not properly channelled, the life of the party can be consumed by the ‘electoral fallacy’. The political calendar could de-align development as a priority.

Energy can be expended on campaigns that could divide and not necessarily sharpen cohesion. Fortunately, Team Harambee has made the promise of uniting the party post-congress, and to work better on leadership recruitment and succession planning. Energy can be expended on getting a seat and not allow the life of the party to serve as a platform for mass mobilisation, policy deliberation, review and directing implementation as the party in power.
Again, Team Harambee has promised to mobilise party membership, build institutional capabilities, and capacities of militants for leadership and policy implementation. These are essential in mitigating the risks in a broad-based movement and ruling party.

The passion and intensity with which Team Harambee had been met in different corners of the country is not solely attributable to the political biography of Hage Geingob. It is also based on the decency of comrades who know too well that the corridor with Team Harambee speaks to what Swapo is – a movement of people, and not a tiny faction to be instrumentalised whimsically. Delegates have sensed that the other side does not have the foggiest idea of what should be done to take the party and the country forward.

Likewise, a senior leader who scorched the landscape, questioning the sincerity of the support of senior colleagues in the Politburo for Team Harambee is not temperamentally suited to lead the party and the country. Through these, at least two key points that could be instructive going forward as the agenda of hard work and shared prosperity become more pronounced.

First, there are moments when senior leaders in the political bureau or central committee should be able to say that they are not the best man or woman for the job. That moment was lost when two chose to speculatively contest the presidency of the Swapo Party at this 6th Congress.

The contest becomes even more dishonest and farcical in light of what Swapo had achieved at the presidential and National Assembly elections of 2014. An increase in its score to 80% and a record Soviet-like tally of 87% for its presidential candidate, Hage Geingob. This evidence suggests that we should not confine the practices in our democracy to a bubble.

Consensus is not an ugly word in a democracy or in the life of a party. It is at the very heart of successful democracies. La République en Marche, the ruling party in France elected a president last week without a campaign because sufficient consensus led to what was effectively a sole candidacy and leadership team. Tony Blair led Labour in the United Kingdom to three successive electoral victories without any apparent internal contest to his leadership. In the developing world, Alassane Dramane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire went uncontested in 2015 as presidential candidate of the ruling Rassemblements des Républicains.

Second, there is the question of the context preceding the national elections of 2014. The actions pursued by the winner ought to have made the idea of a sole candidacy for party president in 2017 more obvious, if not more logical. In 2012, when Hage Geingob was re-elected vice president of the party, and its champion for the 2014 national elections, a series of actions, which with the benefit of hindsight seem underappreciated by a minor faction, deserve emphasis.

At critical moments, a republic must review the state of its democracy, looking into the rear-view mirror in order to consolidate its foundations. It must flesh out new frontiers. In 2012, we took giant steps when we ushered in the second republic through constitutional reforms, changing how government was going to work. Singapore, a competent developmental state has gone through such periods, amending the constitution, expanding parliamentary seats at various intervals in order to meet new demands.

These arguments might seem behind us. But in light of where we are today, they are live and we should draw strong conclusions. President Geingob has been leading Namibia at a time of financial distress accentuated by the bust of the global commodity cycle. It has forced his leadership to focus simultaneously on crisis management and transformation.

Comrades at the sixth party congress will overwhelmingly settle the leadership debate. What should emerge from it is a commitment on the part of the rank and file to rally behind the leadership team in the interest of executing the electoral promise, and the task of shared prosperity.

If we miss that opportunity by opening up new squabbles as it occurred post-2012 with the instincts of the next congress in 2022, our republic will become thinner. It will become a small red dot, and it will eventually die. What is needed at this point is to sustainably reconcile our politics with development. Our post-congress life should be about just that, development.

* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is a visiting fellow at Sciences Po Paris. He holds a PhD in political science from the Sorbonne.

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