Namibia's 'recycled' Cabinet

“Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” is how University of Namibia professor of political studies Bill Lindeke described Namibia’s new government after Hifikepunye Pohamba replaced Sam Nujoma as state president on Monday.

A Namibian current affairs magazine has dubbed Pohamba the “Old Man — Mark II” to show how little things were likely to change.

Namibia has known no other leader apart from Nujoma since the country gained independence 15 years ago. He has been the nation’s iconic leader since he became founding head of the Swapo liberation movement in 1960.

Naturally, with a new president at the helm, many had expected major changes in the government. Instead, Pohamba, within hours of his swearing in, retained at least 32 members of Nujoma’s Cabinet.

Disappointed Swapo leaders argue that Pohamba has “lost an opportunity” to show that Namibia was stepping into a new age.
Some complain that he has merely rewarded Nujoma for pushing through his presidential candidacy by selecting a host of “Nujoma loyalists” to an executive branch of government of nearly 50 in the 72-member National Assembly.

To be fair, Pohamba has repeatedly stated that he stood for “continuity”. Nonetheless, there was an expectation that he would extend an olive branch to key allies of Hidipo Hamutenya, the former minister of foreign affairs whom Nujoma dismissed to clip his presidential ambitions. The move has created a rift within Swapo and has become the preoccupation of the top leadership in recent months.

The new Prime Minister is Nahas Angula. Though his competency is beyond reproach, many see his appointment as a payback. A minister of higher education under Nujoma, Angula was the third presidential hopeful. At a crucial Swapo congress last year, Angula’s supporters delivered the presidency to Pohamba when all but one of his 130-odd votes backed the new president against Hamutenya in a second round of voting.

Namibia’s former minister of health Libertina Amathila, an Angula supporter and member of the Nama tribe, is the new Deputy Prime Minister. Her appointment is a nod to the issues of gender and ethnicity. A surprise exclusion from the Cabinet is former prime minister Hage Geingob whom many had touted as the new minister of foreign affairs. Pohamba did not explain his choices.

Lindeke described the Cabinet as “recycled politicians” with little regard for technocrats.

“It is the old struggle generation. There are people in parastatals and the private sector who have been successful, but you don’t see them coming through.” Lindeke nevertheless gave the Cabinet a thumbs up.

Political science lecturer, Phanuel Kaapama, says Pohamba will face the same “pressure” as Nujoma over the rationale for 22 ministries and a bloated Cabinet, given the size of Namibia. There was no explanation about what Albert Kawana as Minister for Presidential Affairs (a new post) and Ngarikutuke Tjiriange as the Minister Without Portfolio (a carry-on from the Nujoma administration) will do. Those appointments, says Kaapama, would not be viewed as having “reduced the pressure on scarce resources”.

But having kept so many of the people believed to be close to Nujoma, Pohamba still has to shake off the perception that he is merely a stooge of Namibia’s big man of politics. Kaapama believes that when picking his team Pohamba “consulted extensively” with Nujoma who still “has a lot of influence”.

Few believe that Pohamba will cower to Nujoma’s whims. Yet Pohamba himself points out that those who do not know Swapo should understand that the ruling party directs government policy. “I would expect that former president Nujoma will retain his influence until 2007 and beyond,” says Kaapama.

Nujoma remains president of the party until Swapo holds leader- ship elections in two years time. He can thus continue to ensure that “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” is retained.

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