Axed leader returns

The return to Namibia’s Parliament last week of a Swapo leader who was axed from Cabinet—at the height of the presidential succession battle little over a year ago by then head of state Sam Nujoma—has accentuated divisions in the ruling party.

Hidipo Hamutenya arrived at the National Assembly with hordes of cheering supporters making barely disguised jibes at Nujoma—unthinkable just a few months ago.

Nujoma handed over the reins of the country to Hifikepunye Pohamba this year, but remains president of Swapo until the next party congress in 2007.

Hamutenya replaced the disgraced Paulus Kapia who, at Nujoma’s behest, led the campaign that thwarted the former’s presidential ambitions.
The Swapo Politburo ousted Kapia after he was implicated in a corruption scandal involving state funds.

“The fact that I’m back in Parliament,” said Hamutenya at his swearing in, “is a divine arrangement by the Almighty God that villains had to make room for their victims to enter the house. Indeed, my return to this honourable house is a clear indication that, despite an autocratic tendency that has been rearing its ugly head in this country, the wheels of democracy are turning.”

It was an unusually frontal attack on the patriarch of Namibian politics and an indication that he is losing his grip on power. Hamutenya is not one to engage in public spats. Even after he was stripped of the foreign affairs post in May last year he said nothing to offend Nujoma. His unrestrained remarks last week were the first public display of outrage at losing out to Pohamba in the succession race.

“As you know, for 16 months, I have been a victim of a campaign of virulent character assassination and witch-hunt,” Hamutenya said, becoming the first Swapo bigwig to tackle Nujoma for brandishing a list of alleged “imperialist agents” at the party’s 2004 electoral convention.

“I was listed as the number one imperialist agent,” he said in notes prepared for his return to Parliament. “The list was, of course, designed to not only exclude us from coming to Parliament, but also to remove us from Swapo.”

His statements are set to widen the rift with Nujoma and are likely to reverberate through the party. That the tide has turned against Nujoma was evident when the 21-member Politburo, accustomed to rubber-stamping his wishes, refused to back his attempt to stave off Kapia’s axing. Ordinary party members are now openly expressing dislike for him. Even the traditional backbone of Nujoma support, the Swapo Youth League, is divided.

President Pohamba has remained aloof and that has emboldened “independents” and other Politburo heavyweights aligned to Hamutenya to be more assertive. Wielding state power has allowed Pohamba to slowly build a base in the party. He and Hamutenya, both from the Kwanyama ethnic group, the largest Ovambo tribe, are vying for clout among what is regarded as the pillar of Swapo support.

But it is Nujoma, the “Big Man” of Namibian politics, who is the epicentre of intra-party rivalry. Senior party leaders, among them former Robben Islander Toivo ya Toivo, have already urged Nujoma to relinquish the party leadership to Pohamba, but he snubbed them and is believed to have walked out of a meeting with the elders last month.

“Sam [Nujoma] has sleepless nights because the power that he used to enjoy for decades he does not enjoy anymore,” a senior Swapo leader told the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity. “Pohamba is trying to keep everybody happy and that is making Nujoma nervous although he remains immensely popular.” Another leader close to Nujoma said: “The man is like someone cornered with hostages. He needs to be treated with care and respect.”

Insiders told the M&G, that, in what is seen as a controversial move, a Bill is before Parliament to confer the title “Founding Father of the Nation” on Nujoma in a bid to convince his supporters that future leaders will not humiliate him.

All the commotion in Swapo is nothing more than normal “transitional” factors believes widely travelled United States political science professor Bill Lindeke, who is now based in Namibia. “Namibia is a small country. All the bumps are exaggerated because it is a small place and everyone knows everyone else.” Unlike Malawi and other states in transition, Lindeke said, Swapo has had no ideological splits.

“There are divisions, but there is continuity to it. To me it’s pretty ordinary stuff. Swapo stays one party. Power is attached to only one presidency, and that is the presidency of the state.”

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