Pohamba steps from predecessor’s shadow

Once viewed as a stooge for Namibia’s liberation leader Sam Nujoma, President Hifikepunye Pohamba has slowly cemented his own authority and built a reputation as a soft-spoken consensus

When Pohamba first ran for president five years ago, Nujoma was still seen as the power behind the throne, with a firm grip over the ruling South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo).

But Nujoma has since officially retired from politics, with Pohamba taking the helm of Swapo, the former liberation movement that fought a decades-long campaign against apartheid South Africa until independence in 1990.

He still lacks the stature of his predecessor, but the
74-year-old has used his first term to reach out to minority whites and to create a new anti-corruption body, while working to improve schools and farms.

“Pohamba has shown himself as a consensus builder, being more collegial and consultative in his approach to ruling,” said political analyst Graham Hopwood. “He meets with different groups and opposition parties regularly.”

Within months of taking office, he accepted an invitation from Afrikaners to attend a service at their Dutch Reformed Church — an offer Nujoma always refused.

Many black Namibians still associate Afrikaners with South Africa’s apartheid regime, which ruled this country as their province of South West Africa, although the church has apologised for the atrocities of the racist regime.

Pohamba also won praise for improving rural roads in this vast but sparsely populated nation. The World Bank, European Union and other donors are helping overhaul the poorly performing school system.

Nujoma loyalists complain that he’s reaping the benefits of projects his predecessor laid the groundwork for, but many Namibians seem pleased with their peaceful change of guard.

“Nujoma’s role in gaining our independence is monumental, but he deserves to rest and enjoy retirement,” says Hafeni Amunyela, a newspaper vendor in Windhoek.

“President Pohamba is a worthy successor and he visits rural areas a lot to see for himself, what goes on,” said Amunyela.

Born in 1935, Pohamba started school at age 12 at a Christian mission near the Angolan border. His first job was as an office clerk at a copper mine.

He became a founding member of Swapo in 1960, but his political activism saw him jailed and exiled for decades. He was even arrested once by tribal leaders opposed to Swapo, chained for several days and publicly flogged at a traditional court.

Pohamba returned to Namibia several times only to be deported again, forcing him to travel around Africa while rising in the ranks of the liberation movement.

During his years in exile, he underwent military training in Tanzania and Zambia and obtained a diploma in political science in Moscow.

His final homecoming came in 1989 when he coordinated Swapo’s electoral campaign for Namibia’s first democratic elections, which paved the way for independence.

Pohamba was appointed independent Namibia’s first home minister and then held the fisheries and land portfolio before being elected president in 2004.

Pohamba and Swapo were widely expected to be returned to power in the election being heldFriday and Saturday, despite a tough challenge from a new breakaway party, the Rally for Democracy and
Progress (RDP). – AFP

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