Cronyism, unemployment and weak opposition: Namibia votes

Namibia’s Swapo is expected to easily retain power in Friday’s historic poll as the country becomes the first African country to use electronic voting.

About 1,2-million Namibians will vote for a new president and parliament for the sixth time since the country’s independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990.

Swapo remains hugely popular despite the high levels of poverty, inequality and a chronic housing problem. An Afrobarometer survey released last month confirms Swapo’s popularity putting at 72% the number of people who say they trust the ruling party. At least 65% of respondents said they would vote for Swapo.

The survey also showed that eight out of ten Namibians trust and approve of President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his prime minister Hage Geingob – both of whom have exceeded the rating of founding President Sam Nujoma, the survey said.

Geingob, who is Swapo’s ruling party candidate, is set to be the country’s first non-Oshivambo president. Nujoma and Pohamba are both from the dominant Aawambo tribe while Geingob is from the Damara tribe.

But Swapo will watch the poll closely to see how the opposition fares as it has been gaining pockets of popularity.

Political analyst Joseph Diesho told the Mail & Guardian that Swapo will win the elections but warned that the party’s honeymoon won’t last long as discontent is brewing among citizens.

“Swapo has failed to re-invent itself from a liberation movement as its leaders continue to resort to cheap liberation struggle rhetoric. We know where we are coming from but we don’t know where we are going,” he said.

Diesho said the ruling party’s future is also compromised because it has a number of poor parliamentary candidates. The lack of quality parliamentarians, Diesho said, will also affect options available for Geingob. “Some of those people on the list (of parliamentarians) would not even qualify to be leaders in their villages,” he said.

Diesho said the opposition parties have dug their own grave by lacking clarity on what they want.

Leading the opposition pack is Rally for Democracy and Progress, a break away party from Swapo.

“It’s not enough to hate the ruling party. Swapo could be vulnerable because of issues such as unemployment but they (opposition parties) have not provided viable alternatives to Swapo,” he said.

High prices of houses and land have been a major concern for Namibians, and has led to several protests this month. Swapo has called for patience.

While the Afrobarometer survey shows that most Namibians are satisfied with the government’s policies on education and health, they are unhappy with efforts around poverty reduction and unemployment, which stands at 46%. “Unemployment and poverty are clearly the most important problems identified by Namibians,” said the survey.

Elite enrichment is also a major problem. Geingob last year admitted that only 10% of the country’s 2,2–million citizens control the country’s wealth. The enrichment of a few has given birth to a tiny black elite with ties to Swapo.

Candidate profiles

Hage Geingob
Hage Geingob (73) is Namibia’s prime minister since 2012. He served in the same position from 1990 to 2002 when he was fired by President Sam Nujoma after the two clashed over issues, among them Nujoma’s decision for officials to stop using Mercedes Benzes in favour of Toyota Camrys and Chevrolets.

Geingob crawled back into party leadership in 2007 when he was elected as the party vice-president and later retained that position in 2012, which qualifies him to be the next president. He was the minister of trade and industry from 2008 to 2012.

Considered as a moderate politician, Geingob is also renowned for being an efficient administrator having been a key player in setting up the new government in 1990.

Geingob is however criticised for being involved in questionable business deals and for associating himself with millionaire friends who have taken him on international trips.

Geingob admitted to have been a “consultant” for UraMin and “advised” the Namibian Government to award a mining licence to UraMin. He did that when he was Swapo’s chief whip in parliament. The job got him R2,5-million.

Hidipo Hamutenya
Hamutenya (75) served as cabinet minister from independence in 1990 to 2004 in key ministries such as foreign affairs and trade.

He lost out on the race to become Namibia’s president when he was defeated by the incumbent president at a Swapo congress in 2004.

Hamutenya formed the RDP three years after that congress and was elected to the national assembly on the RDP ticket after the 2009 election when they got nine seats.

IPPR director Graham Hopwood said that opposition campaigning has been low key and lacklustre. According to him, the RDP appears to have run out of energy and has lost momentum since its formation.

“As a result one of the main points of interest of this election is whether the party can hold on to the official opposition mantle. It faces a challenge from the DTA – which is resurgent under the youthful McHenry Venaani,” Hopwood said.

McHenry Venaani
Venaani (37) is the president of the DTA of Namibia, a re-branded version of the apartheid-linked Democratic Turnhalle Alliance. Venaani became Namibia’s youngest MP in 2003 at the age of 25.

The party’s representation in parliament has been on a downward trend since independence when it had 21 seats. In the 1999 election the DTA managed seven seats. The loss of seats in the legislative house continued in the 2004 elections when the party only gained four seats. DTA currently only has two seats after the 2009 elections.

Hopwood said the DTA is likely to be the only opposition party which picks up support – but probably mostly at the expense of the RDP and other opposition parties.

“Many younger voters may feel a kinship with him but would balk at voting for the DTA due its colonial connections as the proxy party of apartheid South Africa,” Hopwood said.

The other candidates vying to be the President – all male candidates – include the Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters’ Epafras Mukwiilongo, Swanu’s Usutuaije Maamberua, Congress of Democrats’ Ben Ulenga, the All People’s Party’s Ignatius Shixwameni, National Unity Democratic Organisation’s Asser Mbai and the Republican Party’s Henk Mudge.

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