Swapo camps jostle for Ngurare

Former SPYL leader attracts attention ahead of congress

08 October 2021 | Politics



Different camps within Swapo are understood to be hard at work trying to lure Dr Elijah Ngurare, former secretary of the ruling party’s youth wing, into their fold ahead of the 2022 elective congress.

After ending on the losing side at both the 2012 and 2017 congresses, Ngurare is seen as a strong candidate for senior party elective positions.

There have been calls within Swapo to throw Ngurare in as candidate for secretary-general, which is a full-time position.

Traditionally in Swapo circles, the year leading up to congress is spent lobbying, and 2021 is no different as old foes seek to hop into the same bed for convenience.

President Hage Geingob is serving his last term as head of state and the Swapo congress next year must elect a candidate to replace him at State House.

It’s understood that Geingob, who still has three years as Namibia’s president after that congress, is keen to remain party president, in line with his one-centre-of-power principle.

This would mean whoever emerges as party vice-president will become the party’s official presidential candidate in the 2024 national election.

Ngurare, who was part of the defeated Team Swapo slate at the last congress in 2017, was one of those ostracised and humiliated in the aftermath of that emotionally-charged congress.

Party insiders indicated that several functionaries have been courting Ngurare, in some instances even extending an olive branch to lure him back into the party’s leadership fold.

In fact, talk is rife that Geingob had a hand in the ongoing push by senior party members to reach out to Ngurare.

Geingob allegedly delegated some party members to talk to Ngurare regarding his willingness to return to the Swapo leadership table.

Son of the party

Namibian Sun understands earlier this year, governors such as Marius Sheya (Kunene) and James Uerikua (Otjozondjupa) are said to have met with Ngurare to discuss the state of affairs in the party as well as his appetite to return to full-time politics. Both Uerikua and Sheya formed part of Team Harambee at the 2017 congress.

Former Cabinet minister Libertine Amathila is also said to have reached out on several occasions.

Sources close to her told Namibian Sun that Amathila would often remind Ngurare that he is “a son of the party” and “your party needs you”.

Amathila yesterday said Ngurare would be a great addition to the party.

Asked what she makes of widespread assertions that Ngurare has the potential to unite Swapo, she said: “Yes, he can, and I love working with him. He was a very strong Swapo member; he is honest, hardworking and committed".

Former editor of the resurrected party newspaper, Namibia Today, Asser Ntinda last week said “if Swapo wants to reclaim its former glory and dominance, Ngurare is now to Swapo what Moses was to the Israelites”.

“With the youth leaving Swapo in droves, the party that heroically fought to set Namibia free faces extinction. In 2019, Swapo lost its revered two-thirds majority. In 2020, it lost five regions it once controlled and key municipalities it once dominated,” he said.

Just last week, Ngurare announced on social media that he had met with Swapo secretary-general Sophia Shaningwa.

According to him, the meeting was called by Shaningwa.

“It was a good meeting. My impression is that she seems sincere about reconciling the rift of 2017 between Team Swapo and Team Harambee,” he wrote.

Testing the waters

These meetings are seen by party insiders as a ploy to test the waters on whether Ngurare would consider contesting at next year’s congress.

Uerikua laughed off these allegations, saying: “I have never done such a thing. Swapo Party works with structures and myself I am not in any of such structures to have been given such a responsibility. Where do I even come in?”

Sheya, who serves in the youth league central committee, was not available for comment.

However, when contacted for comment, Ngurare said this is all news to him, and, as far as he is concerned, he is a civil servant.

Cracks within

While the ruling party has seen very stormy seas since winning the elections with Geingob’s slate at the forefront, last week’s central committee meeting where the president uttered the controversial “go to hell” remarks lifted the lid on the state of affairs in the party.

Despite boasting a victory in November 2019, albeit slight, the president has grown increasingly frustrated with the spirit and commitment of party members and has spent most caucuses urging members to defend the party’s legacy.

According to political scientist Henning Melber, Geingob’s conduct last weekend was “anything but statesman-like and is likely to harm the reputation of the party”.

“It will be perceived as a sign of frustration, if not desperation, which does not enhance confidence and trust - neither in his leadership nor in the state the party is in. I think overall this reinforces the evidence that not all is well, both with regard to the president's authority and that of the party," he said.

Shaky ground

Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah believes the ruling party is on shaky ground, with its energy consumed by party divisions, a negative reputation and rampant corruption allegations.

He, however, believes that it may be a blessing in disguise that, for the first time, the party is heading to congress with no leading camp, which could mean the leadership will be elected based on merit.

“Team Harambe and Team Swapo have been replaced by smaller and loose alliances. Making its case worse, the opposition parties seem to be gaining an upper hand in effectively articulating issues of national interest, especially in Parliament. That is the context the party will go with to its next congress,” he said.

He added that new camps or factions may emerge closer to congress, especially around the top four positions.

Meanwhile, political analyst Graham Hopwood argued that the congress will be a unity-building exercise ahead of the 2024 election.

“While there may be people in the party ranks who are disillusioned with the current leadership, they have not formed themselves into a clear bloc or faction. Team Swapo has largely disappeared as any kind of political force. The president's supporters remain in control of the party structures and will seek to ensure the congress is one that unifies the party and rebuilds public confidence,” he said.

It also remains unclear how Swapo is planning to approach the succussion issue and how it will handle the competition for top party posts.

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