Swapo introspects

According to analysts Swapo has lost its connection with many urban youth and is seen as dominated by older and out-of-touch politicians, while corruption and the ailing economy had also been responsible for it and its president's election slumps.

17 December 2019 | Politics

President Hage Geingob came out swinging yesterday at a Swapo central committee (CC) meeting, where he defended cabinet's “strong stance” on the Fishrot matter and led discussions about intra-party conflict, principally blamed on the 2017 congress hangover from a vicious battle between Team Swapo and Team Harambee.

Both Swapo and Geingob were humbled in the 2019 general election, with the party losing its two-thirds majority, after a massive 80% victory in 2014, while Geingob's vote plummeted from 87% five years ago to 56% this year.

The issues discussed at the CC meeting included factionalism and dysfunctional relationships within the party and disputes among comrades, the 2017 elective congress “non-acceptance of defeat”, which birthed an independent presidential candidate (Panduleni Itula), as well as the deployment of comrades in party and government positions who lack the requisite implementation capacity.

In his opening speech, Geingob urged party members to raise issues that concern them and said it is the party's culture to discuss issues in a civilised manner.

He also hit back at the media for reporting that he had criticised his cabinet ministers for speaking out about the Fishrot scandal.

“That report lacked context and was based on unverified, one-sided information. I am not against the views of the ministers. I am, however, also not in favour of ministers who seek to communicate their views in a manner which results in the rest of their colleagues being vilified for abiding by the communication protocols of cabinet,” he said.

According to Geingob, the truth is that cabinet took a strong stance on the Fishrot matter and the impression created in the media is that only these three ministers were outraged.

“There is not a single person who is not alarmed, and seeking an explanation of what has happened in the fishing sector. There is not a single person who is not eager for due process to take its course and the truth to be revealed.

“As an executive, a worrying tendency has emerged of ministers either criticising or contradicting one another in public, whereas they have a platform to robustly engage one another every Tuesday.

“I trust these ministers have taken note of how my words were mischaracterised and now understand why I prefer that we speak and act as a collective,” Geingob said.

Political analyst Graham Hopwood is puzzled by the president's views on his ministers speaking out on corruption.

“Surely, he should be encouraging his ministers to speak and act against corruption at every opportunity they have. That is also one way of re-engaging with the public, who are very concerned about corruption. Being constantly defensive will not win him any fans or deal with the problem.”

In Hopwood's view, the party must urgently address corruption, the ailing economy and find a way to connect with the youth, if it is to reverse its slump in the elections.

According to Hopwood, Swapo has lost its connection with many urban youth and is seen as dominated by older and out-of-touch politicians.

“If the party gets bogged down in faction fighting it won't be able to do any of these things, so somehow it has to seek closure on the 2017 congress and move on,” he said.

Hopwood is also not convinced that the party has a strategy on how to re-engage and believes the central committee would be a good starting point to come up with such a plan.

“It will require proactive outreach in less-mediated and controlled environments than the town hall meetings of last year. We have yet to see a concerted strategy for lifting Namibia out of recession - the forthcoming national budget provides an opportunity for that,” Hopwood said.

Another political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah said the issues discussed at yesterday's CC meeting are not new.

He said it sounds as if the party wants to give the impression that it is listening to the electorate.

“I think they have realised that their decreased victory in both the presidential and National Assembly elections are linked to these issues. But whether they will implement it or not remains a different issue. But I think it is good that they reflect on those issues,” he said.

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