The enemy within

Despite vicious factional differences between comrades, it remains to be seen whether this will significantly hurt Swapo at this year's polls.

29 January 2019 | Politics

For the first time in many years Swapo will be heading to the elections deeply divided and in a state of internal factional turmoil.

According to political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah the ruling party is being “eaten from inside”.

Kamwanyah added there is a growing dissent against the President Hage Geingob administration.

He also believes that Swapo's internal wars are so serious that its leaders are scampering around in a bid to avoid them getting out of hand.

“Of course they will play it down and say there is no disunity, but the reality is that they are nervous of what may happen,” he said.

Kamwanyah added that the real dynamics of the two different factions - Team Swapo and Team Harambee - will really play itself out once members are elected for the “Swapo pot”. Kamwanyah, however, does not see how Swapo loyalists will vote for the opposition, despite their frustrations.

“They do not really have a vibe with the current leadership and they have lost confidence in the current leadership, but they cannot vote for any other party,” he said.

He added that judging from what some seniors say publicly, some serious intervention may need to occur for them to vote for Swapo or they may very well stay away from the polls.

“You have seen that they have been treading very carefully not to say the opposition is better than Swapo. That obviously shows that many of them will not vote for the opposition, but are waiting for that re-emergence of their own people back again into the system. And if they succeed, most likely they will vote for the party and the president,” he said.

Another commentator, Nico Horn, believes Geingob's popularity will take a dive in the upcoming polls, but does not think it will be to less than 70% of the vote.

This is also the viewpoint of commentator Henning Melber who said he would not be surprised if in the upcoming polls Swapo's presidential candidate gets less votes than the party for the first time.

“It would indeed be one form of criticism people could express. I am also curious to see if there is a decline of voter participation in the elections. There might be a growing number of people who abstain, in the absence of having any acceptable alternative,” he said.

Swapo's troubles

Swapo has been inundated with court cases since Geingob took over the leadership of the country.

In 2016 former secretary of the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL), Elijah Ngurare, and land activists Job Amupanda, George Kambala and Dimbulukeni Nauyoma dragged the party to court after they were unceremoniously expelled.

Much to the embarrassment of Swapo, the High Court ruled in their favour and ordered that they be reinstated in the party. However, they did not return to their respective leadership positions.

A group of disgruntled Swapo members also turned to the courts in 2018 to dispute the outcome of the 2017 elective congress.

This case is still under way.

In 2014, while riding a wave of popularity, Geingob received 86.73% of the votes in the presidential race, while Swapo received 80.01% of the National Assembly votes. The ruling party currently boasts 77 seats in the National Assembly out of the 96 directly elected during the 2014 polls, while a mere 19 seats are shared among the opposition.

'Swapo Lite'

According to Horn, the official political opposition, the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), formerly the DTA, has not really loosened themselves from the past. “There is no specific indication of what they will change. Some people in parliament recently referred to them as Swapo Lite; in other words, just another version of an old liberation movement, but one that stood on the other side of the political spectrum at that stage,” he said. Horn also predicted that the new kid on the block, the Landless People's Movement (LPM) may manage to secure a few seats, but will be judged as a regional party from the south.


Melber said Namibia is a very peculiar case of “competitive authoritarianism” and can also be qualified as a form of “authoritarian democracy”.

He added that this argument is rooted in the comparative advantage Swapo gained during the liberation struggle days after the decision to take up arms.

According to Melber this promoted a unique recognition and the struggle slogan “Swapo is the nation and the nation is Swapo”.

“Given the overwhelming support in the northern home regions and considerable support in any other regions of the country, this equation has remained alive until now, even among a considerable part of the born-frees,” he said

As a result Swapo enjoys a degree of leverage which renders opposition parties virtually unable to compete with it.

“Swapo is in control of society's commanding heights in politics, administration and even the economy, given the central role the state plays in employment, public service and the economy (tenders). This means there is no level playing field when it comes to the competition for votes among the electorate.” Horn also believes that pre-independence politics remains the problem in Namibia.

“Most of the elderly people and especially the people the north still see Swapo as the conquerors, also as the liberator, and therefore no matter how badly it goes in the county, and no matter what kind of criticism they have against Swapo, they will never vote for an opposition party,” Horn argued.

Both Horn and Melber are convinced that this situation is exacerbated by the fact that most opposition parties pursue very particularistic agendas and have failed to produce an alternative. Particularism is the exclusive or special devotion to a particular interest.

According to Melber opposition parties are often motivated by ethnic-regional identities and interests, and because the electoral system is an incentive - even for leaders of small parties - there is a scattered landscape of smaller parties.

Opposition perks

This produces a situation in which this handful of opposition members in parliament simply enjoy the privileges without doing any sound work in terms of meaningful political opposition.

“But even the few opposition parties taking the challenge seriously battle with the lack of finances and person power in their organisations. This means that the dominant party has little to be afraid of. The former breakaway parties, as a result of Swapo internal splits, never managed to overcome the mantra that Swapo is the nation, and as long as no other party is able to make significant inroads into the northern electorate this will, even if their support overall declines, make it almost impossible to replace the government,” said Melber. Melber is also not convinced that the factions and rifts within Swapo will affect its performance at the polls significantly.

“As regards the internal conflicts, they existed before and the party always managed to close ranks, even when the breakaways took place. I therefore do not expect too obvious public battles, but the party's electoral congress might still offer some surprises, just as the last one did.”

A desert outside Swapo

Horn is also not convinced that the divisions in Swapo are necessarily unhealthy.

“Look the reason for division in Swapo is obviously partly the result of the fact that we do not have real opposition, so the opposition in now rather within Swapo than outside. However the experience of the CoD and RDP is a warning for disgruntled people that they should not leave Swapo, because outside they suddenly find themselves in a desert without support,” he said.

“So I also do not expect any more new parties. A real vibrant alternative government is not on the horizon. I am not expecting much excitement. A lot of politics will play itself out when the Swapo (MP) list needs to be drafted and the different groups will play their different roles.”


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