Congress divisions threaten Swapo in 2024
Although the party has adopted campaign rules meant to avoid disunity between rival factions, cracks of division remain glaring.
Already nursing wounds of the Fishrot bribery scandal, the party has not recovered from the divisions of its last congress in 2017. It was, in fact, those divisions that midwifed a new campaign strategy, which barred public rallies and compelled all candidates to campaign together in front of congress delegates from all regions.
Party veteran Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, a former secretary-general, last week narrated the painful treatment she was subjected to after her Team Swapo slate lost at the 2017 congress.
She was fired as minister, together with another slate colleague Jerry Ekandjo, as a result of those divisions.
In 2017, Swapo lost its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and, in 2020, it lost key local authorities, including the capital Windhoek.
A party leader who spoke to Namibian Sun this week said: “If you humiliate fellow leaders who lost, those leaders will not campaign in 2024 so that those who humiliate them can win the national election. And when such leaders back away from party activities as a result of how they have been treated after congress, the party is exposed to stiff competition from the opposition”.
“So, beyond congress positions, we have to think of the bigger picture – which is the party’s future.”
Last week, Iivula-Ithana said vindictive retaliation against those who have lost at congress is not in the interest of the party.
“From my personal experience, I wouldn’t wish how I was treated on anyone. It is not something that should be repeated in a party where all of us belong. I don’t want any other person to be treated the way I was treated.”
Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah agreed that any further post-congress divisions will drive Swapo into real trouble in 2024.
“Swapo cannot afford another wound causing more bleeding. In short, a divided Swapo will not do well in the 2024.
"There is a strong likelihood that we will have a divided election outcome in 2024, with Swapo winning the parliament with a slight lead, and the president from a different party. It's a real possibility.”
Political scientist Rui Tyitende shared these concerns, saying whoever emerges victorious as Swapo vice-president and secretary-general at this weekend’s congress will have to deal with serious challenges facing the party.
“I am not surprised by the current allegations of vote-buying as the ascendance to state power has the propensity to corrupt individuals who have no moral compass and are hell-bent to line their pockets.
“The so-called election campaign guidelines have not prevented the issues the party leadership hoped it would address. In fact, it is actually worse than the previous congress,” he said.
According to him, Swapo’s leadership will have to persuade the public that they have transformed and have a clear and comprehensive plan to rescue the country from the doldrums of widening inequality, grinding poverty and unremitting youth unemployment.
A stench of fish
Although Swapo is no stranger to allegations of corruption, experts believe that the Fishrot scandal is bound to weigh on the ruling party in 2024.
It has been haunted by the scandal, which saw two of its Cabinet ministers and central committee members and their cronies incarcerated, pending trial.
Kamwanyah said: “Worse is that the party refused to acknowledge the gravity of the matter and its socio-impacts on citizens. The party's denial of Fishrot is a killer for 2024, whether they like it or not.
“They handled the party's involvement in Fishrot very badly. They thought they can pull it [off] with the party's liberation struggle credentials, but it was a miscalculation of the current Namibian politics. Let the party admit its wrongdoing in the Fishrot and other corruption, then perhaps its fate will be rescued,” he said.
We have recommitted
Swapo spokesperson Hilma Nicanor said the party has realised that it has challenges and has recommitted to its survival and to improving the living standards of Namibians.
The party also held an introspection exercise in 2020 to reflect on the shocks of having lost its two-third majority, and according to Nicanor, this has put Swapo on the path to recovery.
“We have come up with recommendations on what must be looked at and how we can do better. This year’s theme, which is ‘Swapo Party united marching to socio-economic prosperity for all’, speaks about our commitment to the party’s unity.
“Even during the campaign, the candidates have reminded the delegates that we must protect our unity at all costs. After the congress, we will continue to talk in one voice,” she said.