Swapo Must Debate Democracy

‘NAMIBIA, which way’ was the topic of the first ever election debate organised by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung held at the NamPower convention centre on 19 March 2014.

However, as leaders and representatives from various opposition political parties squared off to debate pressing issues of national importance, missing in action was Swapo.

Also noticeably absent was a Congress of Democrats representative. But I give the COD a pass because the burden of defending Namibia’s successes and failures over the last 24 years falls on the leader of the pack, the incumbent ruling party.

Moderated by Professor Joseph Diescho of the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management (Nipam), the debate provided the best platform yet for Namibia’s political parties to explain and engage each other on some of the urgent issues facing Namibia.

The panelists fielded questions that focused on differentiating between now and the 1989 election, including the change the candidatesarties will bring if elected in power come November this year.

To recap, opposition parties found the most common ground in painting Swapo as an ineffective governing leader. Ignatius Shixwameni of the All People’s Party hit many notes, especially on putting more police on our streets (taking them away from their VIP duties) and moving shebeens away from residential areas.

From a policy entrepreneurial perspective, however, the DTA’s McHenry Venaani’s economic plan to add value to the communal land and informal areas through commercialised measures is actually unique and perhaps worthy of consideration in terms of solving the current imbalance between commercial and communal areas.

The Swanu and UDF representatives put up a spirited fight as well. Chief Kuaima Riruako entertained the audience. Yes, in a democracy laughter is a political tool too!

Putting politics aside, the presence of Hidipo Hamutenya of the Rally for Democratic Change was a constant reminder that he is a big tree in Namibian politics. The history of Namibia cannot be written without his name featuring big time!

And that’s where Swapo, the leader, should have come in to differentiate itself from the pack and highlight its experience and gains after nearly 24 years of being at the helm of the Namibian democracy.

An incumbent refusing to debate is a tired but old political tactic that is used worldwide to deny an opponent political credence. But what is making Swapo, political heavyweight with an overwhelming electoral support in the country, afraid to engage openly in democratic debates with opposition parties? Is it a matter of over-confidence about the party’s political clout or arrogance of power? Or perhaps a lack of confidence in the democracy of which it is the leader?

It could be that I am making an issue out of nothing. Maybe Swapo had an excuse for not attending this particular election debate. If so, my bad! But don’t blame me for sounding suspicious. This is not the first time Swapo has snubbed a public debate of this nature.

As the tetchy empty Swapo chair at the debate suggests, Swapo’s absence is not necessary an outlier. This denialism to openly engage opposition parties in public debates is symptomatic of a greater unease, one that can send eerie sensations through the veins, in the mighty Swapo party’s political culture to open itself to criticism. Or is it vulnerability?

In the Swapo lexicon, an invitation to engage opposition parties in debates is a conspiracy, one that is representing foreign interests against the Swapo-led government. Therefore this fear of being ambushed is playing a role in producing a culture of suspicion within Swapo to view anything not organised by the party as an unannounced sabotage campaign by imperialist forces.

However, that Swapo should look so suspiciously over its shoulders in a country where it is the majority-shareholder, wondering whether a public debate organised by a localinternational think tank is a conspiratorial scheme or not, is not only ironic but also a blind side.

In any democracy, public debates play a crucial role in the institutionalisation of democracy. They are the one place in the life of a democracy where citizens from all opposing views sit in one room to listen to their leaders engage each other in a calm manner.

To that effect, Swapo is on record saying that they brought democracy, therefore should not run away from debating democracy. Instead, Swapo must come out to engage democracy, and defend its gains instead of hiding behind the scene. That’s what leaders do in a democracy.

Unless, of course, you convince me that there is no record to defend.

* Ndumba J Kamwanyah is a lecturer at Unam in the Department of Human Sciences-Social Work. His work examines the intersection between policy and governance. The views expressed are entirely his own.

Source : The Namibian