The Making of Geingob’s Empire

IS NAMIBIA consolidating its democratic transition or witnessing a reversal? In my view, the answer is the latter. And it all started with tempering with the country’s Constitution to allow former President Sam Nujoma a third term as president, and one of the main defenders of this was Prime Minister Hage Geingob.

Then there was the Special Aisors and Regional Governors Appointment Amendment Bill (eventually passed into a law) which stripped the electorate of its power to elect governors. Again, during the debate about that bill in parliament, Geingob, who was then Minister of Trade and Industry, argued that it was necessary to “strengthen the unitary nature of the state and to remove the possibility of any antagonistic, divisive or tribal tendencies creating unrest”.

That bill, as we all know, sailed through parliament easily, because ‘Cabinet is the legislature’ in Namibia. That became one of the most undemocratic pieces of legislation in years because we are moving away from a system of electoral politics to one of appointments. The President becomes the sole elector of governors basically imposing them on the population. Now these very un-elected governors would have more power than the popularly-elected regional councillors. Then there is the very language being used by politicians which is frightening.

Recently, during a Swapo rally for the Ohangwena constituency by-election at Helao Nafidi, Geingob said: “Do not feel threatened by those so-called opposition groupings, because we are going to beat them one-by-one in the upcoming elections. We will only give them 1% of the total votes. They will not defeat us in any way”. And the Ohangwena governor, Usko Nghaamwa, urged the people to vote for Swapo. “We want to occupy all the seats in parliament, because we want Swapo to be alone there. We do not need any opposition party in parliament next year”.

The point is that the opposition parties have been democratically elected by Namibians, thus they are not ‘so-called opposition groupings’.

Does Nghaamwa want to have a de facto one party state? In my view, we are certainly witnessing a closure of the democratic space both in terms of the uncivil political discourse and the institutions that are being designed in such a way that the President becomes the sole appointing authority, orchestrated by the ruling party (Swapo) – more specifically by its leadership. The reasons are many. But the main one is, of course, fear – fear of losing power.

Thus, after failing the democratic argument, the Swapo leadership realised that the democratic language it tried to appropriate for itself is no longer working it has now turned to what it knows best – the politics of patrimony and control, using state resources to accomplish that. Thus in a sense we are reaping the fruits of a ‘non-democratic’ transition to democracy.

But the far-reaching closure of our political system, which is meant to consolidate what I would call the ‘Geingob empire’, will come through the recent proposed amendments to our Constitution that will give Geingob all the power to appoint basically everybody who matters in this country, including this unnecessary vice-president post and, of course, the weakening of the Prime Minister’s Office because until now the PM has been the number two person to the President. Then again the National Council will no longer have the power to review the budget should all these changes come into place. The electoral laws are also going to be amended to make it very difficult for small parties to register in the future.

But all these are understandable. Because what we are witnessing here is the Africanisation of Namibian politics taking its cue not only from our colonial legacy and broadly from the African experiences with their one party political systems, but also from Swapo’s own political culture, especially that part that was associated with exile politics which was built on suspicions, control and, at times, even violence.

The end result, if these planned constitutional changes are implemented, would be a system of political lackeys. Thus, a new group of spineless politicians would be added to the existing list.

That’s bad for democracy because it destroys the spirit of independent engagement and free debate because your benefactor would be watching you. What develops then is a culture of ‘see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing’. That’s why our system can’t function because our ministers and other appointed officials don’t have the leeway to think independently – they have to think within the confined space of what is ‘politically correct’.

Addressing the 15th Annual Africa Mining Conference in Toronto, Prime Minister Geingob spoke glowingly about democracy and ‘good governance’ in Namibia. But I think all the changes that he and his cheerleaders, Attorney-General Albert Kawana and law reform chair Sacky Shanghala, are spearheading would be in direct contrast with what he has been preaching over the years. I haven’t read Geingob’s doctoral thesis but as cited in a recent editorial in The Namibian, he (Geingob) is said to have once been worried by the ‘assumption of power over everything by one person’.

But there we go. We will not have a president who is first among equals but an ’emperor’.

Source : The Namibian