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Opinion - Swapo heading for watershed congress

2022-11-22  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Swapo heading for watershed congress

Paul T. Shipale

Swapo Party is gearing up for its elective congress this week. 

Against a backdrop of internal wrangles, it will reveal who will likely lead the party into a hotly contested 2024 national election. As such, every election, at any level, has the potential to become a point of rupture or continuity.  

Pundits, observers, insiders and outsiders as well as statisticians join faith healers and boardwalk fortune tellers with their projections and attempt to tell readers, listeners or viewers what to expect from elections. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong. All these efforts, however noble the intent, are lost like tears in the rain. The fact is that most of the time, elections are a crapshoot.  

The publicum, especially those who do not run on the inside tracks of politics, can do no better than hold their breath and hope for the best. We would imagine, nevertheless, that each time is different. With Swapo Party’s 7th Elective Congress this week, this time may well be different too.  The outcome of the congress will provide a foretaste of the next general election scheduled for 2024. 

What is impossible to predict (not that I am given to predictions; if I were, I would be a wealthy person) is what the outcome would be. The best we can do is speculate. Nevertheless, given the hurricane that is politics in general – and we probably always say this – the November congress will mark a turning point. Every election since the 2004 Extra-Ordinary Congress, whether it was the congress of 2008, 2012 or 2017 has been marked by the tension between rupture and continuity.  

But what is the party congress and why is it important?  Held every five years, the congress elects the leadership of the Party’s top organs, including the powerful Central Committee (CC) and its “Top Four,” namely the President and Vice President, Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General.

Apart from electing its new leadership, the congress also lays out strategic guidance on matters of policy, organisation, and Party constitutional issues, among others.  

Being the highest decision-making body in congresses, the 87 members Central Committee directly influences key government decisions and policy direction, including the distribution of public resources.  Within the Central Committee, it elects its executive which is the Politburo which steers the day-to-day management of Party affairs, supported by the Secretariat.

All Swapo wings or affiliated bodies are represented in the Central Committee, while the party leader is allowed to appoint six members to the structure. There is also an influential constituency of the veterans of the liberation struggle – popularly known as stalwarts – who chided the party for losing its moral compass.  

On Friday 8th September 2022, I wrote an article published by the New Era newspaper, titled “The succession debate with three scenarios”. 

Just as there were three scenarios based on the three nominated presidential candidates in the 2004 ruling party’s (Swapo) extraordinary congress, it is clear that in this year’s ordinary congress there are also three scenarios.

Indeed, judging from the nomination process, I said there was behind-the-scenes political manoeuvring which points to clear camps and factions. 

 Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah is in the same camp as Sophia Shaningwa, which is supported by Swapo Party Youth League Secretary Ephraim Nekongo who openly said it was his democratic choice to break rank with the Head of State in the race for Swapo vice president.  

Nekongo said he is rallying behind Nandi-Ndaitwah as a matter of principle, while Geingob has deviated from the tradition of Party heads endorsing their deputies to take over the Party reins.  

 Given that Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila seconded the nomination of Evelyn Nawases-Tayele for the secretary general’s position, it seems they belong to the same camp, while Pohamba Shifeta who seconded the nomination of Armas Amukwiyu for the same position also belong to one camp. 

Nevertheless, some are saying these two camps form part of the same faction. 

Indeed, I said there is the third camp or scenario of ‘the dark horse’ as alluded to by the New Era newspaper on Wednesday, 7 September 2022. With the withdrawal of Frans Kapofi from the race, it is now clear that the third scenario belongs to Pohamba Shifeta’s camp.  

In contrast to Nandi-Ndaitwah who is seen as an integrity candidate, it was reported in the Namibian Newspaper on Monday 24 October 2022 that the Swapo regional coordinator for the Oshikoto region, Amukwiyu, who is now a state witness, has admitted that businessman James Hatuikulipi has bankrolled the 2017 campaign with more than N$5.2 million.  

This money comes from a state-owned fishing company, known as Fishcor and now the fraud is also known as the Fishcor corruption scandal which involved deals worth around N$2 billion.  

According to Amukwiyu, Hatuikulipi’s donation was made through the Swapo’s regional coordinators’ forum which was created following in the footsteps of the powerful ANC faction dubbed the “premier league”, which was a group of ANC chairs, supportive of President Jacob Zuma, and included the North West, the Free State and Mpumalanga Provinces.  

Swapo’s regional coordinators’ forum was also created as a faction within the party that was never approved by Congress. Idem with the so-called “Swapo party defence league”, which was a type of vigilante group to vilify people on social media through mudslinging and character assassination with vindictive politics.

It is said that another N$9.8 million from Fishcor was transferred, through Sisa Namandje Inc & Co, to businessman Vaino Nghipondoka called “the darling of tenders”. Another one called “the darling of agriculture tender”, by The Namibian newspaper of 11 November 2022 is businessman Laban Kandume who was seen alongside Shifeta in various regions in Swapo’s internal campaigns.  

Swapo secretary general Sophia Shaningwa has not had it easy since taking over the party’s reins as its top administrator in 2017. Her biggest challenge has been the public relations battle which emanated from the Fishrot scandal.  

Shaningwa admitted in The Namibian newspaper of 24 October 2022 that the Fishrot scandal brought the Party to its knees, resulting in it losing 14 seats in the National Assembly and another 14 seats in the National Council. She also said teams and slates from the 2017 party congress contributed to the loss of about 29 local authorities, including Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.  The Party also lost its two-thirds majority during the last election.  Shaningwa added that none of the party’s 11 bank accounts shows that the money linked to Fishrot was deposited to the party’s bank accounts.

But one wonders if one of the scenarios belongs to what Hengari described as “a foot soldier whose presidency will have ‘an emblematic figure’ looking over the shoulders of his ‘protégé’ to continue a legacy and guard it against any Frankenstein who would launch an attack on that legacy”.  

 What is certain is that since Nandi-Ndaitwah, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and Shifeta are the main contenders in the Swapo Party’s Vice Presidential race, then the choice between rupture and continuity is fairly clear.  Some may also say the choice is between gerontocracy (a government ruled by elders) coupled with integrity and plutocracy (a government controlled by the wealthy directly or indirectly) coupled with technocracy and vitality.

But judging from the recently concluded party’s internal campaigns, Nandi-Ndaitwah’s camp seems to have the upper hand. It seems Nandi-Ndaitwah’s non-endorsement earned her more support as some delegates felt that she was unfairly treated, unlike her predecessors who always had their superior’s blessing to ride on. But since it is impossible to predict what the outcome would be, the best we can do is speculate. One thing we are certain of is that the November Congress will mark a turning point. 

I just wish to remind the competitors to 1) accept the legitimacy of their political rivals, and their right to compete; 2) trust that their rivals will not seek revenge to eliminate them if they come to power, and 3) accept the consequences of fairly administered elections.  

That is why I agree that the election should be credibly characterised by inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, and competitiveness. Elections are transparent when each step is open to scrutiny, and stakeholders can independently verify whether the process is conducted honestly and accurately.

This requires not just “mutual toleration” but also political “forbearance” – self-restraint in the exercise of power, rejection of violence and respect for democracy’s unwritten rules and limits. Let the best men or women win.  


*The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely my personal views as a citizen.


2022-11-22  Staff Reporter

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