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Home / Road to State House … separating pretenders from contenders

Road to State House … separating pretenders from contenders

2024-01-26  Edward Mumbuu

Road to State House … separating pretenders from contenders

Whether this year’s Presidential and National Assembly elections will live up to its billing remains to be seen, but for spectators and analysts alike, it will be a tight contest that will separate pretenders from contenders. 

In November, Namibia’s political system will be tested again when the country holds its most crucial election since the dawn of democracy in 1989. That year, close to 700 000 eligible voters exercised their democratic right in a vote that catapulted Swapo to power and Founding President Sam Nujoma to the highest office in the land – the Presidency – ushering in the post-apartheid era.

The Electoral Commission of Namibia’s 2022/2023 annual report shows a growth in the voting age population in Namibia, with 1 348 532 eligible registered voters, of whom only 370 826 are registered for the local authority elections.

The reports reveal further that for the Presidential and National Assembly elections, voter turnout declined from 97% in 1989 to 61% in 2019. As for the Regional Council and Local Authority elections, voter turnout has dropped below 50% from 81% and 82% respectively in 1992, to 38% and 43% in 2020.

So far, the electoral brawl is expected to see Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah (NNN) battling against opposition leader McHenry Venaani, her former comrades Panduleni Itula (IPC), Bernadus Swartbooi (LPM), and land activist Job Amupanda (AR). Meanwhile, economist Mike Kavekotora (RDP), unionist Evilastus Kaaronda (Swanu), businessman Epaphras Mukwiilongo (NEFF), businesswoman Ally Angula, Kunene Regional Council chairperson Hendrik Gaobaeb (UDF), sociologist Utjiua Muinjangue (Nudo), veteran politicians Lukato Lukato (National Democratic Party) and Henk Mudge (Republican Party) as well as Hewat Beukes of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, are all expected to appear on the overloaded ballot paper late this year.

As part of New Era’s special reportage on the single biggest event in Namibia’s 2024 calendar, the paper reached out to local analysts to weigh in on whether the candidates have the necessary standing, experience, political capital, and stamina as well as the social dexterity to credibly vie for the highest office in the land. 

Political analyst and scientist Erika Thomas shied away from pointing at specific candidates. 

“We need to look at their standing and the experience they have, even with their political experience, their leadership roles; do they have experience when it comes to leadership, the legislative experiences [and] executive positions they held previously, or they just decided that tomorrow, I am going to run for the highest office in the land?” Thomas said. 

She said experience comes in handy for a Head of State as it aids them in navigating stormy waters. 

“If that candidate doesn’t have those qualities, then it’s going to be a problem. I have seen some of these candidates; they can’t even handle the media. Even if they have been asked one question, they would take it out of proportion,” she said. 

She further said when separating contenders from pretenders, “We look at their track record, public support and overall viability because some of these candidates are nowhere to be seen; they don’t have a good track record.” 

“They don’t have a strong public support and when it comes to elections, you need to have a strong support base. When it comes to political experience, we look at the history [of a candidate]. Those factors may help to determine whether the contest is clear…Contenders will have a proven track record in politics, holding significant offices when it comes to politics and having a history of effective governance,” she explained. 

Pretenders and contenders can be separated on policy positions, she continued. 

“When it comes to policy positions, candidates who articulate well-defined policy positions, with a clear plan of addressing key issues can be considered as serious. This strong policy platform can also attract supporters and enhance a candidate’s credibility. For the pretenders, when it comes to policy positions, they will have fake and unrealistic policy proposals,” Thomas said. 

Agreeing with her was fellow political scientist Rui Tyitende, who said that even if there are 100 presidential candidates, there can only be one Head of State. 

“Sadly, all the leaders of the opposition parties have ambitions of becoming presidents, no matter how far-fetched that might be. This is largely so as they fail to distinguish between ideology and reality [pragmatism]. For example, what are the chances that Venaani will leap from 5.3% [2019 presidential results] to 51% plus one to secure the presidential election? Or Swartbooi from 2.7% to 51% plus one? Even though Itula garnered 29.4% in the same elections, are the political dynamics and intricacies that favoured him then still intact? Or should we expect another scandal or deteriorating socioeconomic conditions to alter the election outcome?” Tyitende ventilated. 

He said the best possible outcome for the opposition is to form a grand alliance and rally behind one suitable candidate. 

“The opposition is weak and fragmented and their current internal divisions [bickering] at some local authorities are only alienating those that wanted an alternative to Swapo. What we currently have is a ‘coalition of the wounded’ and not a ‘coalition of the people’. Swapo will win the upcoming elections as they face no formidable opposition,” Tyitende said. 

Another contributor to the discourse is lawyer and commentator Natjirikasorua Tjirera, who took a dig at political actors. 

“The unfortunate reality in our country is that these people in politics seem to believe that political office is a joke. Others tend to think political office is a way to have a luxurious lifestyle. Most presidential candidates do not have an ideological basis and do not base their campaigns on any principles. They simply get into the campaign for the fun of it. We need to start realising that the Presidency is the highest office in the land and that everything stops with him or her,” Tjirera said. 

From Tjirera’s bird eye view, “The only presidential contenders will be Nandi- Ndaitwah, Venaani, Itula and Swartbooi – a principled leftist stand as the other three are practically centre-right candidates. The rest of the leaders of tribal projects camouflaged as political parties should not even consider wasting their limited resources on running for Presidency.” 

He continued: “Most political parties do not even know what they stand for, others have not even had their congresses for years and are run like social clubs, yet the purported leaders of those social clubs want to run the whole country. The leaders of the tribal projects are just pretenders to the throne, that’s because how do you want to become national president if you advocate for tribal supremacy? They should sit down already.” 

“Also, the fellows who lease political parties for the sake of getting a salary without a bone of principle should also have a seat. Politicians should see where they stand politically and then seek to field the strongest possible candidate from a principled position. That way, we will see that they’re serious in wanting to serve us,” the lawyer said. 

For Ndumba Kamwanyah, the new political entrants offer little to nothing new to the voters. 

“I have a problem with new aspirants as I have not seen a game-changer yet that is different from what we already know from the other existing political parties. I think it is good that people have ambitions to partake in our democratic processes, more young people, and contest for the top or number one position in the country. But I think we must come up with something that will be a game changer. It’s not just repeating the old ideas that are there,” he said. 

He continued: “The stakes are very high for them because they want to present new ideas, but they repeat the same old politics that is where I have a problem. Otherwise, I am happy that yes, people are standing up and they’re saying that they want to contest but the problem is only in presenting new ideas, new directions, and new values for the country. I haven’t seen that and for me that is problematic”. 

Institute for Public Policy Research executive director Graham Hopwood said: “The ruling party candidate remains the favourite. The established opposition parties do not appear to have done enough to have significantly broadened their support bases since the last elections to be considered as realistic contenders. The unknown factor is the IPC which appears to be undertaking some serious grassroots mobilising work, but it’s difficult to assess as this stage how effective this might be in attracting voters to the party and its candidate. There are some variables that could change the current political dynamics before November.” 

He continued: “We should be able to tell from the general registration of voters due to take place between April and July 2024 if young people are interested and engaging in this election. If they do turn out in numbers and one candidate captures the imagination of the majority - then that could affect the outcome.” 

Like Tyitende, Hopwood is of the view that the opposition is too fragmented to mount any serious fight against Swapo’s might. 

“For the party presidential candidates it might be advisable for some opposition party leaders to stand down to enable a single challenger to take on the ruling party candidate. However, looking at the history of distrust between the parties and the fact that leaders often want to stand for the sake of their egos, such a strategy seems unlikely to emerge,” he said. 

Pretenders vs Contenders 

Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah (71) 

Nandi-Ndaitwah needs no introduction to the Namibian political theatre. She is a veteran politician and seasoned diplomat, having been a member of Parliament since 1990. She holds the dual portfolios of Deputy Prime Minister and that of International Relations and Cooperation. Nandi-Ndaitwah is also the ruling party’s vice president. She has served in several Cabinet portfolios, including tourism, gender, and information. 

The politician has so far hinged her campaign on clean, corruption-free governance, youth empowerment, agriculture mechanisation and food security, as well as economic growth. 

McHenry Kanjonokere Venaani (46) 

As far as Namibian politics is concerned, Venaani has come full circle. At just 26, Venaani became one of Namibia’s youngest MPs in 2003. Venaani has a vested interest in foreign affairs, justice, agricultural reform, addressing the housing crisis, and restorative justice. This year’s election will be the third attempt by Venaani on the State House’s door. 

An immaculate orator, Venaani has cemented himself as a household in Namibian politics and commands respect from the young and old alike. Over the years, Venaani has been a staunch activist for good governance, accountability, and financial prudence. He has also been critical of the joint declaration between Namibia and Germany on the genocide issue. 

Bernadus Clinton Swartbooi (46) 

With Swartbooi, what you see is what you get. Swartbooi is the founding leader and chief change campaigner of the leftist Landless People’s Movement (LPM). Swartbooi, a teacher and admitted legal practitioner, is a former governor (//Kharas region) and deputy land reform minister. Swartbooi resigned from his ministerial position in 2017, following a fall-out with his then supremo, Utoni Nujoma, whom he publicly accused of running and presiding over a flawed resettlement programme. 

Swartbooi refused to apologise to Nujoma, and subsequently resigned from Parliament and Swapo, to form the LPM, which was just a pressure group at the time. He is an ardent advocate for agrarian reform, ancestral land claims restitution, restorative justice in the genocide case, and anti-corruption. Swartbooi believes that the myriad of problems confronting Namibians, ranging 

from rampant corruption, unemployment, landlessness, and inequality cannot be addressed with a smile on the face. 

Job Shipululo Amupanda (36) 

The ambitious social justice activist announced his intention to contest for the highest office in the land last year through the unveiling of several billboards in Windhoek, Ondangwa, Walvis Bay, and Swakopmund. 

At 36, Amupanda will be the youngest presidential candidate if all goes according to plan. Back in 2020, through a similar approach, Amupanda announced he would contest for the position of Windhoek mayor, although mayors are not directly elected by voters. Many pushed the discussion to the side, as it appeared impossible until it ultimately became a reality. 

Amupanda is a founding member of the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement. Loved and loathed in almost equal measure, Amupanda gained prominence through his activism as a student leader at the University of Namibia and later in the Swapo Party Youth League before his expulsion from Swapo after several run-ins with the party’s top brass. 

Since its formation, AR has been a radical pressure group that has spearheaded protests across the country; exposed allegations of corruption, and formed several institutions aimed at keeping the State in check. At the heart of AR’s ideology - which prides itself as a Marxist- Fannonian movement – is the issue of unaffordable urban housing, and restoration of Namibians’ dignity, including the fight to remove the notorious veterinary cordon fence, infamously known as the red line. 

Panduleni Bango Itula (66) 

Describing himself as an “accidental politician”, Itula is a lawyer and dentist by training. He is the founding father of independent candidates and first captured the attention of Namibians during the months leading up to the 2017 Swapo congress, as the then campaign manager for ‘Team Swapo’ as it fought tooth and nail for Swapo’s heart and soul against President Hage Geingob’s ‘Team Harambee’. 

Team Swapo would be beaten hands-down in the contest that was marred by allegations of vote-buying and rigging. Two years later, while still holding onto his Swapo membership card, Itula would mount his first presidential bid as an independent candidate [a first of its kind], coming second to Geingob with 29%. 

Since then, Itula never looked back, going on to form the Independent Patriots for Change (IPC) the following year. Now, IPC has a presence in some major local authorities, including Windhoek, Swakopmund, and Walvis Bay. They are also represented in several regional councils. Itula, who has criss-crossed Namibia’s length and breadth for the past three years has sung his gospel on rescuing Namibia from the chains of poverty, corruption, and inept governance. 

Mike Ratoveni Kavekotora (67) 

Born Mike Ratoveni Kamboto at Ombuzu, north of Kunene regional capital Opuwo, 67 years ago, Kavekotora is a seasoned executive, politician, and farmer. 

Kavekotora is the current president of the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP). He resigned from the National Assembly last year to focus on the party’s growth and has since been on an aggressive recruitment and campaign drive. During his years in the august House, Kavekotora was a passionate contributor to economic developmental matters, as well as speaking out about issues around poor governance and wasteful expenditure. He is also one of the MPs who rejected the N$18 billion genocide pact between Germany and Namibia. According to his conservative estimates, the figure for the atrocities the Germans committed on Namibian soil is nothing less than N$13 trillion. Kavekotora has been adamant that for as long as corruption remains rampant, unemployment levels remain high while public resources continue to be distributed in a skewed manner, RDP has a role to play in the political theatre. 

Esther Utjiua Muinjangue (61) 

Muinjangue is the current president of the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) and the only woman to have ever led a political party or female presidential candidate in Namibian history. 

She is also the deputy health minister in the Geingob administration, a situation that has placed her at odds with some senior conservative members in her party. 

A social worker by profession, Muinjangue is no stranger to the political scene. She had been at the fore of community activism during pre-independence Namibia; served as secretary general of Nudo’s Women’s League and is a former chairperson of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation. An astute academic, Muinjangue has for the better part of her life advocated for and demanded just reparation, an unconditional apology, and atonement from Germany for the genocide it committed on Namibian soil. She has been adamant that her ministerial appointment is based on merit and not a reward to silence her voice in the genocide matter. 

Hendrik Gaobaeb (60) 

The Sesfontein constituency councillor and Kunene Regional Council chairperson was a dark horse during the just-concluded United Democratic Front (UDF) intraparty congress over the weekend. But burning the mid-oil at the watershed congress, Gaobaeb emerged victorious, ahead of party stalwarts Apius Auchab and Dudu Murorua. Little known to many Namibians, Gaobaeb has cemented himself as a force to be reckoned with in the UDF circles and the Kunene regional politics. His victory, to those with an intimate understanding of UDF’s political dynamics, did not come as a surprise. 

Gaobaeb is a former member of the National Council and presided over its standing committee on public accounts and economic affairs. His interest lies in the domains of land reform, while orphans and vulnerable members of society remain close to his heart. Chief among his priorities as UDF leader is to unite members, infuse transparency and accountability, increase visibility in all regions and include women and the youth in their top echelons. For the first time in over a decade, UDF will have a different face on the ballot paper. 

Ally Angula (45) 

“We can rise above the struggle, together, let’s build the Namibia we deserve,” screams a message on Ally Angula’s LinkedIn profile. 

The former finance ministry deputy executive director has so far indicated that her campaign is yet to face any hiccups related to her gender, race, or age but faces only limited financial resources. Angula, if elected to the helm of the Presidency, wants to craft policies that would work for all, male and female, black and white. A chartered accountant by training, Angula has been a board member of several corporate entities and needs no introduction to the corporate world of Namibia or the government, as her ties stretch beyond what meets the eye. 

Her campaign message has been, “We are in this together”. Running solo, Angula is required to deposit N$10 000 into the State Revenue Fund and demonstrate the support of at least 500 registered voters in each of the 14 regions. 

Under the banner of “A promise called home”, Angula also promised to fight for the economic future of Namibia. In her seven-minute YouTube video, she talks about her journey as a child who grew up in a refugee camp in Angola during the liberation struggle. Angula is also a farmer and entrepreneur. 

“I am running for president of the government of Namibia. I am looking for your support, as I roll up my sleeves to work. The time is now.” 

Evalistus Kaaronda (49) 

Born in Otjozondjupa’s regional capital, Otjiwarongo 49 years, Kaaronda, at the height of his prowess epitomised and gave meaning to what trade unionism ought to be about - the workers and their bread-and-butter issues. After an investigation following allegations of misconduct, where it was alleged he made unauthorised public statements that discredited National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW)-affiliated unions, the then secretary general of the NUNW Kaaronda was shown the door. 

Kaaronda spoke truth to power, which ultimately led to his downfall. 

His criticisms included support for a people-oriented Basic Income Grant, skepticism on the precarious short-term labour contracts proposed by the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (TIPEEG), one of former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s brainchild, demands to hold those who were responsible for the N$600 million Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) lost through botched investments in a series of politically connected start-ups to account. After years in the wilderness, Kaaronda would re-emerge through the People Organised Working for Economic Reality (POWER), then founded, and bankrolled by forex trader-turned-politician Michael Amushelelo to contest for the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections as their poster boy. However, that plan never saw the light of day and POWER has since disappeared into the political thin air, without an iota of trace. Like a cat with nine lives, Kaaronda refused to die. This year, he is expected to lead Namibia’s oldest political party, Swanu to the proverbial “Promised Land”. 

Epaphras Mukwiilongo (52) 

Businessman Jan Epaphras Mukwiilongo has been the Commander-In-Chief (CIC) of the self-styled Namibian Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) since 2014. Like its carbon-copy, EFF in South Africa under the stewardship of Julius Malema, NEFF is known for its left-wing economic views, including calls to nationalise Namibia’s opulent natural resources, opposition toward unscrupulous foreign businesses, particularly Chinese and Indian abusers masquerading as investors. NEFF got another boost when forex trader-cum-social justice activist Amushelelo joined its rank and file. 

The party has since been very vocal in addressing workers’ issues in all their manifestations. Whether or not Mukwiilongo will feature on this year’s ballot paper remains to be seen as some in the party are pushing for an elective congress in a party that has never experienced internal contestation since its formation. The NEFF has been unequivocal in placing Namibians’ interests, albeit accused of double standards – first. 

Martin Lukato Lukato (64) 

Veteran politician Lukato Lukato is the embodiment of hope and confidence. For Lukato, it does not matter whether he is addressing a mega rally of 100 000 people or a congregation of just four. He will preach the National Democratic Party (NDP) gospel, come hell or high waters. He believes that Namibia has become a fertile ground for corruption and gross incompetence to thrive. NDP’s national and presidential headquarters is in Queensland, his home village, some 60 kilometres west of Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi region. The politician does not take lightly the Fishrot scandal in which former senior Cabinet Sacky Shanghala, Bernardt Esau, their alleged accomplices, prominent Swapo-linked lawyers, and Swapo itself are embroiled in allegations of corruption. Lukato is a devoted believer in social justice and a strong voice for the dejected and most destitute in society. However, the outcome of this year’s election, Lukato, will be counted. 


2024-01-26  Edward Mumbuu

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