The marketing product life cycle holds that every product goes through four phases: introduction, growth, maturity and decline in a product’s life cycle. Borrowing from this curve, one can substitute a product for a political party or otherwise imagine a political party as a product offering that goes through these four cyclical events until it eventually withers out and dies. It is cannibalised by other products within the same market or is re-branded, rejuvenated and re-launched.
Swapo, the once-mighty party that dominated consecutive elections in Namibia since the country attained independence in 1990 took a rather thorough beating at the polls in the recently concluded November 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections. By its high standards, the party’s presidential candidate Hage Geingob only managed to get 56% of the vote while Swapo managed to garner 65%, a drastic decline from the previous election which saw the party garnered 80% of the vote with its presidential candidate winning 87% of that vote.
Although product life cycles are charts compiled over a greater period, the Party must introspect its current standing amongst its membership, supporters and voters. This should be done to better inform itself of the options open to it as a Party that is currently in the decline phase of its product/service offering. Outside of idealistic rhetoric, it is necessary for the rank and file within Swapo to recognise that the Party is facing an existential crisis. Not of its own making but rather due to the inherent nature of the political space it occupies. Political formations do not exist in a vacuum but are a part of a greater whole; always competing with other parties for the votes of the electorate.
In 2019, they numbered 820 227; in the 2023 elections, they are most likely to be more. It is at this critical juncture in the party’s history (past, present and future) that it must look at restructuring its political structures, organs and wings to become a better representation of the Namibian democratic system of which Swapo is a central part. Grounded in communist ideology the party’s wings which include the youth league, the woman’s league and elder’s council are compartmentalised along with identity interests (I do not include the Swapo pioneers for obvious reasons). Whereas the organs, which include the central committee and politburo, etc., are compartmentalised along functional lines. These organs and wings may have served a historical purpose in uniting and identifying interest groups within the party but they have far outlived their usefulness.
Out with the old; in with the new! The formation of the so-called Swapo Party in early 2013 is a tacit admission that the party needs brains. Brains that cannot be absorbed through the structures due to the inherent risk of thinking outside of the majority. Within Swapo it is often advised that one should not show themselves too clever ‘lest you offend those in power’.
As a result, many of the country’s most talented individuals although wanting to participate in the party’s political space carefully shy away because the risks far outweigh the rewards.
By creating wings along with interests such as the workers’ wing, the student’s wing and the think tank (intellectual wing) and the economic wing the party is better apt at accommodating individuals with specific talents to occupy specific spaces within the party. This is not to say that these are the specific areas of focus that the party should adopt to make it more meaningful but the proposals are worth looking at. Competence, merit and qualification should become the yardstick by which members can rise through the ranks and not necessarily years of membership.
Arbitrary constructs such as these albeit quantifiable become meaningless in terms of substance and the contribution an individual can make in strengthening and increasing the Parties support base. Re-imagining the future by letting go of the past requires a process of creative destruction, whereby the party acknowledges its triumphs, but at the same time acknowledges that for it to survive into the future it should make certain reforms.
These reforms include having clear mandates set for the party’s section and wings bearing in mind the needs of its membership.
Reconciling the needs of individuals in the party with those of the party as an organisation; decentralising decision-making; accommodating the ideas of those who may differ with the majority, and lastly, separating the party from the state (the two are mutually inclusive but should be separated as far as possible from each other to improve on issues of governance).
Swapo Party of Namibia is an organisation with a glorious history however this history cannot be relived. The party should endeavour to rejuvenate by re-organising its structures and re-thinking its mandate. Having the parties’ principles as a guiding compass the party should restructure, reform or face extinction. In other words, DIE.
*Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist. Note: Vitalio Angula is a member of the Bishoff Awaala section of the Moses Garoeb Branch of the Windhoek East constituency. He writes in his professional capacity as an independent columnist