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Town hall meetings and accountability of political leaders

2019-07-19  Toivo Ndjebela

Town hall meetings and accountability of political leaders
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Accountability is a rare commodity in politics yet it is one of the cornerstones of good governance.
President Hage Geingob has been criticised, perhaps harshly, in recent days about his current series of town hall meetings across the regions, because they are supposedly a plot to garner political ground ahead of this year’s general election.
Yet the obligation and willingness to accept responsibility, to account for one’s actions, and to be answerable to the people – as has been the hallmark of these meetings – should be non-negotiable in any democratic dispensation.
By embarking on these meetings, Geingob is walking into a lion’s den.  But unlike Daniel, the biblical figure that was cast into the pit of lions but angels closed the jaws of these savage animals so that they may not hurt him, Geingob is not guaranteed of such protection when addressing the masses in his town hall meetings. From the look of things, the Head of State took a conscious decision to face the people – some of them very angry – and relay to them not only the successes of his administration so far but its failures too.
Last week in Omaheke, he had to deal with angry confrontations about the emotive issues of land and genocide but he knew he had to deal with such questions – even at the detriment of his own reputation and that of his administration.
Accountability comes in many shapes and a town hall meeting is one of thousands of ways to do it.
The standards, traditions, structures, processes and practices of accoutability (accounting back to the people) are not cast in stone. Do we have any international standards of accounting back to the people, and if so, who is responsible and accountable for imposing them? I hear dead silence as no one can answer this.
Citizens’ demands for transparency, accountability and a better life should be guaranteed in any democracy and this – in my observation - has been the nature of the President’s meeting with the masses. 
Not every word he uttered in these meetings has been met with applause. Some have invited ridicule and accusations of failure. But leaders must stand firm, even in the face of adversity. 
To politicise platforms where citizens have a rare opportunity to directly pour their hearts out to a president is, for lack of a better description, very shallow. People’s daily challenges – and many have come to the fore during these engagements – cannot be trivialised. 
There is nothing trivial about a granny battling municipal bills and asking them to be written off, or a young person demanding employment to feed his family.
How dare we then say that these meetings are a useless or, even worse, a political ploy to garner votes ahead of November 27? Even if this were the case, does it carry more weight than having to listen to people’s issues with the idea of solving them?
To his credit, and many were surprised by this, Geingob told his audiences that if – after these feedbacks – anyone felt what has been achieved so far constituted failure, they must be at liberty to vote for someone else other than him. For a leader to put his head on the chopping block – in an election year nogal – requires optimal honesty and uprightness.
The ball is now in Geingob’s court insofar as the way forward is concerned, after he noted the concerns of the people from the width and breadth of the nation he is touring and leading. 
It is his actions from here on that must be subjected to critique, not his attempt to gather from the ground the people’s concerns and challenges.
These town hall meetings have had some rocky episodes. They would have been useless platforms if such episodes did not occur. It can’t always be about clapping hands.
What has been evident so far is people’s interest in these high-level conversations. If a granny from Tseiblaagte in Keetmanshoop, or an unemployed youth from Choto, in Katima Mulilo, can put the President on the spot to demand a better life, what better way is there to hold a Head of State to account?
In his book “Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership,” Howard Gardner, an American psychologist defined a leader as an individual (or, rarely, a set of individuals) who significantly affects the thoughts, feelings, and or behaviors of a significant number of individuals.
From the context of this definition, Geingob can be seen as having spared a thought for and walking in the shoes of those he is leading, in order to get their feeling and understand why they behave in the manner that they do.
He now knows, or so it is hoped, that his leadership must exemplify integrity and willingness to make a change in the lives of the governed.
Armed with enough intelligence he has gathered from across the country, Geingob has put himself under good pressure – the pressure to deliver the nation to the proverbial ‘Promised Land’ of prosperity as aspired in his blueprint Harambee Prosperity Plan.

*Toivo Ndjebela writes from Okalongo, in Omusati Region.

2019-07-19  Toivo Ndjebela

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