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The heavens opened on the day Namibia’s 2014 National Elections were announced. The results were released on December 1. A light shower descended on the capital city Windhoek to welcome news of the election of the new President and Members of Parliament. In Africa, rain signals the coming of good things. The showers of blessings came down just moments before the Electoral Commission of Namibia announced the results. The SWAPO ruling party won a landslide 80% majority, leaving the opposition parties trailing hopelessly behind – virtually licking their own proverbial wounds. It was a wide margin of monumental proportions with the ruling party taking 77 seats in the National Assembly, leaving 15 opposition parties to scramble for the remaining 19 positions in the 96 seat chamber. The new official Opposition Party, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, got 5 seats; the Rally for Democracy (RDP) got three and the rest sharing one or two remaining seats. SWAPO’s presidential candidate fared even much better than his own party, scoring 87% of the total votes – the highest ever attained by a Namibian presidential candidate.
Namibia, a fledgling democracy in the south western tip of Africa, went to the polls in November in a fiercely contested election for President and Membership of the 96-seat National Assembly. About 1, 2 million voters made a bee-line to polling stations across the vast country in the unbearable scorching heat of the Namibian sun, patiently waiting in long, meandering queues. For thousands of them, it was a first time experience as they were born after the country’s independence in 1990. As the cool air descended on the city of Windhoek; the nation’s focus shifted towards the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) Headquarters for the announcement of the election results.
The SWAPO ruling party, in power since the dawn of democracy, won yet another two-thirds majority in the polls. The former liberation movement, which led the country’s struggle against the colonial rule of Apartheid South Africa, has entrenched its power even further. The election attracted the highest voter turnout since the first independence elections in November 1989. The election was significant election in that it marked the passing of the old guard and the handing over of the baton to the second generation of SWAPO leadership. SWAPO Presidential candidate and current Prime Minister, Dr Hage Geingob, is now destined for State House after the landslide victory. He will assume office on 21 March 2015 – the 25th anniversary of Namibia’s independence – when incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba finally bows out of stage.
That the president-elect fared significantly better than his own Party, drawing support from members of the opposition underscores the enviable support he enjoys from the majority of the people across the spectrum of the Namibian political landscape. Namibians could be heard shouting on streets on voting day: ”He is the people’s President.” A large billboard with the smiling face of Dr Geingob on a hillside down Hosea Kutako Road, the main artery from the city to the township of Katutura, seems to be confirming the sentiment that he is, indeed, the people’s President. In his victory speech, the President-elect declared: ”I am the President for all Namibians. No Namibian must feel left out”.
During campaigning, the new kids on the election block, National Economic Freedom Fighters, turned on the heat as opposition parties mounted endless attacks on the ruling party, almost testing its tenacity. The kids, however, did not win a single seat – in what could be said to be a vote of no-confidence by the electorate. It’s been a rough yet exciting electoral journey which got under way in earnest in September 2014 – the 90 mandated days before polling. There were 9 Presidential candidates, 16 Parties, 96 Parliamentary seats, 1,241 194 registered voters and 3966 polling stations. It was a heated affair as a flurry of accusations and allegations were thrown around between raging political foes; in typical electioneering mode. The ruling party was at the receiving end of these attacks and howls of derision.
The complaints raised against SWAPO included, among others:
– the deteriorating socio-economic conditions for the masses of the people
– growing unemployment
– the lack of job creation,
– chronic housing shortage in both urban and rural areas
– land ownership, particularly for the urban poor
– and corruption.
The opposition went for SWAPO on all fronts – citing nepotism, favoritism, cronyism and cadre deployment – in a concerted bid to persuade the electorate to vote the ruling party out of power.
The opposition parties, however, failed to offer an alternative value proposition and based their electoral message primarily on the allegations on SWAPO. This type of electioneering by opposition parties is not unique to Namibia. It has been seen in most opposition parties throughout the continent of Africa. For them opposition means attacking (rightly so); however it lacks a distinct offering an alternative, viable option to Government policy. SWAPO, despite its shortcomings and internal weaknesses put together a winning formula – fielding a strong team, presenting an image of a united force, planning their campaigns with precision and having a clear message for the voters. The Party’s manifesto was brilliantly crafted: Consolidating Stability, Peace and Prosperity and the message was loud and clear as it resonated with the aspirations of the electorate. Clear steps were articulated on how this programme would be carried out and achieved.
The opposition, on the other hand, sought to punch holes and rubbish what the ruling party had articulated and their strategy backfired terribly – like a military plan that went horribly wrong. Above all, SWAPO ran a well-oiled electoral machine under the leadership of its Presidential candidate Dr Geingob. The Party attracted large crowds to its campaign rallies, mostly held in stadia of major cities across the country. Crowd pulling was also a remarkable display of a tested marketing strategy and plan, not only dependent on media publicity but rather firmly rooted in grassroots mobilization. This is the competitive edge of former liberation movements – galvanizing the support of the masses, thus giving impetus to the success of mass participation in rallies and public events.
Most opposition parties have little, if any, mass mobilization experience and this is always glaringly evident in the organisation of political rallies. As evidenced during the campaign phase, most of them struggled to fill up makeshift venues in hired tents. A classic example is the leader of the NDP, Martin Lukato, who, on more than one occasion, addressed an audience of less than 10 people – probably his own family and friends. It was nevertheless an exciting election phase. The beauty of the Namibian election was the prevailing peace – a peaceful atmosphere amid heightened political tension. This is in sharp contrast to many an election in Africa where the national event is marred by violence and police brutality.
Namibia as a country takes the cup when it comes to the Peaceful nature of the event. The cherry on top is the relative fairness of the electoral process. This, despite objections from the opposition. Namibia became the first country in Africa to use the electronic voting machines (EVM) to replace the usual ballot papers for voting. Opposition parties were angry about the use of EVMs without keeping a paper trail to verify the electronic results. Just three days before the polls, opposition parties took the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) to court in an urgent application asking the High Court to postpone the elections to February 2015. Judge Kobus Miller dismissed the application, saying there was no evidence that the EVM was unreliable and, therefore, had to be supported by paper trail.
Now that he has won the election, President-elect, Dr Geingob, has a monumental task ahead. First, he must begin to unify his party which went through a gruelling exercise of nominating a presidential candidate. This process has left deep scars of divisions within the party. Factionalism, that ageless arch-enemy of all liberation movements in Africa, poses a potential threat to SWAPO. Second, the policy of 50/50 gender representation was hastily rushed through thereby sacrificing experience and depth at the altar of political expediency. Quotas can be self-defeating at times, however good the intentions may be. Third, tribalism remains a major national issue which the Government of the day must confront and deal with. “Namibians seem to be more conscious of who they are along tribal lines”, observed a Namibian political leader. Fourth, the tender system – in terms of which lucrative government contracts get allocated to prospective bidders – will have to be reviewed. This system has fuelled a groundswell of suspicion and anger in Namibia as in many parts of Africa. It has been allegedly widely manipulated by party honchos and government officials to award contracts to friends, family and political allies. Fifth, service delivery with regard to the provision of housing, sanitation and electricity must be speeded up as patience is understandably running out. Sixth, the land issue must be seriously addressed. There’s mounting anger at the perceived delay in addressing this burning issues – which was the main reason, in the first place, why liberation movements took up arms against colonial oppressors. The Policy of willing buyer / willing seller has not addressed the legitimate demand for land.
Most of the land in Namibia and, indeed many parts of the previously colonised continent, is still in the hands of a privileged few. Namibia has been independent for 24 years and the voices for fundamental transformation of society and the economy are growing even louder. SWAPO has proved to have a viable succession plan and this has ensured a seamless transfer of power from the founding President Dr Sam Nujoma to President Hifikepunye Pohamba and now Dr Geingob.
As the Party’s banners boldly affirmed during the election campaigns ”The Legacy Continues … ”
Dr Nujoma did what was expected of him – to transform the institutions of Government from institutionalised racial segregation to a democratic rule. This process was continued by his successor President Pohamba who also had to preside over the transformation of the legislative framework and implementing tangible social changes. The pace, however, has been excruciatingly slow for people eager to wriggle themselves out of the poverty cycle. The new man in State House will have to embark on the second phase of struggle – economic transformation and the redistribution of the country’s wealth to the majority of the oppressed masses.That is what elections must be all about – bringing about a meaningful change in the lives of people. The people have spoken – giving SWAPO a landslide victory – but now they must use their electoral power to hold the new leadership accountable. Election promises must translate to visible, tangible results – a better life for all.
Phil Molefe is a veteran South African journalist and Director of the Africa Media Institute