Namibian Politics to the Point – February 2017
After the long summer break, political life in Namibia took off this month with the opening of Parliament and the first Cabinet meeting. The land issue dominated again with claims for ancestral land lost during colonisation. Claims were peppered with alleged tribalistic undertones in the view of the government. President Hage Geingob called for unity and warned against tribalism during a remarkable commemoration of the iconic Oukwanyama King Mandume Ya Ndemufayo, who died in combat against colonial troops 100 years ago.
Young SWAPO Party politicians made their voices heard in lieu of the party’s elective congress later this year. Subtle campaigning for possible candidates seems to have started. For instance, a SWAPO Youth League member, Job Amupanda, who co-founded the activist movement Affirmative Repositioning (AR) in 2015, announced his intention to join the election race for a top SWAPO leadership position at the congress. It remains to be seen if he succeeds.
Land issue again the buzz word
Land reform was very topical during February. A newly formed “Movement of Landless People (MLP)” held public gatherings in the southern towns of Keetmanshoop and Maltahöhe. They claim that the current government resettlement policy is skewed and allegedly does not take indigenous communities, who lost land to colonial settlers, into consideration. Bernardus Swartbooi, the young firebrand politician of the ruling SWAPO Party was guest speaker. President Geingob dismissed Swartbooi as Deputy Land Reform Minister last December, after he publicly criticised the government’s resettlement policy. Swartbooi however retains his seat in Parliament so far, though as a backbencher.
MLP members, who are mainly from the minority Herero– and Nama-speaking communities held a peaceful demonstration at the Zoo Park in Windhoek. They protested on 14 February, the day the colourful red-carpet opening of Parliament took place. The MLP members handed over a petition to a representative of the National Assembly, demanding a revamp of the resettlement policy and return of (ancestral) land they lost during German and South African colonial rule. They welcomed President Geingob’s earlier announcement this month that a new Land Bill would only be tabled in Parliament after a “national dialogue” and the national land conference slotted for September had taken place. Meanwhile, 4 people were briefly arrested at Grootfontein for alleged land grabbing. They had cleared an open piece of land of grass and bush, allegedly to erect shacks. They accused the Police of using tear gas, some land activists were treated in hospital as a result of tear gassing.
President Geingob said at the first Cabinet meeting for 2017 on 14 February that those who claim they lost ancestral land should make “constructive proposals which are acceptable within the context of a united reconciled Namibia.” Geingob further warned that some “discontented individuals and groups from various quarters use land as a fuse which they hope will ignite an explosion of chaos in our country.” Strong words indeed.
More strong words followed a day later when the ousted Deputy Land Reform Minister called his former boss, Utoni Nujoma, son of Founding President Sam Nujoma an “idiot” in Parliament. Minister Nujoma had just started reading a lengthy ministerial statement on – guess what – land reform. The Speaker of the National Assembly reprimanded Swartbooi and told him to withdraw that remark. Unperturbed, the young politician rose to state: “I meant what I said when I said the Honourable Member is an idiot but I withdraw due to the decorum of the House.” Members of Parliament and journalists alike gasped for breath.
Unity in diversity
Just a week before President Geingob called for unity at the King Mandume centenary at Omhedi near the Angolan border. “It is pleasing to witness the presence of Namibians from all different ethnic groups here today,” Geingob said. “There is nothing wrong belonging to tribes and being proud of that fact, but we should avoid being tribal. If we encourage the practice of attending each other’s gatherings and singing each other’s songs, then soon we will be able to create a national song and a national culture” Geingob noted. (See our Gondwana video about the Mandume event on YouTube).
Why not Damara Festival?
On a similar note, the Presidency explained why Geingob did not attend a festival organised by the traditional leader of his own minority Damara ethnic group last December. The President accepted the invitation and had confirmed attendance. “It was however discovered at the eleventh hour that Damara Chief Justus Garoeb is not recognised under the relevant laws of the country as a traditional leader. That being true, the President was unable to proceed to the planned festival,” presidential Press Secretary Albertus Aochamub clarified in mid-February.
Back in 1990 Namibia reached a major achievement for statehood on 9 February. The country’s Constitution was signed off by the Constituent Assembly 27 years ago, chaired by Geingob. This year only the media remembered Constitution Day, no government event took place, as was the practice until a few years ago. Efforts to have 9 February declared a national holiday continue. According to informed sources, the 30th anniversary in 2020 could possibly be a befitting date to declare a national holiday. We keep you posted.
Gondwana: Political satire video
On a lighter note, politics can also be fun as was seen in a video mocking US President Donald Trump’s inaugural punch line “America first”. In early February, the local tourism company Gondwana Collection and Namibian musician EES produced a satirical video “Namibia first (in Africa)”. The humorous tongue-in-cheek video received nearly 3 million hits on YouTube and caught international attention. Even the renowned US newspaper Washington Post mentioned Namibia’s video. “Political history” was actually made: this was Namibia’s first political satire video – thanks to Trump. Over 20 countries followed suit mocking Trump after The Netherlands published the first such satirical video.
Bilateral talks with Berlin
Serious business was the visit of Germany’s Parliamentary Secretary of Germany Thomas Silberhorn of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development to Namibia in February. He held discussions with several Cabinet Ministers in the run-up for the bilateral government consultations for development cooperation for the next 2 years. The consultations took place from 7 to 8 February.
Silberhorn also met with Herero- and Nama-speaking descendants of the 1904-1908 genocide victims during Germany’s colonial rule of Namibia. Nama- and Herero-speakers sued Germany’s government in January demanding direct participation in the ongoing reparation talks at government level between Berlin and Windhoek. “Anything about us without us is against us”, they claim. They further demand reparations for – yes, correct – ancestral land and cattle lost during 1904-1908.
On 17 February, President Geingob granted leaders of the NUDO opposition party an audience. They asked him to personally intervene with regard to the genocide negotiations as some of the affected communities are not directly involved.
Back to bilateral cooperation: Silberhorn confirmed that both countries focus on 3 areas: natural resources management, sustainable economic development and transport. The main goal of German-Namibian development cooperation remains the fight against poverty and inequality in Namibia. The concluding negotiations are planned for the second half of 2017.