Namibian Politics to the Point – December 2016
This year has been eventful on Namibia’s political front with “unprecedented headwinds” as President described 2016 in his New Year message on 31 December.
President Geingob held a year-end press conference on 13 December, surrounded by Cabinet ministers and in the presence of the diplomatic corps. The event lasted 3 hours, with a presentation on progress with the Harambee Prosperity Plan (see our Gondwana December review Namibia - Economics to the Point in December 2016 and www.op.gov.na/hpp.
Afterwards the media were allowed to ask questions for two hours, also on political issues. Asked why Cabinet had recently decided to release information pertaining to Government first to two State-owned media – Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and the daily newspaper New Era – the response was this should not be seen as discrimination towards privately-owned media.
Poaching of rhinos and elephants condemned
On a question about increased poaching levels in Namibia, especially rhinos and elephants, President Geingob replied that his government condemned it. “We must intensify our efforts, what is going on is unacceptable. There must be inside information going out about where the rhinos are,” the President added.
In the meantime Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta announced just after Christmas that since mid-December the army was supporting Police and nature conservation officers on patrols. Orders were given that these patrolling units should return fire if they were attacked by poachers. Minister Shifeta skipped his Christmas leave and visited several patrolling units in the Etosha National Park, the Bwabwata Park and in the Zambezi Region. Three poachers were shot and killed to date.
During the press conference at State House President Geingob was asked for clarity if Namibia would pull out of the International Criminal Court or not. “My take is very clear, Africa needs [to create] its own institutions”, Geingob replied.
Asked about the standoff after the recent presidential elections in Gambia, Geingob said he at first was happy that President Yayah Jammeh accepted defeat. ”Alas, he changed his mind a few days later – this is unacceptable, we condemn that, we are disappointed about President Jammeh’s U-turn in Gambia,” Geingob stated.
News from the ruling Swapo party
Early in December the Swapo party women’s wing held its congress at the southern town of Keetmanshoop, to elect a new leadership. Several members from smaller ethnic groups expressed their dissatisfaction on social media like Whatsapp that in their view over 60 percent of the elected leadership was from Namibia’s largest ethnic group. This caused an unbalance, they opined.
The ruling Swapo party announced in mid-December after its last politburo meeting for 2016, that it noted with concern the continued reference to Geingob [in the media] as acting Swapo president. This was not so. After Geingob succeeded former president, Hifikepunye Pohamba in March 2015, Pohamba announced a month later that he would also step down as Swapo party president. He handed over that mandate to Geingob, who in 2012 had been re-elected as Swapo vice-president. The elevation of Geingob to party president in April 2015 was the result of a decision of the Swapo Central Committee.
The reference to Geingob as acting Swapo president was thus incorrect and should end, the party stated. Swapo noted that currently the position of Swapo vice-president was thus vacant since April 2015 and would only be filled during the party’s next congress scheduled for the end of 2017. Swapo holds elective congresses every five years.
Drama about Deputy Minister Swartbooi
The year 2016 ended in some political dissonance for the government as the deputy land reform minister Bernardus Swartbooi lost his post. Swartbooi had publicly criticised the land reform and particularly Government’s resettlement policy. This he did at a traditional function of his ethnic Nama-speaking group on 3 December in southern Namibia. Reporters had been invited and reported, Swartbooi had stated. People in the South had lost land during German colonial times and the South Africa apartheid era. Despite applying for resettlement, southern inhabitants were allegedly received less consideration. More people from northern Namibia were resettled in the South instead of locals, stated Swartbooi.
The Minister of Presidential Affairs, Frans Kapofi instructed Swartbooi to publicly apologise for his remarks in writing within 24 hours after receiving Kapofi’s letter. Swartbooi refused and instead wanted to know which laws and regulations he had contravened. A meeting at State House took place on 13 December with Swartbooi. Two days later State House announced, Swartbooi’s verbal resignation was received and he was relieved of his duties, but would remain in Parliament as an ordinary member. Priscilla Boois was appointed as new Deputy Land reform Minister. Swartbooi stated he did not offer his (verbal) resignation, but was instead awaiting his letter of dismissal. Swartbooi received a lot of positive comments in newspapers and social media for his stance, especially among smaller ethnic groups in Namibia.
Land Reform Minister Utoni Nujoma – son of Founding President Sam Nujoma – told reporters during a press conference end of December that Swartbooi apparently never raised criticism about Government’s land reform and resettlement policy while he was in office.
Namibia’s leader of the largest opposition party, DTA travelled to Germany in mid-December for a weeklong official visit. DTA president McHenry Venaani also met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
The German Embassy in Windhoek revealed two days before Christmas that Thomas Oppermann, leader of the Social-Democratic party (SPD) in Germany’s Bundestag (= parliament) had visited Namibia from 19 to 21 December. The purpose of Oppermann’s visit was to “familiarise himself with the state of intergovernmental negotiations and economic and scientific relations” between Germany and Namibia.
On the political front, Oppermann held closed-door talks with Namibia’s special envoy for reparation negotiations with Berlin, Dr Zed Ngavirue and representatives of the Nama-speaking community, Ida Hoffmann and Bernardus Swartbooi, the freshly dismissed [former] Deputy Land reform Minister.
Oppermann visited the H.E.S.S. telescope west of Windhoek and historical sites in the capital and in Swakopmund, the German Embassy stated.
The local media were not informed beforehand of Oppermann’s visit and there was also no opportunity for journalists to meet the prominent SPD politician.
See our review Namibian Economics to the Point – December 2016 to find out which German company in Namibia Oppermann visited.