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Namibian democracy not a favour by heroes of anti-colonial struggle

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Namibian democracy not a favour by heroes of anti-colonial struggle
When Namibians buried their third president on Sunday February 25, they eased our collective sadness with a peaceful, dignified celebration of their journey of democratization as an independent nation. They made us proud as Africans dream of the day when all our presidents and their ruling political parties will be subordinate to the countries that they lead. 


By all accounts, the situation in Namibia has remained calm since President Hage Gottfried Geingob’s death on February 4. The country’s government has continued to function without evident crisis or threat of a violently contested succession. And this has not been out of good luck, but because of a carefully planned process, guided by the interests of the nation, not those of one man and his family. 


Dr. Geingob, who died of cancer one year before the end of his second and mandatory final term in office, had respected his country’s constitutionally mandated succession plan, by appointing Nangolo Mbumba, a very competent vice president that would take over if the need arose. He had also successfully fronted Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah as the ruling party’s candidate in the presidential elections scheduled to be held later this year.  


As a result, the death of a man has not threatened the life of his country. The pain of loss has been eased by the certainty of a smooth transition of leadership. The president’s heroic role in the armed struggle for Namibia’s freedom has not been turned into an ownership permit to be inherited by the Geingob family.  


I was uplifted by the sight of Samuel Nujoma, 94, the founding president, and Hifikepunye Pohamba, 88, the second president, attending the memorial service for their successor on February 24. Their speeches praised their successor without dwelling on their own uncontestable roles in the great struggle for Namibia. Their presence spoke of a nation that had successfully embraced the rule of law and the value of leadership change as a critical component of successful growth of countries. Their apparent freedom from fear reflected their status as genuinely respected and revered former leaders that had not engaged in oppression of their own people. 


Whereas the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) has been the only ruling party since independence thirty-four years ago, its leaders did not turn the deceased president’s funeral into a political campaign rally. Instead, the story was about Namibia and Dr. Geingob’s outstanding service to his people. It was about unity and continuity. It was about innate patriotism that did not require that people be lectured about it. It was a class act that reminded us of the pleasant reality that Africa has a few countries that subscribe to genuinely shared ownership of the nation by all citizens, an indispensable step towards sustained peace and progress. 


After a thirty-year struggle for Namibia’s independence, the victorious leaders of SWAPO could have claimed all the spoils and turned their country into a personal possession. After all, didn’t people like Nujoma, Pohamba, and Geingob risk their lives and face hardships in the struggle for freedom? Did they not lose colleagues in their battles against the apartheid forces that killed many Namibians? 


That they chose the path of democracy, and nurtured a culture whose results were on display this past weekend, was an act that affirmed Namibia’s claim to be the “land of the brave.” Their national anthem celebrates the glory of the bravery of those “whose blood waters our freedom,” and a promise to give their “love and loyalty” to their country, as they “hold high the banner of liberty.”


Whereas Namibia is not a perfect place, one gets the sense that the words of their national anthem are a serious commitment by the country’s leaders and their people. “Namibia our country, Namibia our motherland, We love thee,” are not empty words. They appear to be a solemn vow from the heart, evidenced by their behaviour in the last three decades. Notwithstanding major socio-economic disparities, the country’s systems, institutions, and laws are working. Namibia is a democracy heading in the right direction.


The presidential election later this year will be conducted by what most independent commentators on Namibia describe as an impartial electoral commission that is committed to smooth implementation of the election. “The Namibia election is noteworthy for its openness and integrity,” wrote the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies in their January 2024 review of elections in Africa. Freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary, a free press, and a transparent and accountable government are Namibia’s happy reality.  We can look forward to some vigorous debate and competition, especially between Ms. Nandi-Ndaitwah and Panduleni Itula, the leader of the Independent Patriots for Change. Whereas the odds favour the ruling party’s candidate, some observers report that SWAPO’s dominance may continue to decline, a healthy development in a seriously democratising nation. 


The results will not matter as much as the integrity of the process. That Namibians will, once again, have a right to freely choose their next president is the greatest legacy of the late President Geingob and his two predecessors. It is a dream that Africans in countries that remain devoid of genuine democratization must peacefully struggle to turn into reality. 


Namibia’s genuine democracy is not a favour done to them by the heroes of the armed struggle that freed Namibians from the ruthless apartheid regimes. It is a choice that Namibians have made.  

©️Muniini K. Mulera

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