Namibia’s Rally for Democracy and Progress: Old Wine in New Bottle?

Published on 4th December 2007

The newly formed Namibian political party, Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), might be a faint hint of excitement for politics in Namibia. The ‘old stalwarts’ at the helm of the RDP are comparable to Kenya’s National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which won the Kenyan election in December 2002  and saw an ‘old stalwart’, Mwai Kibaki, become President.

In 2002, Kenyans who were frustrated with the dominant leadership of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) - that saw Presidents Kenyatta and Moi run the country in absolute chaos for 38 years- had high hopes for the newly formed political party. However, there were some concerns because Kibaki was one of the heavy guns of KANU having served as Member of Parliament since Kenya’s Independence and held prominent ministerial profiles, including the Vice Presidency under Moi. In other words, Kibaki was part of the leadership that saw many ordinary Kenyans slip into adverse poverty. He fell out of favour with Moi amidst rumours of power plays and eventually left KANU to form his own party in 1991. Did Kibaki fall out of favour because of a clash over disagreements of failed policies or unanswered political ambition? His current reign, which is dominated by allegations of corruption and continuing lack of real progress, provides an easy answer to that question. 

Why the analogy? Jesaya Nyamu and Hidipo Hamutenya’s protest walk out from the liberation movement headed by SWAPO (South West Africa Peoples Organistaion) strikes me as comparable to Kibaki’s departure from KANU. I am not analysing the controversy of how his notes were found and eventually led to his expulsion from SWAPO, but the fact that his dispute with SWAPO had compelled him to think of strategies to break off. In addition, if the RDP is determined to take on SWAPO in the upcoming election, then we can safely assume that the formation of this new party has been in the pipeline for some time, and that Hamutenya’s resignation from SWAPO is well timed. Thus, I hypothesize that Hamutenya has been involved in the structural design and organisation of the RDP. In this regard, I am left wondering if the RDP has been formed as a result of disagreements over failed policies, thus a principled decision, or merely as a result of unanswered political ambition.

In his November 8 press conference to announce his resignation from SWAPO, Hamutenya said that “the people are crying out for delivery of the promises made at Independence and upon which we [SWAPO] were elected”. The reference of “we” is not just indicative of his unconscious link to SWAPO, but also serves as a solid reminder that the same SWAPO mindset will be running the RDP. Furthermore, their emphasis on the ills of Namibian society is similar to that of SWAPO: “We all know that the dominant features in Namibia’s landscape today is poverty, inequality, the sorry state of education, declining health services and unemployment”; an ill that SWAPO – with both Hamutenya and Nyamu as part of the top SWAPO leadership until recently- has failed to deliver to the masses. It is also interesting to note, that no mention was made to corruption, perhaps one of the biggest ills in Namibian society today. Additionally, Hamutenya’s lack of outspokenness upon his return to parliament in 2005 does not ease conspiracy theories and the main question that everybody is asking: Is the RDP only a protest party against the dominant “liberation” party, similar to that of Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition, or does it have factual ideological and policy differences?

Second, with the same old stalwarts still wanting to run Namibian politics, I am taken aback with the lack of young vibrant blood in Namibian politics and African politics in general. The old stalwarts of KANU, which in my opinion includes Kibaki, is still running Kenya since their Independence, that is, 43 years later! Am I wrong for presupposing that perhaps there is a possible correlation between the old stalwarts and the increasing despair and corruption cases in Kenya? In the TED Theme Talk on Rethinking Poverty, author of Africa Unchained and well-renowned economist, George Ayittey, call this vibrant young blood, the “cheetah generation”, a “new breed of Africans” that he equates with a “no nonsense” attitude towards corruption and that grasps the implications of accountability and democracy. This breed is also highly educated with technological and entrepreneurial ability and understand how to situate themselves within the global social, economic and political game. Only, most have left Africa as part of the brain drain that has become an African pest.

Ayittey calls the old stalwarts the “ruling elite” of African politics and terms them as the “hippo generation”, a generation that is “stuck in their intellectual patch, complaining about colonialism and imperialism”; a generation that tries to hold on to political power as long as possible. To him, these leaders often fail to reform the economies because they “benefit from the rotten status quo”. Furthermore, Ayittey argues that in today’s global political sphere, Africa’s “salvation rests on the back of these cheetahs” because their ‘yes, we have been done wrong, but how do we get out of this mess’ attitudes, provide the necessary drive to change the current status quo.

Although Namibia is still immature, best classified as an infant, a similar trend exists, where the old stalwarts are likely to continue to dominate the political sphere. With the exception of a few of the relatively ‘young’ and vibrant stalwarts,  most of the old stalwarts continue with the rhetoric that is symptomatic of cold war politics. It is a politics that is stuck in the past, and fails to attract the cheetah generation.

As a group breaks away to establish their own political party, other questions to ask are: Will it attract a young vibrant blood with new interpretations of social, economic and political pressures? Will this result in new ideas to rid Namibia of its ills? Sadly, I think not. The politics alienates Namibia’s cheetah generation. Being educated, you are trained to be critical, to question in order to find answers, but in Namibian politics, that freedom to critique the status quo is not independent of estrangement. Being part of the old stalwarts, the RDP political rhetoric is thus likely not to be dissimilar than that of either SWAPO at best or the COD at worse. That, and the infightings such as the recent one that infiltrated the COD, which again was not about ideological differences, but power, is what leaves the cheetah generation (both black and white) apolitical and indifferent. 

Namibia’s current cheetah generation is made up of a small percentage of Namibians that appears at best to be apolitical and at worse only interested in wealth. For the latter, politics becomes a by-product; seen only as useful if it can provide a black economic empowerment deal. But in reality, a large group of this cheetah generation in Namibia will only be highly visible in another decade or two. They are the current group in college, the generation that has the opportunity to attend tertiary education, especially the children of the “elite” that has the ability to do so outside of Namibia.  It is a generation, which by glimpsing at their list of friends on Facebook is global, technology savvy, career driven and all about reconciliation. But, this is also the generation that will partake in a mass exodus, if Namibia happens to follow the same path as so many other decolonised countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Zimbabwe, among many others. Those that will be left behind would most likely be made up of the political connected, those with solid businesses and work, stable high income jobs, and the poor. In this regard, it becomes imperative for the political sphere to become open to new ideas, thus critiquing, and creating a stimulating environment for the current cheetahs to engage in politics. It is essential that political parties strategically think about structural reorganisation in order to introduce politics to this upcoming cheetah generation. This will essentially mean moving away from surrounding one with yes-men and yes-women, which provide an illusion of progress, to people that can actively debate about pertinent issues.

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