Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Nujoma bows out

For the first time since independence in 1990, Namibia has a president other than Sam Nujoma. Hifikepunye Pohamba has been sworn in to replace the man generally considered to be the father of Namibia's independance.

TheMalau, over at the Salon of News and Thoughts blog, lauds the change. "Peaceful transition of power... now that's a cool concept!" he raves.

Although the process was not perfect in Namibia, it was good enough for a democracy of only 15 years of full independence... we could learn that it is doable, and that it does not need to be perfect at the first try.

He pretty much encapsulates my thoughts in a nutshell. This was not the true test of a democracy. After all, both Pohamba and Nujoma belong to the same SWAPO party, which retains control of the state. In fact, Nujoma remains president of SWAPO, despite no longer being president of the Republic.

However, this is a laudable move by Nujoma. I've often said that the greatest gift Nelson Mandela gave to South Africa was to serve only one term. In doing so, he sent the message that he was not indispensible, that he was not country. Too many African leaders peddle the propaganda that the state will collapse without their omniscient and omnipotent wisdom. In ceding power, Nujoma, like Mandela, sent his countrymen the message that they live in a mature country that is not solely dependent on a single man.

The charismatic Nujoma has often been compared to Robert Mugabe in neighboring Zimbabwe. They do share a few superficial traits. They both have publicly attacked gays, invoke anti-imperalist rhetoric whenever possible, have a great deal of charisma and are both former guerilla leaders. I believe they are friends.

But there are significant differences between the two. The main difference is that for his bellicose rhetoric, Sam Nujoma generally respected basic democratic norms and press freedom. There were no massacres in opposition heartlands, no mass arbitrary arrests, no use of food aid as a political weapon, no broad assault on the rule of law.

Another main difference is that SWAPO has evolved into an actual party that represents its membership and is not automatically beholden to its leader. In fact, there was a move by some to force through a constitutional amendment that would've allowed Nujoma to serve more terms as president. The party was independent minded enough to reject the effort. In Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF essentially remains an instrument of Mugabe.

Most expect that Pohamba will continue Namibia on the same path. However, most expected the same from Zambia's Levy Mwanawasa and Malwai's Bingu wa Mutharika and were quite surprised at the results.


At 4:46 AM, Blogger Black River Eagle said...

This is a good article Brian, as are many of your postings. It will be interesting to see how the new President of Namibia deals with the explosive issue of land reform and equal opportunity for all the citizens of Namibia.

Let's hope that he does not follow the catastrophic example (on land reform) set by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. A friend of Mugabe cannot be a friend to Africa or to the rest of the World.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Chippla Vandu said...

Mugabe should be riddled with guilt over Nujoma's exit , that is, if he [Mugabe] has a conscience.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Brian said...

"...that is, if he [Mugabe] has a conscience."

Hahaha... that's quite amusing.


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