HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsCongrats and goodbye, Pohamba!

Congrats and goodbye, Pohamba!


ZIMBABWE and Namibia are in the same Southern African region geographically, but worlds apart politically.


It’s not about driving a wedge between the two countries, but stating a bold, bare fact.

While outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was being honoured this week for his constitutional ways – including duly stepping down later this month on the expiry of his two-term limit – last week Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs Pupurai Togarepi was busy telling the ruling party to tear up the State Constitution so that President Robert Mugabe rules as long as he lives.

Said Togarepi directly addressing Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda, at Mugabe’s belated 91st birthday celebrations in Victoria Falls: “Mudenda, what you and the MDC did in Parliament to limit the Presidential term must be reversed because President Mugabe must rule forever. The term limit should only be activated for those who come after him.”

You cannot individualise an institution, especially a powerful one, just like that.

It, maybe, shows that when euphoria takes over, some people don’t think about everything they are saying, but that doesn’t make such utterances any less dangerous. Zimbabwe is not Mugabe, and Mugabe is not Zimbabwe. Any further proof of being worlds apart?

Pohamba won the Mo Ibrahim Foundation African Leadership Prize in recognition of good governance in a continent rife with dictators.
Pohamba, 79, was first elected president in 2005. He is due to hand over power to Prime Minister Hage Geingob on March 21, in line with the Constitution.

Announcing the 2014 award in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday, the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee stated that Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development had carried the day.

A member of the prize committee, Tanzanian Dr Salim Ahmed Salim said Pohamba had improved the standard of living for his people. “Namibia is a small country but with abundant natural resources.

During his term in office those resources were properly managed,” said Salim, former secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity (1989-2001). Salim’s pan-Africanist credentials are impeccable, they are not in question. So the choice of Pohamba is not influenced by some imperialist plot as some detractors would be quick to allege, but firmly by Africa.

So it was with previous winners Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 2007, Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008) and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde in 2011.

Swapo, the ruling party in Namibia, has been a liberation movement like Zanu PF, but it has been able to demobilise mentally to operate as a fully-fledged political party alongside others in that country without having to resort to militaristic tendencies as seen too, too often here in Zimbabwe. Namibia has reaped the rewards of this fair play from the militarily powerful but magnanimous Swapo. Swapo is not in the habit of flaunting its battleground might of yesteryear against civilian citizens.

Likewise, in that spirit Swapo has been respectful to the electorate. That exemplary political maturity has cascaded to the whole body politic. There is no doubt that Swapo has entrenched the gains of liberation such as democracy. Namibians are not reminded by Swapo that “ndisu togatoga takasunungura nyika” (it’s us and us only who liberated the country) ad nauseam. They are not continually reminded to an annoying, boring, excessive, insulting extent that they are not revolutionary enough. But here the “liberators” project themselves as bigger and braver than everyone else.

This oddity sets the tone for political discrimination leading to political stratification. Political stratification is the unequal distribution of political rewards and inequalities in accessing political office and resources. Zimbabwe is such a regime based on political stratification with privileged access to resources for some. It’s a basic division into rulers and ruled, leaders and subjects where endowment of wealth, status, prestige, and privilege is for the rulers to decide.

Pointed out an acquaintance in Zanu PF who has seen through this new oppressive system: “Honestly, did you expect 2,2 million jobs (promised in Zanu PF’s 2013 election manifesto)? It was all superstition. If you expected indigenisation and empowerment, then you are lost. No one will give you that on a silver platter – it’s only for the anointed.” Yes, it’s all about anointive politics.

Namibia, which attained independence in 1990, 10 years after Zimbabwe, had some catching up to do – and it did and has now overtaken Zimbabwe in all the political and economic indicators. Zimbabwe is stuck in political and economic ground zero while Namibia marches on.

Election observers said polls held under Pohamba’s leadership were free and fair. The Swapo government, because it has nothing to hide, was the first in Africa to embrace e-voting, doing so in last year’s general election.

Now contrast this with the perennially disputed elections in Zimbabwe, the last of which was in 2013 where a consolidated voters’ roll was denied to the opposition, not to mention the latest episode just two weeks ago when Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa brazenly intimidated villagers, saying: “Nobody comes to vote in the same manner death comes, for death you cannot build a fence to keep it out, but a person who votes we can tell if they are for us or not with us and those who are not ours we will fence them out.”

The regular infusion of new blood has reinvigorated, re-energised and rejuvenated Namibia along with Mozambique and Zambia.
Competitive politics – whether within the party or outside the party – is healthy and beneficial. Zimbabwe has been a victim of closed politics. That is why the late General Vitalis Zvinavashe infamously said the Presidency was a “straitjacket” and he would not salute any winner who did not participate in the liberation war.
It has been all about anointive politics, the latest beneficiary being First Lady Grace Mugabe who has risen to the top echelons of Zanu PF in record time.

That said, Pohamba’s demeanour itself has been most presidential; that is, befitting a President in that he has been a fair, just, progressive, unifying and calming factor, to the good fortune of the citizens, residents and visitors. Read the citation: “During the decade of his presidential mandate, he demonstrated sound and wise leadership. At the same time, he maintained his humility throughout his presidency.”

Well, humility is a scarce commodity in Zimbabwean politics.
I do envy the Namibians. Could there be a better time to be Namibian and worse time to be Zimbabwean? One does not have to be a bully to be a giant in the political game – ask Pohamba.
Congrats and goodbye, Pohamba!


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