In power since independence in 1990, Namibia’s Southwest Africa People’s Organization (Swapo) will for the first time put forward a woman as its presidential candidate in 2024. By then, sitting President Hage Gottfried Geingob will be done with his two terms.
In his place, one of the country’s leading female politicians since pre-independence, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah will seek to extend the party’s rulership.
The former independence movement at the weekend elected Nandi-Ndaitwah, who is the country’s deputy prime minister and minister of international relations, to become the party’s vice-president at the party’s just ended 7th congress.
She emerged resoundingly victorious scooping 421 votes against Pohamba Shifeta, with 90 votes, and her closest rival, another female stalwart, Saara Kougogwela Amadhila, who received 270 votes. Shifeta is the minister of environment and tourism and Amadhila is the prime minister.
She has an impeccable reputation
In an interview leading to the build-up of the Swapo congress, Namibian political analyst Ndumba Kwamwanya said Nandi-Ndaitwah was an obvious choice from the start because she had an impeccable reputation within the party for years.
“First and foremost, it was expected that she would prevail as a winner. For the reasons being that she is a veteran of the liberation struggle and has served for Swapo for too long,” he said.
She is also more relatable compared to the two other candidates. This will possibly make her the first female president, which will be a landmark.
Born on 29 October 1952 as the ninth child in a family of 13 children, Nandi-Ndaitwah is married to Epaphras Denga Ndaitwah, the former chief of the Namibia Defence Force. Her rise to the top echelons of power can be traced back to 2017 when she was voted as the first female vice-president of Swapo. She has also served in various positions in Swapo, including the women’s council.
She can turn around Swapo’s diminishing electoral prospects
In 2020, Swapo lost significant support in some key constituencies in the regional council and local authority elections. Notably, the party lost ground in Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund to the Independent Patriots for Change.
Swapo also lost ground to the Landless People’s Movement in the southern parts of the country. The year before, Swapo lost its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. The presidential vote for Geingob’s second term was 56.25%, down from his 2014 tally of 86.73%.
Political analyst and the executive director of public policy research, Graham Hopwood, said Nandi-Ndaitwah has what it takes to turn around the fortunes of the revolutionary party.
“She has a strong appeal at the grassroots and this will easily give Swapo more recovery. She had a strong appeal to all Namibians and she is in a great position to stabilise Swapo’s berth”.
Namibia, the second youngest democracy in southern Africa, after South Africa, has had its fair share of corruption scandals.
The most prominent was the Fishrot scandal, in which 10 former politicians, businessmen and lawyers stand accused of bribery and corruption for siphoning off millions of dollars from Namibia’s fishing industry.
The scandal surfaced just before the 27 November 2019 general elections, and it was the single biggest dent in Geingob’s popularity. To date, the prosecution linked to the scandal is moving slowly and it’s one of the things Swapo has to address.
Hopwood said Nandi-Ndaitwah was not linked to any corruption.
“She has the possibility of reforming the integrity of the party”, Hopwood clarified, citing that she is one of the cleanest political figures in Geingob’s cabinet.
When it comes to women’s participation in politics, Namibia has a legislature divided into two separate assemblies, with the use of voluntary party quotas and legislated quotas at the sub-national level.
Forty-six of the 104 (44%) seats in the National Assembly are held by women. The Senate has 42 seats and women only occupy six.