A reliable source repeated a conversation he had earlier this year with the Honourable Speaker of the Parliament, Peter Katjavivi. When asked why he would not retire rather than attempt a second term as Speaker at this age, the Speaker said, “I want to escort my friend to his final term.”
The ‘friend’ he refers to is President Hage Geingob. The two near octogenarians, indeed share a long history of friendship and comradery. But, the comment made as related, is quite telling.
The Speaker’s decision to stay in office may not have been to first serve the people of Namibia, but only to serve an individual ‘friend’. It was not to take up the heavy mantle of Speaker and shepherd the vital legislative processes for the benefit of the people.
While we applaud the tremendous achievements of Katjavivi, our hands grow weary of clapping. The future of a nation made up in the majority of people under the age of 40, demands attention to tomorrow, not yesterday.
The changes in the Parliament will present challenges never faced before by a Speaker. Swapo no longer dominates the House. People with other voices will stand up and demand to be heard. Katjavivi and those from yesteryear do not have the skills set to adjust to the new normal.
Leaders from the past need to re-examine their motives for clinging on. It is embarrassing to see dignified, intelligent leaders diminished as they struggle to remain relevant.
There is a consistent parade of former vibrant leaders decades past who cannot see that it is time to pass the torch. These great people may be better suited for different responsibilities. That long list of spent leaders who stayed on too long can now include Professor Peter Katjavivi.
While it may be unfair, there is little choice but to compare Katjavivi to his two (late) illustrious and iconic predecessors, Dr Mose Tjitendero and Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab. These outstanding public servants had great initial terms as Speaker. They faced challenges, in their later terms as age, illness, and energy-drain took a toll. Katjavivi seems set to continue in this vein. Is that fair to the public he is supposed to serve?
There is an enormous amount of energy needed to be at the Parliament for every session. It is draining to prepare for each days’ agenda, network with all parties, and monitor the rules and regulations of the house. The stamina it takes to stay keenly alert to every word spoken and watch the time assiduously, comment when required, and quickly adjudicate issues must be staggering. Now the Speaker must also referee physical tussles between MPs. These responsibilities are on top of managing office staff and handling international obligations.
As anyone ages; they slow down mentally and physically in varying degrees based on a host of factors. A speaker in his 80th year, slated to be in office until he is 84, does not serve the modern and demanding legislative needs in Namibia in the new normal.
The current speaker does not have a constituency within the majority Swapo Party. He was not elected by his peers to be on the list for a seat in Parliament. Rather, his ‘friend’ carried him back to the Speaker’s chair regardless of the lack of his party’s support for him to be there.
The law allows a president to choose individuals for seats that have not made it through the party selection list process. This is so that presidents can still have the services of specifically skilled people to be in government in various capacities. Perhaps those who crafted this law did not foresee aging friends limping along, escorting each other through their last days in power. Where is the consideration for the needs of the people in such decisions to hang on?
The issue is public service. Anyone in such a position must be able to serve the public first. It is not easy to walk away from the golden ring of power and authority. The perks, benefits and salary are intoxicating particularly when the spectre of a low pension buttressed only by fishing company revenues, looms.
Society tends to side-line its past leaders in spite of decades of dedicated service. It can be painful to be ‘on the outside’ when before, people deferred to your opinion. And yet, retirement is inevitable and it is an honourable way to serve the people.
The Speaker must escort the people of Namibia, not his friend.