It is easy to sit on the sidelines and speak loudly about what is wrong. It costs nothing to loudly and rudely challenge those with power and responsibility when you have neither. With the success of the opposing parties and some independent candidates in certain areas, 2021 means the time for populist promises and brazen talking is over. To those enjoyed success at the polls: It is you in the hot seat now. Others will take your former chair from the sidelines and snipe, gripe and complain about you. Let us hope you have a thick skin. Your vociferous talk must now turn to action.
The LPM made history by winning seven out of the eight seats in the Hardap Regional Council. They also won big in the local authorities in the south. Now, they must wade through the mud of bureaucracy, regulations and procedures to live up to the inflated expectations of their constituents.
More seriously, the victory at the polls of regional/local personalities and ethnic parties, must not signal a threat to Namibia as a unitary state.
A significant portion of those who lined up to vote for the candidates of their choice are expecting the preferential promotion of their region and ethnic group. They are anxiously awaiting the avalanche of jobs and investment that has been the tacit promise from their leaders. Of course, there will be no such avalanche.
There will be no tangible and consistent change in the regions where any political party holds sway for many months, if not years to come. Namibia has no resources for the capital expenditures needed to jumpstart the economy in any region. In addition, bureaucracies, by nature are resistant to change. They are not equipped for speed. The pencil pushers and bean counters of the relevant ministries administering Namibia are wedded to rules and regulations. Local expectations and political demands aren’t their motivating factor.
A reality check is needed: The national government is still controlled by the majority party. Laws must be tabled in the Parliament, where the tiny minority parties have a loud voice, but no votes to change anything. This includes national budget priorities.
The time for small party politicians to shout, lambast and hurl insults at the majority national party is over. The time for brinksmanship, negotiations, coalition building, compromise and listening is here. The public, however, will not understand this reality. They were promised the world; now they want it.
It is far easier to be against Swapo than put a viable plan together and implement new policies. It will be harder to put before the people a well-designed and researched plan of action and meet an announced timeline for service delivery.
The new office holders will face a long-standing political reality. They have debts to be paid to businesses and individuals who helped them win. It is entirely likely that the lead supporters of the various locally victorious parties (and their families and close friends), will be first in line for any benefits, jobs, programs and projects that come into that party’s home base. It is a strong leader indeed who will advocate for the transparent, objective hiring the best person for the job, while political supporters are standing around with their hands out looking for payback.
Another concern that bears watching is that the results of the election also give rise to comments that Namibia is moving faster into tribal and ethnic camps. For example, Swapo was never the strongest political voice in the South but had held some ground for many years. A lot of coalition building was been done during the struggle and since independence. Representatives from the South were included in appointed positions to try to bind that constituency to Swapo. Those inroads did not pay off in the recent local elections.
One interpretation of the elections results could indicate that the perception of underdevelopment of the South compared to investments in other regions, have come back to haunt the ruling party. The lightning rod popularity of Bernadus Swartbooi and Swapo’s inability to manage him within their ranks, may prove to be a larger failure than originally suspected.
Could the next step be a southern demand for a federal state system that allows them to be the primary beneficiaries of natural resources that are found in the South? Could the Namibian experiment of “One Namibia, One Nation, be under threat? Swapo has much to consider.
The newly elected leaders across the regions also have much to consider and deliver. The clock is ticking. Their constituents want action now.