Friday, November 14, 2008

Namibia's Zimbabwe Policy: The Dark Side Of Solidarity


SINCE the mid-1990s, Namibia emerged as one of the closest allies of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF.
The Nujoma government never missed an opportunity to document its unconditional loyalty to Mugabe.
Despite his official retirement from government politics in 2005, the Founding Father of the Republic (as Swapo President in office until November 2007) remained actively involved in policy matters and influential in terms of Namibia's policy to Zimbabwe.
On July 1 2006 Nujoma used a political rally in Outapi in the party's northern stronghold area to reiterate his unconditional support for Mugabe: "If the English imperialists make a mistake today to occupy Zimbabwe, I will instruct Swapo to go fight for the Zimbabweans," he told his audience, adding, "you touch Zimbabwe, you touch Swapo".
Nujoma's close ties to the Mugabe regime have effectively undermined any attempt to mark out a more obviously critical or at least more distant position.
When in mid-2006 Isak Katali, Deputy Minister of Lands and Resettlement, was quoted by the Zimbabwean media as praising Zimbabwe's fast track land reform as suitable for Namibia, this was officially downplayed back home as being quoted out of context.
But Nujoma came publicly to Katali's rescue.
In the same speech quoted above he declared that, "if the people of Zimbabwe did this, we can do it in the same manner".
But Zimbabweans preferred another option and indicated that they would actually like to do it differently.
They voted against all odds for the opposition MDC, and the Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority.
The people also chose the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as next head of state and gave him more votes than incumbent Mugabe.
Only the latter was not willing to vacate his seat.
Instead, he resorted to even more state terror in a desperate effort to coerce people into what they did not want.
Since mid-2008 it is obvious that Zimbabwe is governed by an illegitimate regime.
Following the example set in Kenya earlier on, the new exit option for those unwilling to give up power is not to accept the defeat and to negotiate themselves back into a government of national unity.
Sadly enough, several SADC states were willing to play along and give support to a despot and his securocrats, whose time had actually run out.
Namibia is among those countries which, despite own official commitment to a democratic political system, have been party to the ongoing bailout.
COMRADELY RELATIONS President Mugabe's to Namibia on February 27-28 2007 was declared to be a symbol of the enduring friendship between the two countries, notwithstanding public protest by some local human rights activists.
Their protest over the massive outbreak of renewed repression of the political opposition from March 11 2007 onwards resulted in the protesters being banned from presenting a petition to the Zimbabwean High Commission in clear violation of constitutionally enshrined rights.
An opposition party motion in the National Assembly to discuss the Zimbabwean situation was dismissed by the Swapo majority and the Foreign Minister declared such a debate would amount to interference in the internal affairs of another country.
In August 2007 the prominent government critic John Makumbe, a scholar from the University of Zimbabwe, was to give a lecture at the University of Namibia (which had been planned and announced publicly long before).
But the office of the Vice-Chancellor cancelled the event at short notice, presumably on the instruction of the former Head of State, who is the University's Chancellor.
As a result, the lecture was moved to a different venue and drew a large audience.
The aborting of academic freedom in the wake of this censorship remained largely a non-issue.
During 2008 Namibia's government policy was an increasingly passive but nonetheless reliable support factor for the Mugabe regime and its efforts to remain in power.
None of the violations of human rights and other minimum standards of governance, including the rigged elections and the refusal to share power in a meaningful way were commented upon in any uncompromisingly critical government statements.
Instead, the commander of Namibia's army, General Martin Shali, visited despite the problematic situation in mid-2008 Zimbabwe for earlier scheduled official talks with the military.
When this was questioned, the official response justified this as a routine exchange, which had nothing to do with the current political situation.
CONTINUED SOLIDARITY President Pohamba summarised Namibia's current official Zimbabwe policy in his response to a journalist in mid-2008.
In his view, Namibia as a SADC member, would adhere to the official SADC policy.
In the absence of such a policy, Namibia's passivity translates into continued support for the status quo while refraining officially from the earlier demonstrative declarations of support to the Mugabe policy.
Such declamatory statements of solidarity are left to individual political office bearers representing influential views within Swapo.
For the party and its government, Zanu-PF remains the only acceptable political partner.
High-ranking members of Swapo eagerly voice unconditional support to the Zanu-PF government.
At a Swapo rally in late August 2008 in Windhoek the Deputy Minister of Labour, Petrus Ilonga claimed that SADC countries were misled by Tsvangirai and would need to apologise to Mugabe and Mbeki.
At the same event, the Minister of Lands and Resettlement, Jerry Ekandjo, claimed that Mugabe was freely and fairly re-elected.
Both political office bearers are prominent representatives of the Nujoma-inspired camp, which exerts strong influence within Swapo's political establishment.
The hard-liners include the leadership in the Youth League, the Elders Council, the Women's League and the National Union of Namibian Workers.
Meanwhile the government continues to abstain from any public criticism of Mugabe's policy.
While attending the United Nations General Assembly in late September 2008, President Pohamba reportedly appealed for lifting of all sanctions and urged the international community to provide financial and humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe to ensure the successful implementation of the power-sharing agreement.
Since then, there have been no critical interventions by Namibia with regard to the delay of the implementation of the agreement and the impasse over the distribution of portfolios between the parties.
President Pohamba was among the five SADC Heads of State attending the extraordinary meeting in Johannesburg on 9 November 2008, which failed to overcome the stalemate by at least indirectly strengthening the Zanu-PF claim to maintain a large control over the state's security organs.
There were no indications that the Namibian President has used his influence to advocate a more conciliatory political option seeking to meet the expectations of Tsvangirai's MDC.
Neither has Namibia had any official contacts with Tsvangirai.
EVER ONWARD TO SHAME Namibian parties prepare for the next parliamentary and presidential elections towards the end of 2009.
With the RDP in existence, the unchallenged hegemony of Swapo might be seriously contested for the first time.
This new constellation absorbs all energy of current policymakers and party officials in Swapo to regain its two-thirds majority in the next elections.
Zimbabwe is in this perspective largely a domestic affair, and not a foreign policy issue.
The disappointing result of the SADC meeting in Johannesburg on November 9 2008 testifies once again to the fact that so far former liberation movements in Southern Africa, who have obtained political power in their sovereign states and are in control of the government, remain foremost loyal to each other and find it difficult to accept any political alternatives beyond the common bonds.
While most media in Namibia provide an arena for a much more critical public discourse also on Zimbabwe, Namibian government politics will not adjust.
Hidipo Hamutenya, the former Foreign Minister who now heads the opposition party RDP, has recently articulated more critical views on the violation of democratic principles and human rights under the Mugabe government.
This does not enhance the chances that such a view might gain further ground and ultimate acceptance within Swapo or the government.
The opposite might well be the case: Swapo has announced in October 2008 the establishment of a new party think-tank.
According to the party's Secretary General, the politically reliable party members appointed to serve in this new institution are among others tasked to offer advice on Namibia's foreign policy in the spirit of anti-imperialist solidarity.
Given the implications of this erstwhile noble term as abused in the more recent context of Southern Africa and in particular Zimbabwe, this does not bode well for democracy and human rights.
Even though the anti-imperialist struggle for the Independence of Namibia did once claim that the fight was not least for democracy and human rights as alternatives to oppression and illegitimate rule against the will of the majority of the people.
The current translation of the erstwhile slogan "Ever onward to victory" into the ongoing solidarity with the regime in Zimbabwe seems in this light to become increasingly a reason for shame.
* Henning Melber is the Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjoeld Foundation in Uppsala/Sweden.
He joined Swapo in 1974.

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