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Namibia

Hage Geingob: Namibian president who played a modernising role

todayFebruary 5, 2024 2

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By Henning Melber, University of Pretoria

Hage Gottfried Geingob served as the third president of Namibia from 2015 until his death on February 4 2024. He was Namibia’s first prime minister from 1990 to 2002, and served as prime minister again from 2012 to 2015.

Geingob was born on 3 August 1941. He joined the ranks of the national liberation movement South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo during its formation in 1960.

As the official statement declared:

The Namibian nation has lost a distinguished servant of the people, a
liberation struggle icon, the chief architect of our constitution and the pillar of the Namibian house.

As Swapo’s candidate he was elected as Namibia’s president for 2015 to 2020 in November 2014. In 2017 he replaced Hifikepunye Pohamba as party president. As head of state with far reaching executive powers, he remained in control over party and government since then.

Geingob’s political career differed from that of his predecessors Sam Nujoma and Hifikepunye Pohamba. Nujoma, the founding president of Swapo, served as president for three terms (1990-2005). Pohamba (2005-2015) was his designated successor.

Geingob personified a “changing of the guard”. His advanced formal education left an imprint on the way of governance during his terms in office. A younger generation moved gradually into higher party and state ranks. He successfully modified the heroic struggle narrative and turned it into a more inclusive, patriotic history.

Geingob’s career

Geingob had his cultural roots in the Damara community. This made him different from the mainstream Swapo leadership, which is mainly from the Oshiwambo-speaking population.

Geingob’s different background counted in his favour among many Namibians when campaigning for presidency. People welcomed a leader with origins in an ethnically defined minority group as a sign of multi-cultural plurality.

Studying at the US American Temple University in Philadelphia, the Fordham University (BA) and The New School (MA), both in New York, Geingob was representing Swapo since the mid-1960s at the United Nations. In 1975 he became the head of the United Nations Institute for Namibia in Lusaka.

He returned to Namibia in mid-1989, leading the Swapo election campaign in the transition to independence under supervision of the United Nations. He played a decisive role as chairman of the elected Constituent Assembly.

He was appointed Prime Minister in 1990.

In 2002 he fell into disgrace for not supporting Sam Nujoma’s presidency-for-life ambitions. Instead of accepting his demotion to Minister of Regional and Local Government and Housing, he became executive secretary of the Washington-based Global Coalition for Africa.

In 2004 he obtained a PhD at the University of Leeds for a thesis on state formation in Namibia.

He returned the same year to Namibia. Thanks to Pohamba’s reconciliatory approach, he made a remarkable comeback. Minister of Trade and industry from 2008 to 2012, he again became Prime Minister (2012-2015).

His clever politically strategic mind paved the way to be elected as president of the party and state.

Geingob’s presidency

In the Presidential and National Assembly elections of November 2014 Geingob and Swapo scored the best results in the country’s history. While Nujoma was termed the president for stability and Pohamba the president for continuity, Geingob campaigned as president for prosperity.

But this made him the president of unfulfilled promises.

Geingob’s rhetoric disclosed a stronger contrast between what was said and what was done than that of his predecessors. He used more populist rhetoric as his style of governance and leadership, coining the metaphor of the “Namibian House.

As he declared in his inaugural address:

All of us must play our part in the success of this beautiful house we call Namibia. We need to renew it from time to time by undergoing renovations and extensions. … Let us stand together in building this new Namibian house in which no Namibian will feel left out.

But over the years many felt left out. The November 2019 parliamentary and presidential election results were the worst for Swapo since independence. A 2020 Afrobarometer survey confirmed a decline of trust.

In all fairness, Geingob entered office at a difficult time. The country faced fiscal constraints and a period of serious droughts, followed by the traumatic impact of Covid. Consequently, the socio-economic track record under him was at best mixed. On balance, his governance was characterised by a considerable gap between promises and delivery .

Under Geingob a decline of ethics became visible, manifested spectacularly in a corruption scandal in the fishing industry. It became the synonym of state capture. Fighting corruption became Geingob’s mantra. But it had little credibility in the eyes of the wider public.

The moderniser

Geingob was first married (1967-1992) to a strong-minded African-American woman. Fondly called “Auntie Patty”, Priscilla Geingos was laid to rest in Windhoek in 2014.

Before entering office, Geingob (divorced for a second time from Loini Kandume in 2008) married the businesswoman Monica Kalondo in 2015. Strong, loyal, and independent-minded, Monica Geingos became an active and internationally recognised First Lady.

Among Geingob’s most laudable achievements is a gender-aware policy. It elevated Namibia into the league of countries with the highest proportion of women in leading political offices.

He took a stand against gender-based violence and the country progressed in closing the gender inequality gap.

He was also reluctant to give in to homophobia prevalent among parliamentarians. In May 2023 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of equal treatment of two foreign same sex spouses married to Namibian citizens. While the vast majority of members of the National Assembly pushed through a law amendment seeking to invalidate the verdict, Geingob did not sign the bill into law.

Geingob’s legacy

One of the last official statements by Geingob, on 13 January 2024, testified to his strong views. Upset over Germany’s taking side with Israel at the International Court of Justice, he fumed:

The German Government is yet to fully atone for the genocide it committed on Namibian soil. Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations Convention against genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, whilst supporting the equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza.

Geingob was ambitious to enter Namibian history as the president who did more to promote the welfare and advancement of citizens. But he struggled to turn that vision into reality in office. Namibia remains among the most unequal countries in the world.

As he reiterated in his New Year Address 2024:

In order to seize the opportunities that are in line with our ambitions and expectations, we should redouble our efforts to make Namibia a better country. I call on each one of you to work harder for our collective welfare. I call on all of you to hold hands and to ensure that no one feels left out of the Namibian House.

His legacy as a moderniser will live on despite all the contradictions and unfulfilled promises.

Hamba kahle (Rest in peace).The Conversation

Henning Melber, Extraordinary Professor, Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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