By Asser Ntinda
Ever wondered why this year’s elections and the entry into the race by Hidipo Hamutenya are on
everybody’s lips not only in Namibia, but also elsewhere in the world? Let us look at the politics of defection
and who really Hidipo is and how he has found himself where he is today. Much has been said about the
upcoming National Assembly and Presidential elections. People will not stop talking about those elections,
nor will they stop speculating about and predicting the outcome until such elections are over.
At the center of such loose talks is Hidipo himself, as a person and as a politician, however myopic he is.
This is one crucial feature SWAPO Party’s detractors often fail to see in Hamutenya. And it prompts them
to make weird predictions. Once the elections are over, however, we will then start assessing those loose
“predictions and speculations” about Hidipo’s RDP winning the elections – and name and shame those who
have wished SWAPO Party bad luck in those elections.
Reading newspapers and assessing speculations and predictions being made by journalists, academics
and political scientists these days makes one wonder why so much is said about the upcoming elections. At
times, it also makes one to think that this is the first election Namibians are holding under their own
supervision and control. This is the third election Namibians have organized and conducted successfully.
The first one was in 1994, then 1999 and 2004. The 1989 election was organized and supervised by the
United Nations, as per Resolution 435.
The 1994 and 2004 elections were fairly fine, largely because there were no splinter groups from SWAPO
Party. It was all about SWAPO Party against existing former puppet parties. It was an easy campaign. All
that one needed to do was to remind them that they were puppets. No journalist or academic ever dared to
predict that SWAPO Party would lose to former puppet parties. It was, indeed, awkward and dangerously
foolhardy to make such predictions at that time.
But deep in their hearts, some journalists, academics and political scientists – always prone to make
offside predictions – were not really comfortable with SWAPO Party’s growing popularity. Having lost
faith and confidence in former apartheid South Africa’s created opposition parties — which were mainly
formed to oppose SWAPO on behalf of the former South African apartheid regime – such journalists,
academics and political scientists thought, dreamed and believed that the real opposition party would come
from within SWAPO Party itself.
Not only that. They also thought and believed that for any splinter group to emerge as a credible party, it
must be headed by an “Ovambo” to reduce and break SWAPO Party’s support in the four northern
regions, which they regard as SWAPO Party’s strongholds. Since then, every little spark that pointed to a
possible division within SWAPO Party was closely followed and magnified to create an impression that the
ruling Party was about to break up.
To extend and realize such dreams, some SWAPO Party leaders were demonized and presented as
“radicals with socialist’s leanings,” while others were praised and presented as “moderates with free-market
oriented leanings” who will “not chase away” investors. There was no truth in such classification though,
and this, at one point, so annoyed and offended the late Nathaniel Maxuilili that he had to tell the National
Assembly that he did “not want to be praised by puppets and fake academics who dined and wined with the
apartheid colonial masters while Namibians were fighting and dying for freedom.”
The 1999 elections were much talked about because for the first time since independence, there was a
splinter group led by Ben Ulenga of the Congress of Democrats, CoD, who jumped ship because of the
Third Term, the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, and what he called the “autocratic
and aging SWAPO leadership.” Ulenga had both what SWAPO Party’s detractors had yearned for – he
was an “Ovambo” and a SWAPO leader with a “strong trade union background.” Hidipo Hamutenya,
then Minister of Trade and Industry, was linked to Ulenga’s breakaway faction. He denied it strenuously,
saying that “it is cold outside” SWAPO Party.
That was then. In 2007, he followed in Ulenga’s footsteps. He resigned from SWAPO Party. Suddenly, it
was no longer “cold outside” SWAPO Party. A few days after his resignation, Hidipo “joined” the Rally for
Democracy and Progress, RDP. The reason for such a foolhardy step was that “SWAPO has lost its vision
and focus and a sense of purpose…” Unlike Ulenga, however, Hidipo had more tags and political gadgets
around his neck that Ulenga did not have. He was more than just an “Ovambo” and a “senior leader” in the
In the classification of “radicals” and “moderates” leaders in SWAPO Party, Hidipo – suspiciously cunning,
dangerously treacherous, highly duplicitous and egoistically scurry that he is – was both. Within the
leadership, he projected an image of a “hardliner and radical leader” with all socialist smiles on his lips. No
wonder he was tasked to set up the SWAPO Party School. He never did that. Outside SWAPO Party
structures, however, he falsely presented himself as a “pragmatic and moderate” leader in SWAPO Party,
pushing through Export Processing Zones, EPZs, and endearing the business community by advocating
free market oriented policies. In both cases, he concealed his real intentions.
His presidential ambitions were largely propelled by both his radical and moderate leanings. By combining
the two, he craved for a huge following within Party structures through “popular socialist leanings.” By
projecting himself to the business community, largely white, as a “moderate” leader in favour of “free
market policies,” he wanted to inspire a huge following with financial capital to help fund his political
ambitions. The two paths were geometrically calculated to cross at his presidential ambition. Not even the
most skilled magician would dare combine the two without falling down.
Until the 2004 SWAPO Party extra-ordinary congress, few people ever suspected that Hidipo had a
terrible sense of timing. When he removed all the doubts, everybody grinned in disbelief. It is, of course, a
poor politician who does not take risks. It is even a poorer politician who does not weigh his options before
taking on risky projects head-on, the ones Richard Bramson calls “stupid risks.”
In short, the reason why this year’s elections are being noisily talked about and loose predictions hurled
around is because Hidipo has falsely created an image of a “formidable leader” around himself through
fake appearances, exaggerated popularity and concealed intentions. But those who had urged him on in his
silly dance of attrition were SWAPO Party’s detractors, not SWAPO Party supporters. He realized that too
late. In Ulenga’s case, it was Gwen Lister, Editor of The Namibian, who did most of the talking, using the
BBC, (British Broadcasting Corporation) as a plat form to campaign for Ulenga’s CoD. She was, in actual
fact, Ulenga’s spin doctor. In Hidipo’s case, he picked a liability. It was, and still is, Phil Ya Nangoloh of the
National Society for Human Rights, NSHR, who did and is still doing the campaign for him, using the Voice
of America, VOA, as his platform to popularize him.
Thee days after the launch of RDP, the VOA picked up the story, using its Washington-based correspondent,
James Butty. Butty’s main, if not only, source of information was Ya Nangoloh. According to journalists’
and police’s estimates, the RDP launch was attended by about 1000 people, mainly children. Ya Nangoloh,
however, put it at about 7,000 people, adding: “that this is unheard of in the Namibian history that a leader
who is viewed as opposing the veteran SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma can draw such a huge crowd of
Six days later, the VOA’s Johannesburg-based correspondent, Scott Bobb, expanded the story and described
the launch as “unsettling.” He added that “Namibia’s political landscape has been hit by seismic
changes.” Bobb’s main sources of information were Hidipo himself and Professor Bill Lindeke, who both
predicted “a major rapture at least within the top leadership of SWAPO.” Hidipo himself told the VOA that
“of late the country has been experiencing the problem of autocracy and flouting of democratic procedures
and principles. So we want to rekindle the process of democratic transformation of our society.” Good stuff
for imperialists. But this is Namibia.
By that time, Hidipo had never tested his political project in an election. After the Eenhana and Omuthiya
quandary, I am sure that neither Hidipo nor Lindeke would want to be reminded about what they said
then. Their predictions were horribly wrong and way off the mark. On November 17 this year, RDP will be
exactly two years old. As it celebrates its second birthday, the elections will only be eight days away.
In other words, RDP will only be eight days away from its political grave. And, despite the huge media
coverage he has received so far, Hidipo himself will just be another Andreas Shipanga, hopelessly outlived
by his presidential ambitions and unrestrained political opportunism, and dropped by his longtime comrades
like a sponge squeezed dry. Politics, he shall have learned then, is for long distance runners, not
sprinters. In the business of political risk-taking, the higher a person carelessly and clumsily climbs, the
harder the fall. After November, none among those who have fallen for Hidipo’s latest political jamboree
will be smelling of roses. It will be a beggar’s farewell party. We will say ‘bon voyage!’ We have told you so.