Political ambition and the danger of crashing at high speed

By Lt Gen (rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

Continuation from last week...

AS a build-up of frustrations some aspiring leaders claim there are veteran political leaders who are old and have overstayed their welcome, but that is yet another political strategy by novice political leaders to try to confuse the public.

Namibia is not an island, but part of a global village where politicians do not necessarily retire by age. Politicians retire from active politics when voted out of power through democratic processes. Remarkably, looking into our democracy set-up from the beginning and as it stands now, there are very few politicians still active who were there at independence.

I want to give a classic example of the Swapo Party – the most targeted party from within. The discourse will centre more on the National Assembly (NA), the most targeted house of parliament, as opposed to the National Council. The NA is the number one target because it is the body from where cabinet ministers and a good number of deputy ministers are appointed. In other words, once you are a member of the NA, you stand a chance to be appointed as minister or deputy minister.   

Now, take a quick glance and tell the public how many members of the NA are still there who were there at independence. During the last elections in 2014, Swapo won 77 seats plus eight members appointed by the President. That brings the total number to 85 Swapo members currently serving in the NA.

Out of 85 Swapo MPs in the NA, only four were in the first NA and none of them served as cabinet minister. I shall leave that to you to find out who they are and also, find out what happened to the majority of Swapo members who were there at the beginning and are no longer there.

You may, if you like, add the current President to the list as the only member who is still serving in government and who served as a prime minister in the first cabinet. Your findings will enable you to make your own informed conclusion.

The question is, who are those members and how many have overstayed in government? Of course, there are a few who have been there since independence, but they are qualified by their political credentials and not wheelbarrowed in. Obviously, having qualified by their political credentials, it does not warrant a political outcry as they are there on their own political rights.

Furthermore, out of 85 Swapo members in the NA, 81 came in during subsequent parliamentary elections held every five years since Independence. Mind you, the majority of those MPs are youngsters, as young as those crying out there. By comparison, youngsters are well represented as Swapo members in the NA – more than veteran politicians. Take another close look and find out how many youngsters are cabinet ministers and deputy ministers today.

One can only conclude that the political outcry is not because the youth are less represented. It is rather that those youngsters are dying to occupy the highest political positions, instead of waiting for their appropriate opportune moment.

It is unfortunate that in the process some youth have exiled themselves from party activities, as they preferred to be critics of their party. I am fully aware it is their democratic right to be critics, but that right was brought about by the veteran politicians they are now fighting.

As mentioned, Namibia is part of a global village, so its people must be global villagers. That suggests us to do what other people are doing on this globe, or be strangers in the global village.

Aspiring leaders must understand that based on historical facts, and as earlier alluded to, politicians do not retire by age, as age is irrelevant. Politicians retire when voted out, or of own accord.

Of course, in some circumstances heads of state and government do retire after they have served their terms. But if they wish, they can always be at the background of their political parties rendering support.

Age in politics is irrelevant. Here are a few examples to illustrate how politics work. The current Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad made a political comeback last year at the age of 93.He is still very current and able to eloquently articulate issues of the 21st century. Presidents Donald Trump of the United States of America, Peter Mutharika of Malawi, Muhammedu Buhari of Nigeria, Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and of course Hage Geingob are all above 70 years. Presidents Joao Lourenco of Angola, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Edgar Lungu of Zambia, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Ministers Theresa May of Britain, Abe Shinzo of Japan, are all advancing to 70 years. The list is long.

Broadly speaking, the underlining factor here is there are few young heads of state and government who are, for example, between the age of 30 and 50. By average, the majority of serving heads of state and government are between 60 and 70 years old. Those age brackets are not by default, it has been a global trend for decades.

What is happening in Namibia is part of a global trend and is not unique to Namibian politics. While there is no age limit in politics, it is nevertheless important to couple age with quality leadership, as age in itself is no licence or qualification to lead a nation. Age is only a qualification to lead when coupled with quality leadership.

Going back to the drawing board and the core inherent components of the discourse, quality leadership must have deep roots in national culture, values, traditions, norms, credentials and ethics to survive the political turbulence of an ever-changing environment.

Adhering to those national principles will help aspiring leaders earn respect and support from political veterans and the population at large. Political base, respect and support are the enabling vehicles to propel a political leadership to greater heights.

It is obvious that there are some ambitious youth in this country who are so disrespectful and yet want to get at the political summit with high speed – they wanted to be at the political summit a long time ago. With or without ambition, it is always important to select a normal speed that you know you will survive in the event of a political crash.

Astronomic speed is measured against the speed of sound, otherwise known as mach. Subsonic speeds are less than 1.0 mach. Transonic is equal to 0.1; supersonic is more than 1.0 and hypersonic more than 5.0. Taking a closer look, one may still have control at subsonic speed. However, at maximum hypersonic speed you will leave that to God to help whenever and if He can.    

It is ideal that aspiring leaders make their own empirical analysis and make well-calculated decisions before they select the speed at which they want to move to ensure the realisation of their vision.

However, all speeds are associated with advantages and disadvantages. At the lower speeds, it takes you longer to arrive at your destination, but the advantage is that you are almost assured of arriving safely.

On the other hand, high speed will make you arrive at your intended destination faster, but the likelihood of crashing is extremely high, as is the chance you may be crushed beyond political repair.

The bottom line is that those who are aspiring to become leaders should not think they have lost much time. Thinking that way will make them to want to move with speed, with the intention of compensating for lost time. The danger of compensating for what you think was time lost with speed will result in political catastrophe.

To tie up the loose ends on this matter: time management and patience are of the essence. It took time and patience before comrades Pohamba and Geingob became Swapo Party presidents. It took decades before they became His Excellencies. Imagine how long they waited before they became what they are today.

It is also a historic fact that Dr Geingob has travelled both rough and smooth roads. At independence, he was the first prime minister, left the government for some years and made a political comeback as backbencher in the NA before he was appointed as a minister, then prime minister and eventually elected President. It was patience that paid these political giants perennial and political dividends.    

Why do our youngsters not want to give political veterans ample time to exit with dignity? Wait until it is your opportune moment. There is a need to create a lasting politically conducive environment for the generations to come. Bear in mind the importance of a political bond between retired veteran politicians and future political leaders.

I am very optimistic that, should we maintain our rich culture and values we are assured of greater political heights, but before I conclude I want to bring in one critical aspect. In real life, organisations intentionally or unintentionally neglect the succession strategy. Succession strategy is a useful instrument that helps people within a given structure to understand who will be doing what and when.

A well-thought through succession strategy helps circumvent unnecessary political squabbles and struggles for power. It is a robust tool that helps smooth the political transition when it is time to change. This is a very important and indispensable area on which leaders at all levels must spend their sleepless nights, dream lucidly and try to find a durable political solution.

In the final analysis there are politicians who have failed in their attempts, regardless of the speed they opted to move at. That is normal, as there are always elements of success and failure in life. But those who failed at subsonic speed stand a high chance to recover, compared to those who crashed at hypersonic speed.

As aspiring leaders, avoid getting politically crushed beyond political repair. Take the speed at which you are likely to survive in the event of political ordeal. Against this backdrop, it is my humble advice that aspiring leaders must line up patiently for their turn.

Mark my words, the best way to lead effectively is to opt for a speed at which you are assured that – even if politically crushed – you will still survive the political crash, get repaired and continue with your envisioned political journey.     

Part 4 of 4

* Lt Gen (rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former chief of the Defence Force, a holder of Master’s degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. These are his own views.