By Helmut Kangulohi Angula
Internal party democracy in the Swapo Party
With reference to the concept of internal or intra-party democracy, the Swapo Party has adopted the term “inner-party democracy”, which is understood to encompass the different iterations of internal party democracy. For the Swapo Party, internal or inner-party democracy encompasses processes and procedures which regulate the following:
-Who or which party structure is entitled to take specific decisions or carry out specific functions;
-Who or which structure in the party decides which party members are entitled to compete or to be nominated to run for leadership positions and to get accommodated on party lists for parliament;
-How different party structures carryout their respective functions;
-When do different democratic processes within party structures take place; and
– What recourse and remedies are available to members who may be aggrieved by the actions of party structures or other members of the party?
At the core of inner-party democracy, or any other democratic process for that matter, is the need to create a sense of predictability and certainty. It is a central characteristic of democratic practice that surprises are not sprung upon participants in such a process. Therefore, in a democratic dispensation, at national or institutional level, the principle is that what is to happen and what is to be done should be known well in advance, so that those who wish to participate can prepare. In essence, therefore, inner-party democracy should coexist along, or with, the principles of fair dealing.
The Swapo Party Political Programme underscores the importance of cultivating a sense of oneness among the Namibian people. This extends to oneness within the Swapo Party and it is best served by strong traditions and practices of internal democratic norms. According to the political programme, as the leading political force in the country, Swapo Party is able to unite the whole country around a common consensus of values, goals and objectives. This applies to, and should serve as, a guiding light in promoting inner-party democracy.
In the Swapo Party, processes and procedures that regulate, or according to which inner-party democracy is advanced or is promoted, are governed by the constitution of the party, the code of conduct, congress resolutions and the rules and procedures governing the party’s electoral processes. These documents constitute a binding contract between the party and its members, and between members and other members, laying out reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties. After all, democracy should be promoted and nurtured, because the alternative is anarchy. Article IV (C) (2) (f) of the Swapo Party Constitution states that a member of the Swapo Party has the obligation “to contribute to the strengthening of the organic unity of the party and the political consciousness of its rank and file”. The constitution also obliges members “to be of exemplary conduct and act in a spirit of comradeship towards other members”.
Over the years, the measures to promote inner-party democracy in Swapo Party have evolved and expanded. For example, the code of conduct was only adopted in 2013, as directed by the 4th Congress of the Swapo Party. The disciplinary committee was established in the same year, with a mandate to enforce the SWAPO Party Code of Conduct, including the enforcement of discipline within the party. The code of conduct further sets the parameters of acceptable conduct for party members towards each other and general conduct, where such conduct would impugn the good name of the party. Another policy document that has an effect on the promotion of inner-party democracy is the ‘Swapo Party Rules and Procedures for Election of Party Office Bearers and Party Representatives at Legislatives and Government Levels’. In terms of democratic participation within the party, the Swapo Party Constitution provides for the powers and roles of the different structures of the party, from section to the congress. Despite the efforts made and mechanisms put in place to foster inner-party democracy, there are flare-ups of friction that mar the spirit of comradeship and unity amongst party members.
Challenges to inner-party democracy in the Swapo Party
Throughout its history, Swapo Party has faced and overcome many challenges, to emerge stronger. Some of them had a bearing on inner-party democracy. Several factors may conspire to undermine inner-party democracy. For example, experience has shown that perceived non-compliance with the party constitution and disagreements amongst party members, which overflow into the public domain, have the effect of damaging party unity and inner-party democracy. This becomes particularly pronounced when such disagreements degenerate into personal attacks, characterised by vicious name-calling via social media platforms, as well as in the electronic and print media.
The ugly phenomenon has involved members at different levels of the party including those in (senior) leadership positions, as well as leaders of affiliate organisations and party wings. These occurrences give rise to questions of efficacy, regarding the manner in which measures to promote inner-party are achieving the stated and desired objectives. Thus, the following questions are pertinent. Are the observed shortcomings a function of ineffective leadership and poor coordination? Do they point to possible waning/diminishing levels of ideological clarity within the party? Asking and answering these hard questions is essential and vital for the party to self-correct. Rather than being construed as finger-pointing, they should be seen through the prism of an exercise in critical self-appraisal. The rationale buttressing the foregoing is that in order to find appropriate, durable and effective solutions and remedies, the Swapo Party’s first step must be an acknowledgement that the challenges do exist and that they are real. They are not imagined or mere perceptions.
Not acknowledging and dealing with them will be tantamount to dereliction of duty by the party membership and leadership, in favour of burying their heads in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich. In this context, it is inevitable and imperative that a process of analysis should be undertaken/commissioned, with a view to help to build a shared sense of understanding and consensus-based action, for stronger inner-party democracy and unity.
The Swapo Party was founded on the principles of democracy, solidarity, freedom, social justice and progress. With that in mind, one cannot help but ask:
– (How) can the public war of words amongst party members promote a sense of common purpose and inner-party democracy?
– Does such conduct not undermine the strategies of the party to strengthen itself through the mechanisms of inner-party democracy?
– Does such conduct not undermine the party’s capacity to mobilise the broad masses of Namibian people, knowing that the party is only as strong as the membership it is able to attract and retain?
One of the major problems that the Swapo Party faces today is the simmering tensions that are discernible in the discourse amongst party members. It is no secret that the contestation for positions, especially in lieu of the preparations for the upcoming congress, has resulted in an unhealthy situation. In fact, some have gone as far as to argue that there is currently a bitter battle for the soul of Swapo Party. Under normal circumstances, party matters should be discussed and addressed through the appropriate party platforms/ structures, as prescribed by the party constitution.
The constitution also gives members the right to express themselves freely on party-related matters without fear of recrimination. Whenever and wherever warranted, party members have the freedom to direct criticisms at the party or leaders of the party and air their grievances. This is the surest way to strengthen the party. It would be self-defeating to dismiss the concerns of party members, without validating their veracity, or to ignore them because of preconceived notions or hostility. That is a dangerous proposition, equivalent to building the future of the party on loose, shifting sand. We must build on the rock of unity, mutual respect and mutual trust. In this manner, we will accord true meaning to the content of our political programme, which recognises that one of the main tasks before Swapo Party is to unite the people of Namibia into a vibrant and peace-loving nation, with the ultimate aim of improving the living standards and quality of life for the vast majority of the people of Namibia. This applies to the party itself, too.
Comrade(s) vs comrade(s)
Misunderstanding, mistrust and fear among party members breed dissent. Development programmes that the Swapo Party government initiates and implements are either contained in our election manifesto(s), or are cleared at the highest levels of the party (Harambee) beforehand. All party members, especially those who hold or held leadership positions, are aware of this. Without any doubt, it is the duty of all our members to support such initiatives, not to join the ranks of the opposition in denouncing them. By speaking with one voice, and supporting our government to achieve its goals, party cohesiveness and coordination will be advanced.
In the final analysis, the Swapo Party members must remain strategic and deny opposition parties any chance of gaining political mileage out of our own missteps. Such is the power of inner-party democracy.
I do not suggest that party members should not publicly express divergent opinions on issues. They should avoid personalising the issues. The preferable and fruitful course of action would always be to separate people from problems, so that problems are dealt with in a holistic manner; they should not to fall in the pitfalls of ‘group think’. Confrontations on public platforms, in disregard of the party constitution and code of conduct, will do nothing else but create chaos and indiscipline. Inner-party democracy demands loyalty to the party, not divided loyalty. Members who are loyal will participate in party matters with genuine sincerity, not with a forked tongue.
Consequences and effects of comrades versus comrades politics
Verbal confrontations amongst comrades, especially when staged on public platforms, have a negative impact on party unity and stability. The practice of comrades taking one another to court, without exhausting internal remedies provided under the party’s rules and procedures, should be discouraged. It is counterproductive and counterintuitive for Swapo Party members to wash our proverbial dirty linen in public. That only gives our detractors opportunities to attack us and our party. We cannot, through our own actions and utterances, become catalysts for those who attack our party, our leaders and our members, to succeed in undermining the organic unity and cohesiveness of the Swapo Party. In some countries, including our neighbours, intra-party squabbles have weakened the electoral performance of such parties and forced the hitherto dominant parties to lose a significant share of votes, which forced them to enter into cohabitation or other forms of political marriages of convenience, in order to govern. Those situations could have started just like it is happening currently here in Namibia. There are those who want such political scenarios replicated in Namibia. Vigilance demands that we recognise the reality that any public display of disunity amongst party members is an invitation to our detractors to attempt to cause confusion within the Swapo Party. We must remain vigilant and steadfast. Our resolve must remain solid, even in the face of those few party members who may leave the party. Membership of the Swapo is voluntary. It is a function of freedom of association, as enshrined in the Namibian Constitution.
We can learn many lessons and draw instructive conclusions from the situations we have observed in recent years, including those depicted in the preceding paragraphs. The immediate task before the party leadership is to continue fostering an atmosphere that enhances compliance with our fundamental principles, as prescribed by the Swapo Party Constitution. Inner-party democracy should be anchored on loyalty to the Swapo Party, its principles and its ideology. These are the cornerstones of the foundation of our unity, strength and cohesion. It is for this reason that like unity, inner-party democracy should not only be talked about, it must be reflected through the conduct and actions of the entire membership, at all levels.
Different generations have played and continue to play vital roles in the consolidation and fortification of the Swapo Party. For current and future generations, our shared frame of reference is our heroes and heroines, whose blood waters our freedom. It has always been a cardinal belief in Swapo that the harmonious and comradely relationship between all members, and the rejuvenation of the party, is the surest guarantee of the long-term survival of the Swapo Party. Similarly, in order to foster harmonious relations, interactions amongst all party members should be characterised by maturity, common courtesy, mutual respect and comradeship, consistent with and in the spirit of the values prescribed by the Swapo Party Constitution and the Swapo Party Code of Conduct.
Going forward, specific steps must be taken, and robust mechanisms put in place, in order to strengthen inner-party democracy. This must start with reaping the low-hanging fruits:
(1) The SWAPO Party School must conduct workshops for party leaders at all levels on inner party democracy;
(2) Leaders should, in turn, hold workshops for their members (rank and file) on the subject;
(3) To the extent possible, the party constitution, code of conduct and the document on elections must the translated into vernaculars, for the rank and file to read for themselves; and
(4) The parliamentary party caucus should sensitise all party MPs on inner-party democracy.
*Helmut Angula is the country’s second
finance minister, a founding member of
the National Assembly and the current
Swapo Secretary for information and Mobilisation.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015