Election fever grips SADC
Windhoek- Election fever will this year grip the better part of the Southern African Development Community with revolutionary parties in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana seeking to extend their stay in power and give new hope to the electorate.
The elections in Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia will in the course of this year come in the wake of growing empowerment calls from the electorate, who for the longer period of independence, have been restricted from the means of production (the land and participation in the mainstream economy).
• South Africa
The African National Congress (ANC) will engage in elections expected anytime between April and July to elect the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures under the stewardship of President Jacob Zuma, who is also seeking his second term in office. Although the ANC enjoys support from across the country and is largely credited for ending apartheid, this is perhaps the toughest election that it will have had to engage in since independence in 1994.
For the first time, the ANC needs to convince land-hungry and poverty-stricken masses that it is eager to deal with the issues of inequitable distribution of wealth between the black and white populations in the Rainbow Nation. Although South Africa today contributes 25 percent of Africa’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is the largest economy in the Sub-Saharan region, 60 percent of the black community struggle to make ends meet.
In fact, the ANC’s major challenge will stem from one of their prodigal sons, Julius Malema, and his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Since his ejection from the ANC for being disrespectful to the leadership, Malema has kept his agenda of fighting for economic freedom for the marginalised populace in that country through the EFF political party. Malema’s campaign trail has hinged on the failure by the ANC to redistribute land to the landless majority in a fast and efficient way. He has also been a serious proponent of nationalisation of mines in a bid to spread the benefits from the sector across the economic divide of the nation.
While Malema is thriving and seems to be eager to get any available voter for his party, the ANC has also been forced to find ways of regaining public confidence after President Zuma was put in the spotlight for alleged abuse of public funds to build a mansion at his rural home of Nkandla.
ANC will also need to find ways of wrestling the Western Cape from the dominance of their longtime nemesis, Hellen Zille, and her Democratic Alliance party.
Elections in Namibia are expected in November and the electorate will be choosing new members of parliament and a new president. More importantly, elections in Namibia will see a third leader take over power as President Hifikepunyu Pohamba completes his second and final term this year. The ruling Swapo Party, led by current Prime Minister Hage Geingob as its presidential candidate, will have to deal with challenges from leading opposition party, Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) under the leadership of former Swapo veteran Hidipo Hamutenya.
The ruling party will also have to contend with the challenge from the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance’s (DTA) McHenry Venaani.
While the Swapo Party has made tremendous achievements in fostering reconciliation and unity among its people, this election will also be difficult, as the country currently faces high inequalities ‑ with the gap between the poor and the rich increasing every day.
Unlike in South Africa where ANC faces tough opposition, in Namibia Swapo is going into the elections with the need to consolidate.
The Swapo Party has already scored big following the appointment of a non-Oshiwambo-speaking candidate for the Presidency for the first time since independence. The move has been hailed by analysts in the country as a huge step towards creating unity among the country’s tribes.
However, Swapo is not without its headaches, as the chorus from the party’s youth league for the government to come up with empowerment policies that can change lives of the disadvantaged, is growing louder. The Swapo Party Youth League has been calling for economic empowerment to be made a top priority since statistics show that about 10 percent of the privileged groups still have a firm grip on the economy.
The Batswana go into elections riding on the populism theories of President Ian Khama and a growing concern over strong opposition parties in the country that has been thriving due to a robust diamond industry.
President Khama has gained popularity through implementing programmes that help fight unemployment among the poor. Programmes that are directly funded by the government under Khama include backyard gardening, constituency leagues, and the national graduate internship programme. These have made the ruling party in Botswana, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has ruled the country since independence, popular. Although BDP also faces a daunting unemployment problem, just like the other countries, President Khama has managed to deal with any sort of threatening opposition in his country through making himself a people’s leader through his public street walking. Popularity and lack of strong opposition in that country somewhat give BDP a guaranteed victory in the forthcoming elections.
In the past, political parties including the, Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP), and Botswana People’s Party (BPP) have joined forces to unseat BDP but the coalition lacked common goals and eventually lost its impact. The collapse of that engagement means that President Khama will plunge into the forthcoming elections with the slightest of threat to losing his party’s stronghold on the country. In fact, the major challenge for President Khama is to come up with better policies in agriculture and developing social amenities in most of the country’s towns than the fear of losing the election.
Perhaps the most challenging election for the region is in Mozambique, where the electorate is expected to cast their vote in October this year. Mozambique is at the centre of a storm with government failing to contain rebel leader, Afonso Dhlakama, who left his role in government to lead a troop of insurgents into the bush to fight against the government.
The ruling Frelimo Party, under Armando Guebuza, will have it tough trying to deal with insurgents led by Dhlakama and also organise a credible election that can get the endorsement of the region and also maintain a peaceful environment in the country.
President Guebuza has steered his country to robust economic growth of five percent per annum in the last three years and has seen the tourism sector booming. In fact, most Portuguese immigrants from the former coloniser were finding their way to Mozambique to look for survival. However, it remains to be seen if Frelimo, which has ruled since 1965 when the country won independence from Portugal, will be able to clear the hurdle.