> Lahja Nashuuta
WINDHOEK-THE euphoria around the possibility of former AU Commission chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, becoming South Africa’s next President has spilled into Namibia with feminist groups calling for Namibia’s next president to be a woman.
With Namibian women politicians always the bridesmaids and never the bride, can they succeed in such a daring challenge, considering party politics and government in the country has been predominantly patriarchal?
Namibia is ranked among the top 10 countries seen as advancing women in political decision-making structures. This milestone was achieved mainly due to the introduction of a 50/50 gender representation quota by the country’s ruling Swapo Party. Swapo decided to change its constitution to ensure that all party leadership structures have a zebra style representation system. This was the case for the party’s 2014 National Assembly elections’ party list. As a result, Namibia’s women representation in the National Assembly almost doubled from 24.4 percent to 41.3 percent, which paved the way for more women to serve in the Namibian Parliament.
Namibian women’s hopes were further raised when President Geingob picked Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila as the country’s first female Prime Minister. But with the ruling party headed for its elective congress this year, media reports and political pundits are pointing to a once more male-dominated race, with the female candidates’ names being omitted.
If the party’s constitution is to be strictly followed, the next Swapo vice president, to be elected at this year’s congress, should be a woman. The next vice president will be in pole position to take over from incumbent President Geingob when he leaves office.
Two of Swapo’s most senior female politicians – deputy prime minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, and home affairs minister, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana – are expected to go head-to-head.
They both have distinguished party pedigrees and have served as party deputy secretary general and secretary general, respectively. But speculation is already rife that there are moves to push for the party constitution to be circumvented to pave way for a male vice president.
A prominent female politician told The Southern Times that such a move is a manifestation of the same abuse ordinary Namibian women suffer at the hands of their men. She said the disregard for women in politics equals abuse of women, just that it is not violent.
President Geingob is expected to remain at the helm of the party but whoever becomes party vice president will automatically be the anointed one to replace him.
This will mark Iivula-Ithana’s second attempt at the party vice presidency after she lost to Geingob in 2012.
Although she was considered a strong contender, she was let down by fellow women in the party who opted to rally behind male candidates, including Geingob.
“Our experience of yester-year with Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana shows that women are not united yet in a vote for a woman President.
“It is unfortunate that unlike men, women won’t be able to automatically count on their fellow female to get them across the finishing line,” says Sarry Xoagus-Eises, Country Coordinator Gender Links.
“When she (Iivula-Ithana) got the little she got, it pushed us back in the gains that we have made on the women movement of one day bringing a woman President in Namibia. Even though at the 2012 Swapo congress women were in the majority, they could not unite themselves and vote for her. Some women were even publically de-campaigning her. So women were split and there was just no unity among them to push for a fellow woman,” Xoagus-Eises said.
The gender-activist cautioned that commitment towards gender equality will remain just that, ‘lip service’ unless women desist from looking down on each other, which also makes the dream of a Namibian women president untenable. Xoagus-Eises said female politicians needed to take a cue from their counterparts in the African National Congress (ANC), who made their intentions known that they are backing a female candidate to succeed party president and South African head of state, Jacob Zuma.
According to media reports, ANC women are backing Dlamini-Zuma at the party’s congress in 2018.
In 2012, Dlamini-Zuma became the first woman to be elected chairperson of the African Union Commission after 50 years of male dominance.
Namibia an example
Political analyst, Fanuel Kaapama, has noted that Namibia has demonstrated to the world that women can be entrusted with leadership positions, something that countries such as South Africa can emulate. “I am fully aware that South Africa ruling party is busy campaigning for a women president. But that’s just a proposal, which means it did not happen yet. Here it has happened. We had a woman prime minister in the past and even today the prime minister and her deputy are women.
“So this is an indication that for Namibia to have a women president is possible,” he says.
Kaapama, the head of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Namibia, says women who hold senior positions in government and the active role women play in shaping their political parties’ system shows women have the courage to become president.
Being woman not enough
Kaapama observes that women should not just be encouraged to vote for a woman president just because of her gender.
But rather look at the political personality and leadership quality of that person, if she is a conservative or progressive leader.
“I think it is an illogical view and bad expectation of looking at politics in this country that if a female candidate wants to contest for presidential position then women should automatically expect to vote for her.
“If we argue like that then we can equally say ‘if there is male candidate then all men should vote for that person and that if men get into power then they should give positions to men’. Women should be allowed to vote for whom they want on the basis of the leadership quality regardless of their sex,” says the academic.
Like their counterpart in South Africa’s ANC, the Swapo Women’s Council has confirmed its readiness to back a female for the party’s presidential candidate.
The African situation
Africa remains the only continent where a few women have been afforded a chance to lead their countries, despite great strides towards gender equality and women empowerment.
Data at hand indicate that in recent years, more and more women in Africa have become engaged in politics, but very few have managed to break the barriers of the patriarchal world to become leaders of their nations.
The continent was applauded for electing its first female president when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated as Liberia’s head of state in January 2006.
It was only in 2015, when Africa elected its second woman president, Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius.
Though her title is a ceremonial one, she becomes the first woman in the island nation to hold that office.
Former Malawian president Joyce Banda served as president of Malawi from 2012 to 2014, to complete the term of former President Bingu wa Mutharika who died in office. Therefore, Banda was president by the dictates of the Constitution.
Catherine Samba-Panza served as interim-president of Central Africa Republic from 2014 to lead the central African nation from months of sectarian violence.
Rose Francine Rogombé served for a while as Acting President of Gabon – from June to October 2009 – after long-time President Omar Bongo died in office.
Like Banda, she was chosen, not democratically elected like in the case of Gurib and Johnson Sirleaf.
There are other women holding positions of power like Inonge Wina, as vice-president of Zambia, while The Gambian President Adama Barrow has chosen Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang as his vice-president. In Zimbabwe, Joice Mujuru served as President Robert Mugabe’s deputy for 10 years.
Several women have served their countries at prime ministerial level such as Mame Madior Boye of Senegal from 2001 to 2002; Luísa Dias Diogo of Mozambique 2004 to 2010; and Aminata Touré of Senegal from 2013 to 2014.
At global level, the political arena remains male dominated. According to UN Women, there were only 19 female heads of state or government actively serving the world as of January 2015.
And in the past half century, only 63 out of 142 nations have given women a chance to rule, as per the World Economic Forum.