by Hussein Solomon
Namibia became the first African country to adopt electronic voter machines in its November 2014 polls. This technological innovation at e-voting however was not without its problems with technical glitches experienced with both electronic voting machines and handheld scanners to verify voter cards and fingerprints of voters. A subsequent report from the African Union’s Electoral Observer Mission made it clear that these were less technical glitches and more the result of electoral staff not knowing how to use the equipment. Unsurprisingly, the AU called on electoral staff to be properly trained in these new technologies.
|Photo: Electoral Commission of Namibia|
The 28th November polls saw Namibians voting for members of the National Assembly as well as a President. Incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba is compelled to step down on account of constitutional term limits. The ruling South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) retained their electoral dominance in the National Assembly, with SWAPO’s Hage Geingob succeeding Pohamba as president. What accounts for this SWAPO dominance? After all, SWAPO’s growing authoritarian streak, its mounting corruption scandals and its poor record at governance should count against it at the polls.
SWAPO’s political dominance can be explained by three inter-related variables. First, is demographics. 50 per cent of the population are Oshivambo speakers. These make up 90 per cent of SWAPO’s core supporters. This makes SWAPO one of the most ethnically based political parties on the continent. Second, and a concomitant of this, is that most of the other opposition political parties are also ethnically based but their respective population groups are in single digits, thereby preventing them from mass political mobilization in the same way that SWAPO can with the Oshivambo. Unless political parties can mobilize on political platforms other than ethnicity, they are bound to lose any future election. Third, SWAPO makes use of its vast patronage network – its parasitic relationship with the Namibian state – to co-opt critics and rewards sycophants.
Whilst SWAPO has won these polls, ordinary Namibians are the losers in the long run.