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Namibia Swears In New President


Namibia has a new president. The country's founding leader, Sam Nujoma, has stepped down after 15 years in office, and new President Hifikepunye Pohamba has been sworn in on the anniversary of Namibia's independence.

Namibia's second president took office promising to uphold the legacy of his predecessor. At his inauguration ceremony in Windhoek, Hifikepunye Pohamba told thousands of cheering supporters that he will work for unity, peace, security, stability and prosperity.

Mr. Pohamba has replaced Namibia's first and until now only president, Sam Nujoma, who led the country to independence from South Africa, 15 years ago after a bitter guerrilla war.

Since then, Namibia has been seen as one of Africa's success stories, with a peaceful democracy and a thriving economy. Graham Hopwood an independent political analyst and journalist in Namibia, says Mr. Nujoma is "leaving the ship of state" in good condition.

"Well, I think he's going out on a good note. It's been stressed over and over again that his major achievement was peace and stability, and unifying the nation after a protracted and bitter war," he said. "He's being praised again and again over the last few days for introducing the policy of national reconciliation, which has created a sense of stability in Nambian society."

As he handed over power to his chosen successor, Mr. Nujoma said he had been "deeply honored" to serve as Namibia's founding president. He called on Namibians to work together for a prosperous future.

Namibia changed its constitution to allow Mr. Nujoma to serve a third term, and although he indicated that he wanted to stay on for a fourth, he decided last year to retire from the country's highest office.

So he has become the latest in a string of southern African leaders to leave office more or less voluntarily, following Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Bakili Muluzi of Malawi and Frederick Chiluba of Zambia. All of them expressed some desire to remain in office, but agreed to step down after pressure from within their own parties.

Even though Mr. Nujoma has stepped down as Namibia's president, he is expected to maintain an active role in politics. He will remain head of the ruling Swapo Party until at least 2007.

The new president, Mr. Pohamba, is a longtime friend of his predecessor. The two men co-founded Swapo in 1960. Analysts say Mr. Pohamba has traditionally maintained a lower profile than his more charismatic colleague. Now, as president, he will be at center stage. Mr. Hopwood says his choices for his first cabinet show that he is trying to assert himself.

"He's abolished several ministries and created several new ones, so that in itself is an indication, showing that he's in charge," said Mr. Hopwood. "While no doubt President Nujoma will still be a strong influence on him and on the government in general, I think he's trying to sort of indicate that he now has the authority and he's moving to reorganize the government already."

Mr. Pohamba won three-quarters of the votes in November's election, and his Swapo Party will dominate Parliament. Several of Namibia's tiny opposition parties have challenged the results of the poll, citing irregularities, and the dispute forced a recount of the ballots. But the country's high court last week upheld the election results over the opposition's protests.

Mr. Pohamba, a former minister of land affairs, says he intends to speed up land reform in Namibia, where land ownership is skewed in favor of the country's white minority. He stresses, however, that Namibia will not be pursuing a Zimbabawe-style land reform program, despite the two countries' close ties. He says Namibia will compensate white landowners fairly for any land that is redistributed to blacks.

But his first challenge may be reunifying his own party, which was split during the struggle to decide who would succeed Mr. Nujoma.