Namibia has entered a new era with the departure from politics of its liberation hero and first president, Sam Nujoma. Mr. Nujoma handed over the reins of the ruling SWAPO party at a congress ending Friday. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.
Former Namibian President Sam Nujoma, who led SWAPO since its creation 47 years ago, formally retired from active politics and Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, his heir, was unanimously elected to succeed him as party president.
The transition occurred at the SWAPO congress which ended Friday in Windhoek. The transition began three years ago when Mr. Nujoma refused to stand for a fourth term as Namibia's president, and Mr. Pohamba was chosen as SWAPO's candidate for the 2005 elections.
The nearly 600 delegates to the congress also elected Namibia's first prime minister, Hage Geingob, as party vice president, putting him next in line to eventually succeed Mr. Pohamba.
An analyst at Windhoek's Institute for Public Policy Research, Bill Lindeke, says the succession was engineered by the charismatic Mr. Nujoma who has dominated Namibian politics since independence 17 years ago.
"Coming out of the liberation movement there are very strong authoritarian, autocratic tendencies," he said. "President Nujoma has been the president of the party since its founding in 1960, and he's used his own personal control of the party and position in the country to push his agenda and his style and his uncontested leadership."
His leadership style has alienated some party stalwarts.
SWAPO was shaken two weeks ago when one of its founding members, former Foreign Minister Hidipo Hametunya, announced the formation of a new party which was joined by several senior officials in government and state-owned companies.
Hametunya was dismissed as minister three years ago after he opposed Mr. Pohamba in the 2005 elections. He said his new party, the Rally for Democracy and Progress, would bring the leadership needed to address unemployment, poverty and declining health and education services.
Lindeke says political systems with dominant single-parties have been the norm in much of southern Africa. But he said after years in power they come under increasing criticism.
"To have the same people in charge for so long does build in some sinecures [jobs-for-life], some people who build little fiefdoms inside ministries, people who are untouchable because of their personal or political relations with the powers-that-be," he said.
Analysts say there is growing popular pressure on the Namibian government to address high unemployment and accelerate land reform. They say recent revelations of corruption and cronyism at senior levels of government have aggravated discontent.
Mr. Pohamba in his acceptance speech pledged to address poverty and upgrade social services. Analysts said he was likely to continue policies aimed at maintaining economic stability and fiscal prudence.