Thursday, November 28, 2019

Namibia Awaits Election Result Amid Economic Doldrums
Justina Crabtree
Namibia's capital Windhoek /VCG Photo

Voters in Namibia are awaiting the result of Wednesday's election, which will determine who runs the southern African country for the next five years as it faces a corruption scandal, drought and troubled economic fundamentals.

Incumbent President Hage Geingob, Namibia's third leader since its independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990, is fighting for a second term. His party, the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), has ruled the country since its breakaway nearly three decades ago.

Arid and sparsely populated Namibia has 1.3 million registered voters, according to Reuters. The presidential race and simultaneous legislative polls to elect 96 members of parliament will put SWAPO's comfortable majority, in which it holds 77 seats, to the test. Results are expected by Friday.

"I campaigned like hell"

"I campaigned like hell but if I lose I will accept that. I am a democrat," Geingob told reporters shortly after casting his vote.

But, Namibia's incumbent leader faces a colorful selection of challengers.

Also with his name on the ticket is Panduleni Itula, a dentist turned politician who is a member of the ruling SWAPO party but is running in the presidential race as an independent. Itula has won the support of Namibia's youth, almost half of whom are jobless.

Also contesting the presidency is Namibia's first female candidate, academic and social worker Esther Muinjangue. If successful, she would make the short list of female heads-of-state ever to have held office in Africa, a continent dominated by male leaders.

But Namibia's political system may face floundering public confidence and voter apathy following two headaches that have arisen in recent weeks.

On Monday, a court in the capital Windhoek dismissed a case which sought to prevent the use of electronic voting machines, which some of Geingob's opponents fear could be used to rig the result.

Earlier this month, two ministers resigned following a leak, which revealed that certain fishing rights were given to Iceland's biggest fishing firm Samherji in exchange for bribes.

But, the news need not be seen as totally negative. "It is rare in the region to witness government ministers stepping down when linked to bribery and corruption allegations, so at one level the actions of Ministers Shanghala and Esau are to be commended – even if their alleged transgressions remain abhorrent," said a note earlier this month by Gary van Staden, senior political analyst at South Africa-based insight firm NKC African Economics.

Youth unemployment at nearly 50 percent

Whoever wins the election must fix Namibia's economic problems.

The Namibia Statistics Agency, as reported by Xinhua, showed that 46.1 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 34 were unemployed by the end of 2018.

Meanwhile the Bank of Namibia, cited by Reuters, anticipates that the national economy will shrink by 1.7 percent in 2019, contracting for a third consecutive year.

Despite SWAPO's successes at reducing poverty in Namibia, the ailing national economy has been hit by the effects of a drought that has devastated agricultural export crops, as well as unprofitably low prices for the country's main hard commodities of diamonds and uranium.

A uranium mine in Namibia is handed over from Anglo-Australian firm Rio Tinto to China's National Nuclear Corporation at a ceremony on July 25, 2019, near the town of Swakopmund in the west of the country. /Xinhua

Economic management, and not the impact of political scandal, is likely to be important to Geingob's potential victory. "Swapo's support base remains overwhelmingly rural and, in many respects, isolated from daily developments," van Staden wrote. Nonetheless, the ruling party is "expected to romp to another overwhelming victory," he added.

China's relationship with Namibia has diversified in recent years.

China owns stakes in Namibia's uranium production as the world's second largest economy seeks alternatives to fossil fuels. Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto officially handed over Namibian uranium miner Rossing to its new majority shareholder, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), in July of this year, Xinhua reported.

Meanwhile, Namibia recorded nearly 15,000 tourist arrivals from China in 2017, an increase of 16.6 percent year-on-year, the country's 2017 Tourist Statistical Report said, with growth outpacing that from European and North American markets.

On Monday this week, a Chinese delegation visited the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, the country's national broadcaster, to explore ties and help Namibia improve its television production. 10 Chinese programs, dubbed in English, were authorized to be shown to local audiences, according to Xinhua.

(With input from Reuters and Xinhua)

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