- Namibian President Sam Nujoma yesterday surprisingly fired his Foreign Affairs Minister Hidipo Hamutenya, who has been one of the favourites to emerge the ruling SWAPO party's next presidential candidate. Mr Hamutenya's dismissal has been met with disbelief and was termed a "destabilisation of the country" by the opposition.
Dismissed Foreign Affairs Minister Hamutenya is seen as a moderate and diplomatic leader in the radicalising SWAPO party, which led Namibia into independence and has ruled the country ever since. President Nujoma, who has announced his retirement, during the last years has led SWAPO and Namibia on a radical road towards President Mugabe's Zimbabwe - mostly in rhetoric, less in acts.
Mr Hamutenya, on the other hand, has belonged to the moderate wing of the ruling party, where he remains a leading member of the Central Committee and Politburo. President Nujoma is said to have referred to Mr Hamutenya as he recently alleged that SWAPO was being infiltrated by "agents of imperialists," using in his Mugabe-like rhetoric.
The sacking of the influential Foreign Minister came as a "shock" to the media and opposition in Namibia. No reasons were given by the Office of the President in a press statement to the media saying Mr Hamutenya and his deputy, Kaire Mbuende, had been "relieved" "from their duties and responsibilities" with "immediate effect."
The announcement has also produced great confusion within SWAPO, where Mr Hamutenya remains one of the party's three nominees for the state presidency. SWAPO is to elect its candidate for the presidential poll later this year during its special party congress, to be organised this weekend.
While Mr Hamutenya has been seen as one of SWAPO's strongest candidates for the presidency, President Nujoma, according to 'The Namibian', has "privately let it be known he was against Mr Hamutenya's nomination." It is believed that President Nujoma strongly disagrees with the outgoing Foreign Minister's moderate line.
There is no doubt that the man elected SWAPO's candidate will be elected Namibia's next President as the liberation party still totally dominates Namibian politics. President Nujoma is said to favour Namibian Minister of Lands, Hifikepunye Pohamba, and is accused of using "dirty tricks" against Mr Hamutenya and the last candidate, Education Minister Nahas Angula.
The sudden dismissal is partly understood as a sign that Mr Hamutenya's candidacy was growing stronger than the President had expected. Namibia's Society for Human Rights (NSHR) earlier this month criticised President Nujoma for trying to demonise Mr Hamutenya, "who at times is labelled an 'agent of US imperialists' and 'the owner of the dungeons of Lubango'." Nonetheless, Mr Hamutenya's candidacy had lately been strengthened.
Namibia's opposition - which shares the belief that SWAPO's upcoming candidate will be the country's next President - holds the sacking of the Foreign Minister to be a direct attack on his presidential ambitions. "This [sacking] may lead to the first brick being laid on the way towards the destruction of Namibia," President of the opposition Congress of Democrats, Ben Ulenga, today told 'The Namibian'.
- I hope it does not lead to the destabilisation of the country, Mr Ulenga added. The NSHR said that the sacking demonstrated how short the internal democratisation process of SWAPO had yet come. There was a fear that Namibia's next President would just become a proxy for Mr Nujoma.
Mr Hamutenya, on the other hand, today told the press in Namibia that he was still a member of SWAPO's top leadership and that he indeed was still a candidate for the Namibian presidency. He expected the party congress to take place as scheduled and was not thinking about withdrawing his candidacy.
As Mr Hamutenya's candidacy has been weakened, focus now is on Education Minister Angula, who also has fallen victim to smearing campaigns from the party's upper circles. There have been increasing rumours that he would withdraw his candidacy, something Mr Angula today discharged as "just propaganda by mischievous" people.
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