The congress seems to have assumed the messy allure of a bloody battleground in the lead up to the Swapo Party main congress in November 2012. Admittedly Ngurare has been an inspirational figure for the league as he introduced a modicum degree of independent articulation of issues in opposition to the mother body, Swapo. Essentially, as a somewhat contradictory voice he reoriented his troops to a more progressive force, different from its past of a docile but useful fodder, including that of an uncritical extension of battles for leadership succession in the ruling party, Swapo. His inability to naturally graduate on the basis of his talents to senior rank in the party or government could be the result of his intermittent outspoken take on some of the burning governance issues, including the effects they have on the youth and Namibians. Still, the past congress was facile and a missed opportunity to frame the challenges Swapo faces, both in terms of its domestic politics and consequently the management of the country.
In light of this missed opportunity, the political aftermath of this congress impose two important and dominant narratives. The first implies the absence of clear pathways defining the political contours of the Youth League within the mother body. If there has been change in the way the SPYL positions itself in Swapo’s internal politics - unlike the ANC Youth League in South Africa, the Swapo youth has not yet been able to take sufficient critical stance from the mother body and importantly, government. The second narrative entails meek political imagination on the part of the Youth League with regard to the leadership offering and policy direction in Swapo and the country. The Youth League cannot articulate an agenda of change without seeking to define the type of leader that they want to see as Swapo’s candidate for the next presidential elections. As such, these dominant narratives do not frame the challenges we face as a country in a much broader context, thus mobilising the youth of the country toward clearly defined goals. They in essence merely reveal the political tensions and the fault lines confronting the youth in Swapo. On the one hand, there is a desire to change the course of the country through Swapo. But this energy and desire for change is on the other hand also domesticated in the broader Swapo political culture and narrative that does not necessarily favour the radical change the progressive youth has been clamouring for.
Meaningful change and transformation, when framed in this hegemonic rubric of the mother body, becomes hollow and mere rhetorical expressions of a youth that entrenches the status quo. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by Ngurare, the fragmented SPYL embeds the status quo through excessive over-reliance on patrons and barons in the mother body in order to steer the developmental and political agenda. In light of the political capital young cadres may provide in their leadership ambitions, party elephants and barons see the Youth League as useful (I dare not use the Leninist phrase of ‘useful idiots’ here). Conversely, the elephants in the mother body also see the Youth League as a nuisance when it agitates around societal and developmental issues that are urgent, but offending. The perverse effect is unprincipled and careerist cadres who see the ruling party and leadership as an employment opportunity and not an agent of societal transformation.
Looking ahead, there is less cause for optimism unless the SPYL confronts the real issue that is driving Namibia in the dry sand of corruption and mismanagement: lack of leadership. Instead of inventing enemies and scapegoating within, the youth wing should articulate a laundry list of issues demanding urgent attention. More important it should propose and follow through on coherent policy interventions and positions on the key challenges facing Namibia.
The past approach of relying on a bureaucratic, voracious market-based blueprint has not worked in the interest of the marginalised sections of Namibian society, including the youth. Inequality of opportunity and income in Namibia is a structural problem. To deal with the structural injustices affecting the youth would demand an activist vision of history on the part of the youth, which cannot be divorced from leadership succession within the ruling party. The youth would be naïve to expect a transformational agenda for the country without looking at the qualities and competencies of Swapo’s candidate in the next presidential election. Namibia is in need of a man or a woman who can run a complex but credible modern state that delivers massively on the aspirations of the Namibian people. The Swapo Youth League can contribute immensely to a different country. But to do so would demand keen contextual intelligence to reconcile with the future, while being on the right side of history.