Mbumba recounts Geingob’s last days

THERE YOU GO … President Hage Geingob leaves on a trip last October and hands over a document indicating that then vice president Nangolo Mbumba will act in his stead.

President Nangolo Mbumba knew something was wrong the day president Hage Geingob’s staff started sending him constant updates as they flew him back home from the United States.

The president’s staff never gave him constant updates when he was flying mid-air.

This was a red flag.

The president and his team were flying over Nigeria from the United States (US) when Mbumba received the strange text message.

“I was asking myself, why are they saying they were flying over Nigeria? They usually communicate with take-off and when they are about to land,” Mbumba says.

Mbumba opened up for the first time about Geingob’s final days in a candid interview with the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) on Sunday.

Alongside him during the NBC interview was National Assembly speaker Peter Katjavivi.

The two men spoke of how they clung to the hope of Geingob’s recovery until the final hours as they waited to hear from the doctors once he landed on home ground.

When the plane flew to the US on 24 January, Mbumba had high hopes that the president would return to his old energetic self.


Mbumba said he and Geingob never said the word “goodbye” to each other whenever Geingob was flying out of the country.

The day Geingob left for his medical treatment trip to the US was no different.

He accompanied the president and his team to the airport to send him off.

“I was there when he left [for the US]; we shook hands. We did not say much. The two of us had this habit never to say goodbye to one another,” Mbumba recalled.

Geingob had travelled to the US for novel cancer treatment.

Mbumba said since the day Geingob left the country for the US, he was constantly in touch with the team that joined the late president, which was unusual.

He added that when Geingob returned home, there were some difficulties connecting in Algiers.

He got a message from one of the president’s security staff when they were flying over Nigeria.


He said the day before Geingob departed to the US, he gave him an envelope with the communication that he would be acting president while the president was away.

He said usually he received this envelope at the airport, but this time it was different.

“Uniquely, this time when he left for the US, it was the first time it was announced the vice president would be the one acting. Usually I just get the envelope at the airport, and also this time was the very first time I got the envelope the day before the departure.

“I have never had that type of experience. Certain things were happening, which we could not read, which we cannot understand, but maybe those were the omens of things to come,” Mbumba said.

He said the personnel also communicated that they were entering Angolan airspace and that when they arrived in the country, they would go straight to Lady Pohamba Private Hospital in Windhoek.


“The morning they woke up here [after returning from the US] I got a call from his phone. My reaction was, is the president already working? But that call was from madam Geingos to indicate that I need to come and be updated by the doctors,” Mbumba said.

He said the update he got from the president’s medical team gave him hope that Geingob would recover.

“But the situation never really improved, it remained stable but [did] not improve until it just hit us hard,” Mbumba said.

Mbumba said he was present when doctors told those at the hospital: “We just lost him.”


Mbumba said he considered how to break the news to the nation and the world.

“It was very difficult to be the one announcing the death of your brother, your friend, your colleague, your boss, the man who appointed you to the position you are having. It was very difficult to make a public announcement,” he recalled.

“As we were working on the statement, people were calling me, and I answered and told them yes, this is what happened, they are the ones to announce it, and it cannot be announced by anybody – it had to be announced by somebody with authority to do so on behalf of everybody else.

“We must respect the structure of the government,” he said.

“Hage Geingob passed on young in mind and heart. He died on duty,” Mbumba said.

Peter Katjavivi


Katjavivi, one of Geingob’s close friends and peers, was one of the people who visited Geingob hours before he took his final breath.

He said he and a few other people were called to the hospital on 3 February after five o’clock. He said they were briefed by Geingob’s medical team.

“It gave us a sense of hope that [other] options are available to the medical team to do their best, but I recall when we were taken in to view him in the ICU I looked carefully at his face and I wanted to leave with something symbolising hope.

“I may be wrong, but it was a very difficult period, and I felt I was looking at his eyes, eyebrows, and I thought his eyebrows were moving and I left the ICU. I was talking to myself, comforting myself that there is a hope for recovery,” he said.

Katjavivi said in the early hours of Sunday morning while still asleep, he received a call that the president had died.

He said he, Mbumba and Geingob planned to settle at Swakopmund and to sometimes walk barefoot by the seaside and have coffee at a nearby café.

Henning Melber


Political analyst Henning Melber questions the circumstances surrounding Geingob’s departure, suggesting that if an inner circle was aware of his imminent passing, his trip to the US wouldn’t have been for medical treatment.

Melber speculates that Geingob may have realised his life was ending during his time in the US and chose to return home to die.
However, Melber questions why this should be a contentious issue.

“This means that as of his arrival back in Namibia people may have become aware that not much time was left. But why make an issue of it?

“If one could provide evidence that it was exploited for dubious arrangements, it would be another matter. But I do not see any indications pointing reliably into such a direction,” he says.

  • – additional reporting by Donald Matthys

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