Regime Change Paranoia

In 2012, the then Botswana high commissioner, Gobopang Duke Lefhoko, defended accepting a freebie at a Swapo fundraising event.

“When I got to the Swapo dinner, I got a free Swapo scarf. There’s a saying that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Hence I accepted the gift,” he quipped.

Lefhoko was among diplomats criticised for attending a Swapo gala dinner in Windhoek which saw several foreign dignitaries wearing the ruling party’s regalia. 

The opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), then led by Swapo outcast Hidipo Hamutenya, accused the diplomats of interfering in Namibia’s political affairs.

For years, the ruling party has shown no qualms about roping in foreign mission officials, especially from countries such as China, Russia and Zimbabwe, to show open support for Swapo.

Fast forward 12 years and Swapo is now preaching interference and appears to be erring on the side of paranoia without providing evidence of possible wrongdoing.

Last week, international relations minister Peya Mushelenga summoned envoys from the European Union (EU), Germany, France, Spain and Portugal after they met with the Independent Patriots for Change (IPC) to discuss various matters, including Namibia’s upcoming elections.

Mushelenga claimed the government doesn’t object to diplomatic missions engaging with political parties.

However, the foreign affairs minister argued that diplomats’ discussions with individuals not representing the Namibian government are viewed as inconsistent with diplomatic norms and are thus tantamount to interference in domestic affairs.

Similarly, Swapo vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah prefaced her criticism of the EU diplomats meeting with the IPC as fine in general. 

“But to discuss issues of state matters and to be directly involved in internal politics is a highly questionable form of diplomacy,” she told a Swapo central committee meeting the next day.
“By extension, there may be a strategy to interfere in our elections because these actions have the smell of an element of regime change,” the Swapo presidential candidate declared without elaborating.

It is a bold statement for Nandi-Ndaitwah to make given she didn’t indicate how diplomats meeting with political parties could be deemed to be plotting for regime change. 

There has been a worrying trend by Swapo to take aim at those they think are associating with opposition parties even when such interactions are normal in a democracy.

Over the past few years, Nandi-Ndaitwah has on two or three occasions tapped into a theory of a regime change plan in Namibia. She has also previously claimed in parliament that there was a plan to oust liberation struggle parties in southern Africa.

In 2020, she claimed the emergence of independent candidates in Namibia was part of a regime change agenda to topple Swapo.

Making unsubstantiated accusations of unlawful activities might set a dangerous precedent of unduly policing diplomats.

It appears logical that diplomatic protocol provides room for diplomatic missions to ascertain conditions and developments in the country where they are stationed.

Surely, meeting political leaders, including opposition leaders, cannot be considered a diplomatic sin in an open society such as Namibia. 

And why are such interactions only frowned upon when involving opposition parties? 

Namibia often takes money from several foreign countries and it is understandable that foreign countries  will engage to understand the lay of the land. They too are answerable to their taxpayers.

In fact, there is an irony to this diplomatic saga: The government expects donor funding from the same European countries whose diplomats they feel should not show due diligence and seek political views, especially in an election year. 

This week the government launched an early childhood development (ECD) reform programme in Windhoek funded by the EU for N$58 million.

Expecting the EU or any foreign country to blindly provide funds without understanding the political dynamics of a country smacks of naivete and a beggar mentality. 

Perhaps Swapo officials at the helm of government should use this diplomatic saga to modernise its democratic practices and set clear guidelines to improve political party and civil society engagements in the diplomatic space.

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