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Namibia loses a champion of human rights in President Geingob, but solace is a smooth succession plan

Namibia loses a champion of human rights in President Geingob, but solace is a smooth succession plan
Namibian President Hage Geingob. (EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

Namibia mourns the loss of President Dr HG Geingob, a leader who called for justice in the face of persecution, leaving behind a smooth succession plan that ensures stability in both the government and the ruling party Swapo, unlike other countries plagued by leadership failures.

On 4 February 2024, we woke up to the very sad news of the passing on of President Dr HG Geingob of Namibia. He is believed to have succumbed to cancer.

He was the immediate past Chairperson of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) which is now Chaired by Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema. Notable about his Chairpersonship of SADC was Namibia hosting an annual meeting of human rights defenders organised by Southern Defenders in November 2023. He delivered a speech through his Minister of Justice Yvonne Dausab expressing strong support for the human rights movement.

More significantly earlier in the year in January 2023, he had called for a swift, independent and credible investigation into the cold-blooded killing of prominent human rights lawyer Adv Thulani Maseko at his house in front of his family in Eswatini. This is the first time ever that the SADC has pronounced itself at such a level of leadership for the persecution of a human rights defender in post-colonial SADC. In his statement, he called “upon the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Mr Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice” adding that there is “need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country. When dialogue fails, people go to war. Therefore, we propose that national and inclusive multi-stakeholder dialogue takes place.” A very bold and unequivocal call that seems to have fallen on deaf ears, which I hope will not die with his demise, unless President Hichilema carries the demand forward.

Read more in Daily Maverick: In honour of the memory and legacy of Eswatini rights lawyer, comrade Thulani Rudolf Maseko

On the advice of my friend, prominent human rights lawyer Adv Norman Tjombe, I am relieved that the succession and leadership transition is likely to be smooth. Such times of death or incapacitation of a leader can create a danger for national instability as politics like nature, hates vacuums.

As for political party succession, I understand that the governing party Swapo has already chosen its successor to take over at the expiry of the current party president’s term, which would have expired by 2025. Despite alleged rumblings by party stalwarts and potential contenders, it is anticipated that the party succession plan which was already agreed to before the president’s death, will prevail.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Namibia’s President Hage Geingob (82) dies after cancer diagnosis

As for government leadership succession, I understand that the constitution of Namibia is clear that the Vice-President of Namibia will act for the remainder of the term of the President. The Presidential elections are scheduled for November 2024 with the winner taking office on 21 March 2025 (Independence Day). It is therefore clear that there will not be a vacuum at the government leadership level. The Cabinet of Namibia met after the President’s death and agreed to adhere to the constitution and select the Vice President to take over as the new President of Namibia until fresh elections are held or the President becomes incapacitated, whichever first occurs.

In conclusion, while we woke up to the sad news of the high-profile death (of a President) in our region, we are relieved that sufficient safeguards are in place to guarantee a peaceful, smooth succession and transition to a new leader. Some countries have grappled with failures in leadership transition at both national and political party levels and this has put national security under significant strain and threat, jeopardising the democratisation agenda at national, inter-party and intra-party levels.

Condolences to the people of Namibia and to the family of the late President. May the soul of our departed leader President HG Geingob rest in eternal peace! DM

Arnold Tsunga is a human rights lawyer and Principal Managing Partner at Tsunga Law International.

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