Jerry Ekandjo appears to be playing a shrewd political game of holding onto his cards close to his chest in the race for the country’s top job in two years’ time.
Although Ekandjo did not decline a nomination for the Swapo vice presidency at a politburo meeting of the ruling party, he said he would leave it to the Central Committee (CC) meeting slated for later this year.
The CC meeting can endorse both or one of incumbent vice president (VP), Dr Hage Geingob or the Party secretary-general (SG) Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, who accepted the nominations at the politburo meeting, as candidates for the elite position; reject them altogether and nominate new candidates or add an additional name to the list.
If the CC endorsed the politburo candidates, the congregants at the elective congress slated for December this year could nominate a candidate from the floor as per the Party policy, which states that up to three candidates can vie for a given position.
With names of prospective presidential candidates for the 2014 national elections of the ruling party having been floated around in the race for Namibia’s next President, Ekandjo’s resolutely came up.
While the election of a non-Oshiwambo or a female president has been one of the major raison d’être to set in motion the contention of Geingob and Iivula-Ithana, respectively, with not much emphasis spent on the quality of their leadership aptitudes, Ekandjo looks to come out as the strategist as he would like to test the waters first and swim on the popularity vote for he knows that he can count on that.
Ekandjo’s track record in the ruling party is known and his popularity with the grassroots masses is almost unparalleled.
He received the highest number of votes in the election to the CC in August 2002 and the November 2007 congresses and should be forgiven if he entirely puts his trust to a wider audience at the CC; a move that would surely make him the people’s choice rather than a person favoured by selection of senior leaders within the Party.
Most importantly, Ekandjo currently runs a very influential ministry that keeps him close to the electorate - the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development.
This portfolio means that all regional and local authority councilors across the political divide as well as traditional leaders report to and have a repertoire with Ekandjo.
He was also one of the leaders who kept the flame of the liberation struggle burning inside the country having served an eight-year jail stint after being found guilty of incitement.
He served time at the infamous Robben Island where he shared company with legendary leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo.
So far, Swapo leadership top structures have been over-shadowed by those who were in exile during the liberation struggle; most notably, the so-called ‘Tanganyika Group’.
Voices within the Party have been calling for due recognition to also be given to the leaders who remained in the country to face the wrath of the Boers on a daily basis.
Ekandjo currently occupies the position of a secretary of information and publicity within the Party; a very influential position as a propaganda mouthpiece.
Being a former firebrand unionist, Ekandjo could easily count on the votes of the working class if he decided to run.
He has also made a personal mark for him across the length and breadths of the country as he was once a teacher at a little village of Gibeon in the heart of the South and would never let an opportunity pass him by without addressing a suitable audience in his limited vocabulary of the Khoe-khoegowab lingo; something many Damara/Nama-speaking ministers have been found wanting to do in front of their own communities.
Ekandjo has the ambiance, the spirit and the fortitude that sets the electorate in frenzy whenever he attends rallies and Party events, making him hugely popular.
Because he speaks the language of the ordinary people, it makes him one of them.
He famously once encouraged Swapo members to hoist Party flags on trees and recently implored them to wear Party regalia to church services and even called on them to paint their teeth red, green and blue - the Party’s colours. This is the language that the masses understand, unfortunately – the football-supporter’s mentality.
As a former youth leader inside the country during the apartheid era, Ekandjo could easily muster the support of the youth wing. And the rousing welcome he received from SPYL members at their just ended congress as opposed to Geingob and Iivula-Ithana’s reception, spoke volumes.
That was a welcome fit for a Head of State!
He has a clean record in the Party annals. No pre-independence stories - genuine or cooked-up - follow him in his shadows unlike some of the other prospective candidates.
He is intelligent, shrewd, a doer and is regarded as a hardliner who is never shy to speak his mind but will still have to take issues with colleagues in the public limelight.
He has the stealth of a leopard on the hunt and Swapo might be compelled to settle on a consensus candidate who will be above internal political factionalism and one who will serve the larger good of the Party. That person may well be Ekandjo.
He is also whispered to be very close to the Founding Father Dr Sam Nujoma who still wields passable power within the structures of Swapo despite having retired from active politics years ago.
Since he hails from the largest ethnic group in the country, this could serve him in good stead as well.
Sadly, Namibians do not seem to care about the qualities their leaders need to possess in order for them to be fit to hold political offices as long as they make the right noises.
Either way, as the fourth estate, we can only make subjective judgements on the public records of prospective presidential candidates.
The longer and more complete a public record is, the more reliably it will reflect on the true nature of a candidate.
However much of a quality candidate you may think Ekandjo is, the most noticeable blots on his track record is his infamous call on the police to eliminate homosexuals, not to mention being found on the wrong side of the law when he was found in contempt of court for failing to obey a court order to release a detainee when he was the Minister of Home Affairs.
At one stage he was also reported to have threatened to kick out foreign judges and deny them work permits after they passed a judgement not to his liking; something that could be seen as meddling with the judiciary.
His insensitive dismissal of the Lubango Dungeons issue for not being ‘worthy of any apology’ by the ruling party, is another blot that could work against him.
Besides that, Ekandjo is also credited for having masterminded the draft of the Draconian Stock Theft Act that obliged courts to sentence a first-time offender found guilty of stealing stock worth more than N$500 to no less than 20-years’ imprisonment without the option of a fine after a number of his goats were stolen. (The law has since been amended after it was challenged in court by the Legal Assistance Centre).