SWAPO: The Beginning of the Political Challenge Notes de l'Ifri, May 2022
Increasingly, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) is on shaky ground, caught between internal factionalism and external resentment. Whereas no major new political party has emerged since independence, opposition parties are gradually gaining support, mainly among young voters, and now control the three most important economic centers, weakening SWAPO's thirty-year one-party domination.
SWAPO’s old guard is engaged in hardened leadership battles, while SWAPO Youth League members claim populist reforms. Rival SWAPO members are openly calling for Geingob’s government to be recalled. It has become commonplace that SWAPO hardliners make direct and veiled threats towards their opponents. In this context, the 2019 ballots reflected a major slump in the party’s popularity. SWAPO presidential candidate Hage Geingob was elected with a majority of 56%, way down from his 86% of the vote in 2014.
For the first time, the party lost its two thirds majority in the National Assembly, as well as its dominance in the local councils during the 2020 local authority election. This slump came as a result of Namibia’s economic woes, high-level corruption scandals, and internal power struggles, and younger and more discerning voting public. SWAPO has become a business empire that benefits its elite patrons and clients, a far cry from its role in gaining Namibia’s independence in 1990 and its promise to deliver comprehensive social and economic development. As a result, young voters of the so-called “born free” generation and Namibia’s rapidly urbanizing population are shifting political dynamics as they clamor for accountable leadership and better economic opportunities.
Despite growing dissatisfaction with the ruling party, no major new political party has emerged since independence. However, opposition parties are gradually gaining support, mainly among young voters, and now control the three most important economic centers – Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. After thirty years at the helm, SWAPO’s one-party domination has weakened, and is now challenged to earn its place in the future.
This paper analyzes these new political dynamics through the results of the last national and local elections. It explains the reasons behind SWAPO’s decline, and their chances of holding onto power.