Namibian President Hage Geingob has died at the age of 82 after a battle with cancer, his office announced Sunday. Geingob passed away while receiving medical treatment, bringing an end to his time as president after first being elected in 2015.
President Geingob Succumbs to Cancer After Months of Treatment
According to a statement from his office, Geingob died at a hospital where he was being treated for prostate cancer. The president’s battle with cancer was first made public last year, when he took a two-week leave of absence for a medical checkup.
At the time, his office said that he was in good health overall but would begin targeted radiation therapy for early-stage prostate cancer. Geingob continued carrying out his presidential duties while undergoing cancer treatment over the past several months.
However, his condition took a turn for the worse in recent weeks, leading to his death on Sunday at age 82. Geingob had served as Namibia’s third president since 2015, when he first took office after being re-elected with 86% of the vote. He was nearing the end of his second five-year term at the time of his passing.
Geingob Led Namibia Since Independence, Fought for Democracy
Hage Geingob had been an instrumental figure in Namibia’s government since the country gained independence in 1990. He helped draft Namibia’s constitution and bill of rights and served as the fledging nation’s first Prime Minister from 1990 to 2002.
|Activist against apartheid rule in South Africa
|Chairman of the Constituent Assembly
|Prime Minister of Namibia
|Chairman of the ruling SWAPO party
|President of Namibia
Geingob spent many years lobbying the United Nations to help Namibia achieve independence from apartheid South African rule. When Namibia finally held free elections in 1989, Geingob was elected chairman of the Constituent Assembly which was tasked with drafting the new constitution.
As Prime Minister, Geingob focused on nation-building, reconciliation, tackling inequality and expanding access to public services like housing, education and healthcare.
“During the struggle for freedom, we pleaded for international solidarity and support for the liberation of our country, Namibia. Today we require that same spirit of empathy and support as we rebuild our nation and economy,” Geingob said in a 1990 speech before the UN General Assembly.
When his SWAPO party regained control of the presidency in 2015 after losing the previous election, Geingob campaigned on a platform of using Namibia’s natural resources to reduce poverty and inequality. However, his government became embroiled in corruption scandals over fishing quotas. Critics accused Geingob of overseeing culture of graft and cronyism.
Still, many Namibians viewed Geingob as a steady hand and a key link to the heroes of their independence struggle. As news of the president’s declining health spread in recent weeks, supporters held vigils urging his recovery.
Vice President to be Sworn in After Mourning Period
Following President Geingob’s death, Namibia has entered an official mourning period that will last for 10 days of national grieving and prayer. Schools will be closed for 7 days of mourning according to an earlier announcement.
Vice President Sophia Shaningwa, 61, will be sworn in as interim president until the ruling SWAPO party can hold a special congress to elect Geingob’s successor for the last year of his term. Shaningwa will be Namibia’s first female president, albeit potentially only temporarily.
“We are thankful for the time we had with Comrade President Hage Geingob,” Vice President Shaningwa said in a statement. “We vow to continue his work of championing economic empowerment and opportunity for our people.”
But a battle over succession now looms as factions within SWAPO’s leadership jockey to take the party mantle ahead of 2025 elections. There is uncertainty over how smoothly party structures will handle choosing the next leader. A leadership vacuum could result in a destabilizing stretch of political uncertainty for Namibia.
The party will also need to delicately balance its slate with regional and ethnic representations under an unofficial “zebra-style” system of nominations used since independence to maintain harmony across tribal and regional interests.
Geingob Leaves Behind Mixed Legacy
As Namibians mourn President Geingob’s death, debate over his tenure and legacy has already begun. Supporters hail him as visionary founding father with long record of opposing social injustice dating back to his activism against apartheid as a student in the 1960s.
“Comrade Geingob will live on through the freedom and rights he helped secure for our people,” said demonstrator Selma Nambinga. “We must continue where he left off to build our democracy.”
However skeptics argue that he failed to live up his rhetoric of empowerment as economic inequality and joblessness surged under his watch. Namibia’s unemployment rate tripled from 20% to nearly 60% since he took office in 2015 as nepotism and lack of policy execution hampered reforms.
“Hage talked a big game but apart from fancy slogans like ‘no Namibian should be left out,’ his actual policies benefited the well-connected elite while the rest of us struggled,” said housing activist Dimbulukeni Nauyoma. “The poverty rate got even worse under his reign.”
How President Geingob is judged by history may come down to whether his successor manages to stay on track with his blueprint for prosperity and inclusive governance. For now, Namibians are mourning the loss of an iconic founding father while bracing for a tricky political transition ahead.
This story will be updated as Namibia observes its period of national mourning and SWAPO moves forward with selecting an interim successor prior to the 2025 elections. President Hage Geingob’s state funeral is scheduled to take place next Sunday, February 11th.
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