Hage Geingob: A life of triumph, controversy, and the pursuit of independence

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Namibia bids farewell to one of its most influential leaders, Hage Gottfried Geingob, who passed away at the age of 82 on Sunday, February 4, in a hospital in Windhoek. Geingob, Namibia’s longest-serving prime minister and its third president, was not only a stalwart against apartheid but also a central figure in the nation’s journey towards independence. Born in 1941 in a northern village, Geingob broke barriers as the first president from outside the Ovambo ethnic group, which constitutes over half of the country’s populace.

From Exile to Presidency: Geingob’s Indelible Mark on Namibia

Geingob’s life was marked by his relentless fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime, leading to his exile that lasted nearly three decades across Botswana and the United States. His time in the US, studying at Fordham University and later earning a PhD in the UK, was coupled with his unwavering advocacy for Namibia’s independence, representing SWAPO, the liberation movement turned ruling party, globally. Geingob’s return to Namibia in 1989, a year before the country gained independence, was a poignant moment he described as “worthwhile,” reflecting on his long journey to build a new Namibia.

Hage Geingob: The End of an Era for Namibia's Third President and Anti-Apartheid Icon

Hage Geingob: The End of an Era for Namibia’s Third President and Anti-Apartheid Icon. Photo courtesy of Brussels – EC/Berlaymont/Wikimedia Commons.

A Presidency Shadowed by Economic Challenges and Scandals

Despite his central role in Namibia’s political landscape, Geingob’s presidency was not without controversy. His first term was overshadowed by economic recession, high unemployment rates, and graft allegations, most notably the “fish rot” scandal in 2019, where WikiLeaks documents suggested government officials accepted bribes from an Icelandic firm for fishing rights. Although these challenges threatened his re-election, Geingob managed to secure a second term with 56% of the vote, a significant drop from his initial 87% landslide but still a comfortable victory.

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Geingob’s Legacy: Between Governance and Graft

Geingob’s tenure was a blend of governance successes and challenges. Known for his deep voice, wide-rimmed glasses, and a grey tuft of hair, he was both a composed and stern leader. Despite facing criticism for a bloated administration and favoring foreign contracts over local ones, Geingob’s contributions to Namibia’s independence and governance cannot be overlooked. His health issues in later years, including brain and heart valve surgeries, did little to dampen his spirit, with his love for football earning him the nickname “Danger Point.”

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