March 18, 2005

End of an era as Nujoma steps down

Namibia has entered a new era - one without President Sam Nujoma at the helm. After 15 years of rule, the liberation war leader hands over to his successor, Hifikepunye Pohamba. At the final cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab paid tribute to Nujoma's leadership and described him as an "extraordinary son of the soil". Nujoma, 75, said he was retiring in the knowledge that the foundations for democracy and economic prosperity had been laid through the collective leadership of his colleagues in the SWAPO party, which he has led for more than four decades. "We jointly adopted policies and took decision that has changed the face of Namibia from an outpost of apartheid colonial occupation and oppression to a vibrant democratic society," he noted. The literacy rate now stands at 80 percent, with over 90 percent of all school-going children enrolled in primary schools. The road and communications network has been expanded throughout the arid country, and reliable water and electricity supply now reaches some 80 percent of the population.

A former railway worker, Nujoma became the head of SWAPO in 1960. He led SWAPO forces from exile against South African rule, before returning to the country in 1989 and winning elections by a landslide the following year. He was re-elected in 1994 but was criticised for having the constitution changed so that he could be elected to a third term in 1999. In 2004, Nujoma helped ensure the selection of Pohamba, 69, as SWAPO's presidential candidate. SWAPO won two-thirds of parliamentary seats in general elections in November 2004. (Rts)

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