Hage Geingob, Namibia’s President, died on Sunday, February 4th, in a Windhoek-based hospital where he was receiving treatment for cancer. He was 82. His Vice President, Nangolo Mbumba, announced his passing via social media.
Geingob was diagnosed with cancer following an annual medical checkup last month, the south African country’s presidential office previously said. In 2014, he said he had survived prostate cancer. Mbumba briefly took on Geingob’s duties when he travelled to the United States for “a two-day novel treatment for cancerous cells” last week. Mbumba is now acting president.
Hage Geingob is Namibia’s third president and a stalwart figure in its fight for independence. His life story intertwined with his nation’s, mirroring its past struggles and present aspirations.
In a statement on Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described Geingob as “a towering veteran of Namibia’s liberation from colonialism and apartheid. He was also greatly influential in the solidarity that the people of Namibia extended to the people of South Africa so that we could be free today.”
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, also sent condolences, saying he would “forever cherish” his memories of meeting Geingob. “It is difficult to overestimate his contribution to developing friendly relations between Namibia and Russia,” a statement said.
Born in 1941 in Otjiwarongo, a small town in northern Namibia, Geingob grew up under the oppressive Bantu Education System, which aimed to keep the black majority in a state of ignorance and servitude. He was a bright, curious student. But also a rebellious and outspoken one. Geingob had a reputation for protesting against injustice. That made him join the liberation struggle against the apartheid regime, which had annexed Namibia as a colony of South Africa. He then became a member of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), the main resistance movement.
In 1961, Geingob went into exile and spent the next twenty-nine years in Botswana and the United States. There, he obtained his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees in political science and international relations. He also became a diplomat and a spokesman for SWAPO, representing the cause of Namibia’s independence at the United Nations and across the Americas. His deft negotiations paved the way for the 1988 tripartite agreement, which finally ended South Africa’s rule.
In 1989, Geingob returned to Namibia as part of the UN-supervised transition to democracy. He was elected as the chairman of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the country’s constitution. The constitution, which was adopted unanimously in 1990, is widely regarded as one of the most progressive and democratic in Africa. It guarantees human rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law. It also provides for a multiparty system, a bicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and a presidential term limit.
Then, in 1990, he became the first prime minister of Namibia, appointed by the founding president, Sam Nujoma. This appointment made him instrumental in Namibia’s rebuild. Geingob served as prime minister until 2002 when Theo-Ben Gurirab succeeded him.
After that, he remained politically active and held various positions within SWAPO and the government. He was the minister of trade and industry from 2008 to 2012 and served as prime minister again. These strides earned him an easy win when he contested for the presidency in 2014. He won 87% of the country’s votes. But his re-election wasn’t as easy, as only 59% of residents wanted him back. This margin split was understandable, seeing that Namibia is still far from its potential.
Namibia, with just over 2.5 million people, is rich in minerals such as diamonds, gold and uranium. But despite being classified as an upper-middle-income country, socioeconomic inequalities are still widespread, according to the World Bank.
Yet the country enjoys much more political and economic stability than many of its neighbours. And that would probably not have happened without Geingob. Even his opposition leader, McHenry Venaani, called him a “master negotiator and statesman, a lighthouse of steadfast leadership in turbulent times” in his tribute.