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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Profile: Sam Nujoma
By Frauke Jensen
BBC News, Windhoek

At 75, Namibia's "Father of the Nation" shows hardly any visible sign of ageing.

Sam Nujoma
Namibian President Sam Nujoma turned 75 on 12 April 2004

This is probably thanks to his rigorous one-and-a-half hour exercise routine that starts at cock's crow every morning, followed by a healthy breakfast and a hard day at the office.

Namibia's citizens have come to respect President Sam Nujoma.

They see him sometimes with a spring in his step and jovial smile; at other times, with a raised finger and fierce eyes behind thick-rimmed spectacles.

Liberation figurehead

He has led Namibia for more than a decade, since it gained independence from South Africa's apartheid government.

But his political career as head of the South West Africa People's Organisation, Swapo, spans nearly four decades.

The family-man president has managed to maintain stability in the rainbow nation

It began in 1959 when the poor boy from Etunda village in northern Namibia, having attended a missionary school and become a railway worker in Windhoek, became the head of the Owamboland Peoples organization, the independence movement that was a forerunner to Swapo.

On 1 March 1960, 30-year-old Mr Nujoma was sent into exile.

He came back after three weeks, only to be arrested by the South African authorities and deported to Zambia six years later.

And that is when his long, autocratic rule as head of the liberation movement Swapo began.

No wonder President Sam Nujoma is still today viewed as the person who single-handedly brought Namibia freedom and peace and its people the right to decide their own destiny.

Autocracy fears

Following independence in 1990, Mr Nujoma became the country's first president elected by the constituent assembly.

Namibia independence party
Namibians credited Mr Nujoma with helping them gain independence in 1990

He is viewed by many as a moderate leader, especially concerned with the plight of children and the advancement of women in a traditionally male-dominated society.

He also appears keen to preserve stability to ensure development efforts are supported by international donors.

Mr Nujoma was the natural choice for a second term in office.

However, when the constitution was amended to allow him a third term in office, worries surfaced that the country's burgeoning democracy may be replaced by a presidency for life.

Rainbow nation

Party internal struggles, verbal abuse of those who dared criticize his government, repeated rhetoric about the evils of homosexuality and Mr Nujoma's single-handed decision to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo did little to allay those fears.

Namibian cattle ranch
Much of the best farmland in Namibia is owned by minority whites

And when he praised the radical "land-reform" policy of the Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, many feared he would attempt to emulate him by forcing Namibia's white farmers off their land.

But that praise now appears to have been partly lip service to Mr Mugabe, who is an old friend and ally of Mr Nujoma's.

As land redistribution slowly gets under way in Namibia, it appears to be happening in a more sensitive manner than it did in Zimbabwe, through a policy of compensation, consultation and compromise.

Thus the family-man president has managed to maintain stability in the rainbow nation.

He may be guilty of off-the-cuff remarks that border on blatant insult, increasingly autocratic rule of his cabinet and exorbitant spending on a new state house.

But Mr Nujoma's disarming smile and his seemingly genuine concern for the development of a nation of 1.9 million have won him - if not the love - then, at least, the respect even of those wary of his true intentions.

Retiring leader

Just weeks before his 75th birthday though, the "Father of the Nation" announced in parliament he would definitely retire when his term of office ends on 21 March 2005.

Opposition leaders, diplomats and citizens have had nothing but praise for him, calling him a statesman of note, who despite previous fears has obviously heeded democratic principles.

They have paid tribute to his achievement in maintaining this arid country on Africa's south-west coast as a jewel where 10 different languages and ethnic groups live together, in a manner unequalled on the continent.

On his birthday, he will be travelling to the north-east of the country, spending much of his time in an aeroplane.

He will also possibly be looking forward to his next birthday when, unburdened of the affairs of the state, he will at last be able to tend the soil on his farm and enjoy watching his grandchildren grow.


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