Namibia's President and anti-apartheid activist, Haji Geingob, has died. He pushed for Africa on the world stage

WINDHOEK, Namibia — Namibia's president and founding prime minister, Haig Geingob, died Sunday at the age of 82 while receiving treatment for cancer, and the southern African nation quickly swore in his deputy to complete his term in office.

Geingob played a central role in what became one of Africa's most stable democracies after returning from long exile in Botswana and the United States as an anti-apartheid activist. He was the country's third president since it gained independence in 1990 after more than a century of German rule and then apartheid rule in South Africa.

He has been president since 2015 and is set to finish his second and final term this year. His deputy, Vice President Nangolo Mbumba, was sworn in as acting president in the capital, Windhoek, to complete his term as permitted by the constitution.

Elections are scheduled to be held in November. A government statement said Mbumba will lead Namibia until March 21 next year, when the winner takes office.

The presidential office said Geingob died in a local hospital with his family by his side. He returned to Namibia last month from the United States, where he underwent a two-day trial of a “new cancer cell therapy,” according to his office. In 2014, he said he had survived prostate cancer.

Soft-spoken but firm in promoting Africa's agenda as an important stakeholder in global affairs — he once said in a speech at the United Nations: “It is an injustice to exclude Africa from the Security Council” — Geingob has maintained close ties with the United States and other Western countries. But also, like many African leaders, they have built a warm relationship with China and other powers.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the leaders who sent their condolences on Sunday, saying he would “forever cherish” the memories of meeting Geingob. “It is difficult to overestimate his personal contribution to the development of friendly relations between Namibia and Russia,” a statement said.

Geingob hosted US First Lady Jill Biden last year during her visit ahead of an expected trip for her husband to Africa in 2023. But that did not happen.

Namibia, with a population of just over 2.5 million, is rich in minerals such as diamonds, gold and uranium. Although it is classified as an upper middle-income country, social and economic inequality remains widespread, according to the World Bank.

But Opposition Leader McHenry Finane paid tribute on Sunday.

“Indeed, the death of President Geingob represents a great loss not only to Namibia, but to the African continent as a whole. Such was the caliber of this brilliant negotiator and statesman, and a beacon of steadfast leadership in turbulent times,” Venani said.

Geingob, who was Namibia's first prime minister from 1990 to 2002 and held the same position from 2008 to 2012, can be outspoken on issues at home and abroad. In January, he criticized Germany, the former colonial power, for supporting Israel after South Africa filed a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice, accusing it of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

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“Germany cannot morally express its commitment to the UN Convention against Genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, while supporting the equivalent of the Holocaust and the genocide in Gaza,” Geingob said.

He was referring to the events that occurred between 1904 and 1908 when colonial security forces in Namibia killed tens of thousands of people while putting down an uprising. Germany acknowledged in 2021 that these acts amounted to genocide and pledged more than $1 billion to infrastructure projects in the country.

Condolences poured in from African leaders on Sunday.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described Geingob as “a veteran who contributed to the liberation of Namibia from colonialism and apartheid.”

Kenyan President William Ruto said Geingob “strongly strengthened the continent's voice and visibility on the global stage.”

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa posted on the X website that Geingob's “leadership and steadfastness will always be remembered.”

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Mutsaka reported from Harare, Zimbabwe.

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AP Africa News: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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