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Namibia's democracy since Independence

By Dr. Andrew Niikondo, Polytechnic of Namibia
Namibia, its people and its flora and fauna are this year celebrating twenty two years of freedom and democracy. Therefore, this paper juxtaposes Namibia's democracy by firstly reflecting a synergy between visions of democracy as envisaged in the documents of the liberation struggle and how these were transformed through manifestos, and the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia into practical realities after independence. In the light of this, questions that should be asked are: (a) What is democracy? (b) How Namibia after 1990 is different from Namibia before 1990? (c) How did democracy come to Namibia? (d) What is the relationship between democracy and national unity and development? and (e) How is Namibia's democracy sustained?

In a nutshell, democracy in general is defined as the government of the people, by the people and for the people. How Namibia after 1990 is different from Namibia before 1990? Namibia of before 1990 was under foreign domination, the Namibian people's inalienable rights for freedom were denied, the natural resources were controlled and plundered by international colonial powers (Also read SWAPO Constitution of 1976). Therefore, in extension, democracy is a system of government with four key elements: 1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. 2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.

3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens. 4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. At present Namibia has met and sustained all these requirements of democracy for the past twenty-two years of independence.

How did democracy come to Namibia? The road to Namibia's independence and democracy was tortuous, steep and was of course through many difficulties. The historical mission of the Namibian liberation struggle that the Namibian people waged, led by SWAPO, was to achieve independence and establish democracy in Namibia.

Although SWAPO unequivocally won political support and international recognition, during the liberation struggle, as the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people, political analyses of 1970s and 80s polarised the debates on Namibia's future. A mixture of political propaganda and skewed diplomacy embedded in the spirits of Cold War labelled SWAPO as a terrorist, undemocratic and communist-oriented organisation prepared to establish a Soviet-style government in Namibia. This fear was evident in political expressions among the Western political circles as well as within the South African colonial regime and its allies, then in Namibia after independence.

Probably, this fear was binary in nature, because, (1), it was definitely clear that the SWAPO would win any democratic elections to be conducted in Namibia, colonialism would go and its selected-few beneficiaries would surrender for the majority rule. (2), SWAPO was supported by the socialist countries particularly the Soviet bloc and China and therefore a myth was sown both in Namibia and internationally that SWAPO would impose a socialist regime on the people of Namibia, if it was to be allowed to ascend to power.

In contrast, SWAPO was not only strong in its position as a Non- Aligned liberation movement, but it was also a democratic, non racial and all-representative movement for Namibians. In emphasis, the objective of the Constitution of SWAPO (1976:4) (B) (3) was "to foster a spirit of national consciousness or a sense of common purpose and collective destiny among the people of Namibia". Furthermore objective (6) was "to establish in Namibia, a democratic, secular government founded upon the will and participation of all the Namibian people". This objective was a replica in the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia of 1990 Article 1 (1) which states the same, that "the Republic of Namibia is hereby established as a sovereign, secular, democratic and unitary State founded upon the principles of democracy, the rule of law and justice for all".

It is thus imperative to argue that this liberation dream became a reality in 1990, when independence was achieved and SWAPO transformed from a liberation movement to a political party and for that matter a ruling party in independent Namibia. When its first election manifesto was published in July 1989, SWAPO called for a just and equitable society. In this Manifesto of the SWAPO Party (1989) as Ngurare illuminates, SWAPO explicitly appeared as the only party for all races and tribes, for the rich and poor, for the youth and elders, for men and women and above all for educated and uneducated, for the workers and peasants and most importantly the only party that brought freedom of expression, human rights and democracy to Namibia including freedom of the press and speech (Ngurare 2008).

What is the relationship between democracy and national unity and development in Namibia? One remarkable achievement of SWAPO after independence is national unity. This is an achievement of the SWAPO objective as set out in its Constitution of 1976 (B) (2)"to unite all the people of Namibia, irrespective of race, religion, sex or ethnic origin, into a cohesive, representative national political entity".

Abiding to this objective, SWAPO conquered all challenges to successfully adopt a policy of national reconciliation witnessed in a particular case of uniting, in one national defence force and one police force, the former polar enemies, but brothers and sisters in the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and the South West Africa Territorial Forces (SWATF), whereby the latter was part of the colonial army of South Africa. The liberation slogan of "One Namibia, One Nation" also became practically observable as Namibia was made one by the Constitution of Namibia of 1990, Article (4) which puts it that "the national territory of Namibia shall consist of the whole of the territory recognised by the international community through the organs of the United Nations as Namibia, including the enclave, harbour and port of Walvis Bay, as well as the off-shore islands of Namibia, and its southern boundary shall extend to the middle of the Orange River".

In this regard, democracy prevailed and at the same time strengthened, particularly through the government's decentralisation policy and establishment of regional authorities and local governments led by democratically elected councillors and more interestingly through a multi party political system.

SWAPO and its government had democracy as a tool to promote peace and political stability in the country after inheriting its known political and Bantustan shambles. The democratic processes through a bicameral Parliament enabled formulation of policies of relevance, for example, the 1989 SWAPO manifesto reaffirmed its commitment to redress the land inequities, but also made provision for private land ownership in addition to the three forms of land ownership stipulated in the 1985 United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) document (Information government Bulletin 2010) and this, together with the Policy of Willing Seller, Willing Buyer, and the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) were adopted with the consent of Parliament as instrumental apparatuses of equitable distribution and proper utilisation of land geared for an amicable solution of the land issue in Namibia.

Namibia's democracy since 1990 has been the catalyst for enabling environment for development and economic growth. Therefore, according to the Strategy and Policy Unit United Nations Development Programme (2010), "the country's first National Development Plan (NDP 1) and second National Development Plan (NDP 2) placed emphasis on the implementation of policies and programmes which encouraged the expansion of productive investment, while discouraging excessive consumption. These policies and programmes improved the rate of investment to an average of 23.4 percent over the sub-period 1990 - 2008".

Hence, a Canadian political scientist Lauren Dobell argued that "indeed, in the transition to Independence, SWAPO stressed the need for economic growth and the importance of an "enabling environment" for foreign investment.

Foreign investors were often impressed by the way Namibia was ruled and therefore they flocked to the country in an increasing number after independence. In addition to the normal protection provided to local investors in Namibia, the Namibian Foreign Investment Act provides certain specific protection to foreign investors in Namibia. It further specifically provides that a foreign national investing in Namibia shall be in "no different position than any Namibian" unless so stipulated by the act (DCR Legal 2012). Because of sustainable democracy and stability, Namibia has been making rational decisions for investment enabling settings for example, as President Pohamba (2011) points out that, Namibia's "modern" transport, communication and financial infrastructure would make the country an ideal location for investors to conduct business.

International and regional friendships are another yardstick to measure Namibia's democracy and rule of law since no country or investors would risk their investment to a typically unstable regime.

It was, therefore rational for President Pohamba (2011)to expound that investment in developments at the Walvis Bay harbour has led to bilateral agreements to establish dry ports for Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe at Namibia's main harbour. These initiatives, coupled with the use of the Trans-Kalahari and Trans-Caprivi Corridors, have "made Namibia a strategic launching pad for businesses that wish to expand their operations further into the SADC Region and even deeper into the African continent," (Pohamba in Nico Smit in The Namibian newspaper 30 May 2011).

How is Namibia's democracy sustained? Namibia has strong democratic institutions, the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary, and probably, the country is among the few countries in the world without political prisoners.

Namibia's political system has never been autocratic or characterised as dynastic, but a democracy based on the political party list system, differing from the constituency based system. The President is also elected directly by popular vote, not by the winning party. After being elected the President constitutes his or her Cabinet from the elected members of the Parliament (Information government Bulletin 2010). From 1990 to 2012, many political parties were established. Some survived the political currents, but some capsized, sank and died. However, democracy remains holding firm and the freedom and rights as stipulated in Constitution remain intact.

This implies that Article 17 has not been amended and remains that: (1) All citizens shall have the right to participate in peaceful political activity intended to influence the composition and policies of the Government. All citizens shall have the right to form and join political parties and; subject to such qualifications prescribed by law as are necessary in a democratic society to participate in the conduct of public affairs, whether directly or through freely chosen representatives (2) Every citizen who has reached the age of eighteen (18) years shall have the right to vote and who has reached the age of twenty-one (21) years to be elected to public office, unless otherwise provided herein.

In Namibia no one is above the law and thus there is no immunity with regard to litigation and thus Article 10 (1) states that "All persons shall be equal before the law". Individuals, organisations and even political parties were able to take the government or the ruling party SWAPO to court. The opposition parties, for example, challenged the government and SWAPO on several occasions, won cases and also lost cases. This was a clear manifestation of democracy in terms of rule of law and respect of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia.

In conclusion, it should be said that Namibia's good governance is indeed inclusive and seeks participatory democracy. Namibia has indeed established democracy by having an effective devolution of power and effective anti-corruption measures entrusted in the Anti Corruption Commission. Moreover, the socio-political environment in which the parties function has no threats and the parties are free in carrying out their political and electoral activities in Namibia. The legal provisions that regulate parties are clear and always amended by Parliament.

These include the founding of parties, their registration and internal functioning, the rules and regulations for contesting elections, the conduct of election campaigns and the Electoral Commission of Namibia that monitors the conduct of parties.


SWAPO Headquarters Mandume Strt
Windhoek, Katutura