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Namibia's Independence struggle

By Jeroboam Shaanika
The Role of the United Nations is a record of the struggle of the people of Namibia for independence from both German colonialism and South African occupation, as well as the "historical, moral and legal responsibility" of the United Nations for Namibia's independence (p. 18). The book is one of the most recent additions to Namibia's historiography.

One of the major merits of the book is that it lucidly explains the often confused and obscure legal responsibility of the United Nations for Namibia's independence by tracing the role and accountability of the Organisation under the trusteeship system, which responsibility the United Nations inherited from its predecessor, the League of Nations' mandate system.

In what he notes was a "contradiction in terms," the author says the United Nations "erroneously characterised" the Question of Namibia as being a dispute between South Africa and the people of Namibia.

To support his point, he quotes General Assembly resolution A/RES/33/206 of 31 May 1979, which stated that "...the parties to the conflict are, on the one hand, South Africa ... and, on the other, the Namibian people ... supported by the United Nations, which has direct responsibility for the Territory until independence" (p. 36).

Dr. Tsokodayi was both a witness and participant in the process of Namibia's independence process beginning with his appointment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of his native Zimbabwe in 1981 with responsibilities that included the Organisation of African Unity and its Liberation Committee.

Later, as Deputy Permanent Representative of his country to the United Nations in 1988- 89, and in the capacity of Deputy Chairman of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non- Aligned Movement (NAM) - an organization that strongly championed Namibia's genuine independence - he was involved in the international negotiations and decision making process on the eve of Namibia's independence.

He took part in the drafting and negotiation of all the UN Security Council resolutions that were part of the implementation process of the UN settlement plan for Namibia in 1989. In his own words, he was "in the front-row seat when the history of Namibia's independence was being acted out."

The book is divided into four Chapters, each capturing a specific period of time. In Chapter I, the author lays out the historical background of the question of Namibia and the Western manoeuvres - in the context of the cold war - to hijack the independence process out of the United Nations, only to bring it back as the Western plan which was agreed to in 1978, as the United Nations settlement plan for Namibia. In the process, the Western powers allotted to themselves the status of "Contact Group" on Namibia.

The plan was shelved for the following 10 years due to the intransigence of the occupying power, South Africa, and the complicity of the Western powers who not only delayed the independence of Namibia, but also turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the occupying South African apartheid regime.

In Chapter II, he retraces the contours of the Namibian struggle for independence, supported by the Frontline States and others, who were facing the mighty Goliath and his army of conspirators, but were determined to bring him down. He lays out in detail some of critical turning points in the process of Namibia's independence in the 1980s, such as the United States policy of "constructive engagement" and the linking of Namibia's independence to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola ("linkage").

At the conclusion of that Chapter, he narrates with clarity a significant factor which had an impact on the negotiation process - the prospect of the impending defeat of South Africa by the combined forces of Cuba, Angola and SWAPO at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The strategic implications of the battle and its effect on the eventual demise of apartheid, informs the reader on the role of the use of force or credible threat of use of force in international diplomacy.

In Chapter III, Dr. Tsokodayi narrates the contentious negotiations that took place at the United Nations prior to the deployment of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) - the UN peacekeeping force for Namibia. The arguments concerned the financing of UNTAG. On the one hand, all the permanent members of UN Security Council argued for a reduction of the force, justifying the reduction as "cost-cutting measures."

On the other hand, the Non- Aligned Movement and the African Group among others, argued, as was to be borne out during the peacekeeping operation, that UNTAG needed to be a credible force to counter South African machinations and in view of the fact that South African forces in Namibia had grown exponentially since 1978 when the UNTAG numbers had been agreed upon.

In Chapter IV, Dr. Tsokodayi analyses the implementation of the Namibia's independence plan on the ground from April 1989 to March 1990. The author demonstrates an impressive insight into the initial political dilemma over the late deployment of UNTAG and its costly consequences that almost led to derailment of the peace process.

The blunder made by the Secretary General's Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari of curving in to South African and British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher's demands is well documented. The Special Representative authorised the release of South African forces from base on Pretoria's false pretext that SWAPO forces had "invaded" Namibia from Angola, leading to the "April massacre" (p.146). The flawed beginning to the implementation process concludes with a happy ending - the attainment of the independence by the people of Namibia following the successful elections

"supervised and controlled by the United Nations." In the Conclusion, the author calls the book is a "microcosm" of international relations (p. 211), touching on diplomacy, conflict resolution, national self-determination, non-alignment, pan-Africanism, the antiapartheid struggle; international organisation and international law, foreign policy and national interest, the cold war and geopolitics, and reform of the United Nations.

He observes that UNTAG marked a transition from the "traditional, classical peacekeeping" where the role of the UN forces was "to separate warring parties," to a new generation of multidisciplinary "interventionist" force whose objective include "bringing about a new political dispensation" (p. 215) and that UNTAG was "a political mission, a peacemaking mission and peacebuilding operation" (p. 216).

Namibia's Independence Struggle is a "must read" for anyone interested in the history of the liberation struggle, not only in Namibia, but in Southern Africa as a whole. The elaborate bibliography, references and appendices bring together a large volume of African liberation literature.

The reviewer, Dr. Jeroboam Shaanika is the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations. The views expressed here are entirely his own and do not reflect those of the Namibian government.

He can be contacted at: shaanika@aol.com





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