Namibia: really a shining example of democracy?

Paul Trewhela questions the state of the country, twenty years on from independence

Debate at Westminster to focus on Namibia's "stony ground"

Next month the Royal African Society in London will join the Friends of Namibia Society to host a debate in the House of Commons at Westminster under the title of "Namibia at 20", with a motion that reads: "This House believes that Namibia is a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy, and development." 

Speakers in the debate, to be held on 18 March, include Inge Zaamwani-Kamwi (managing director, Namdeb), Tangeni Amupadhi (Editor, Insight Namibia), Professor David Simon ( Royal Holloway College , London ) and Dr Henning Melber (executive director, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation , Sweden ).

Namdeb, the company of which Ms Zaamwani-Kamwi is managing director, mines diamonds at Oranjemund but is looking to future production based on marine diamonds.  In a statement in June 2008 concerning the expected exhaustion of the land mineral resources of the region, Ms Zaamwani-Kamwi stated that the company was "now finally sitting on the verge of an end tail of Namdeb land operations".

Tangeni Amupadhi is editor and part-owner of Insight Namibia, is a former political editor at The Namibian ( Windhoek ) and was a reporter on the Mail & Guardian.

In a radio interview on 14 August last year on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Mr Amupadhi stated that Nuctech - a Chinese company previously associated with a son of the president of China , Hu Jintao - had been involved in an allegedly corrupt relationship with Namibians. (See here:

In his interview, Mr Amupadhi stated that "because of its Communistic outlook, China and our ruling party are sister organisations. The Chinese Communist Party have provided funding for SWAPO [South West Africa People's Organisation], that is Namibia's ruling party, and the Chinese have increasingly been supplying Namibia with a lot of products - raw material - as well we have had quite a substantial number of Chinese coming to Namibia to do small business and major building contracts. So China plays quite a big role in Namibia and they've also given the Namibian government what they call a lot of soft loans. These are now increasingly coming under scrutiny because with these loans the Chinese demand the Namibians buy from China , or deal specifically with companies that the Chinese government has decided Namibia should buy from."

Professor Simon, the head of the department of Development Geography at Royal Holloway College, London, argued in a lecture earlier this month at Cambridge University on 3 February that it does not necessarily follow that "attempts at poverty eradication should be pursued under the current ideology of development - of making other nations in the image of the industrialized, profit-driven developed world." He asked: "Is there a space for alternative developments, futures imagined and determined by the poor themselves?" 

Dr Melber, the son of German-speaking immigrants to Namibia , joined SWAPO in 1974 and was a member of the President's Economic Advisory Council in Namibia since its establishment. He is the author of numerous publications relating to Namibia , among them as editor of Re-examining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence ( Nordiska Afrikainstitutet , Sweden , 2004).

With a reference to the phrase "liberatory intolerance", an essay in this book by Andre du Pisani, titled "Liberation and Tolerance", argued that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that in present-day Namibia "public criticism of the head of state and of the symbols of liberation politics is not universally tolerated." (p.134) He argued that Namibia 's recent history was "a stony ground of intolerance", and that the country had inherited a "democracy- and tolerance deficit at independence". (p.130)

Further evidence of this "stony ground"  came last week in a reported defamation suit by SWAPO supporters against Phil ya Nangoloh, executive director of the National Society for Human Rights, based in Windhoek, who is one of the most courageous critics of the ruling party. Mr Ya Nangoloh, a former member of SWAPO in exile, has been an indefatigable researcher into the history of Sam Nujoma, the president of SWAPO and former president of Namibia , whom he alleges was guilty of human rights abuses and of having played an ambiguous role in the liberation struggle. A series of essays by Ya Nangoloh may be found on the website of the NSHR, as here:

In an article published online on Friday last week, Ya Nangoloh responded to a report published the same day in SWAPO Today - the official organ of the ruling party - titled ""NSHR's boss in hot water: Ya Nangoloh slapped with N$300 000 defamation suit". 

The core of the matter relates to alleged critical remarks concerning ex-President Nujoma.

The report in SWAPO Today alleged that there were plans to "drag [ya Nangoloh] to Uukwambi Traditional Authority to be charged in a traditional court" in order for ya Nangoloh to be made to pay "hefty fines", which may include "money and herds of cattle".

Describing the reported lawsuit as a "politically motivated fraudulent exercise", Ya Nangoloh asks of one of his supposed litigants: "What is his background?  Is he a civil servant? Is he a member of the Namibian Central Intelligence Services? Is he above the law in this country?"

Whatever the outcome of the reported lawsuit, it can only tend to remove some of the shine from the motion due to be debated in the Palace of Westminster on 18 March, that "This House believes that Namibia is a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy, and development".

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