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close this bookThe Courier N 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderNamibia: Meeting challenge of nationhood
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentConsolidating democracy
View the documentAn interview with Prime Minister Geingob: partnership with business to create wealth
View the documentAn interview with Vice-President Marin: the political and constitutional success of Namibia is now a model for change in Africa
View the documentAn interview with Dr Ben Amathila, Minister for Trade and Industry: added value equals greater prosperity
View the documentAgriculture and fisheries - managing the transition
View the documentMining - the economic foundation
View the documentWealth in the desert
View the documentEducation in Namibia - bridging the divide by Dr Ian G. MACFARLANE
View the documentProfile
View the documentNamibia and the European Community
View the documentPlanning for development - a man with a mission

Consolidating democracy

When Namibians voted in November 1989, in the UN-supervised election for a constitutive assembly, the future mould of the country’s politics was yet to be cast. The poll was conducted in a democratic atmosphere and the system gave everyone a vote of equal value, but the structure of government was still to be hammered out. This would be the job of the new assembly and the final transition to independence could only be achieved once that body had agreed (by a two thirds majority) on a new constitution.

Few commentators doubted that the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) would emerge victorious. The question mark was over whether the party of Sam Nujoma could gain the necessary two thirds support to allow it to determine the provisions of the constitution on its own.

In the event, SWAPO did not succeed in reaching this threshold, and the party was obliged to seek compromise with other groupings in the Assembly. Given the recent history of Namibia, one might have expected a long and acrimonious process before a constitution could be agreed but, to the relief of Namibians and the admiration of the outside world, a new liberal constitution was adopted in a remarkably short space of time.

Eighteen months after the election, the general view is that Namibian democracy has bedded down reasonably well. Despite occasional, unsubstantiated rumours about coupe, and some opposition criticism of the activities of the Presidential Guard, the country’s politics are dominated by economic and social issues. The press clearly operates freely and there is robust debate over the policies of both government and opposition (although there is some concern that it is perhaps a little too robust). The tone of discussion in the national assembly would not seem unfamiliar to many Europeans as the various political parties lay out their stalls for public scrutiny.

Much of the credit for this situation must go to Sam Nujoma, the country’s President. Not only has he successfully guided his liberation organisation into the arena of electoral politics but he has also made a clean break with the past in committing the government to a process of national reconciliation. He has earned wide respect, even among political opponents for his vision, and is now regarded by many as the ‘father of the nation’.

Outside observers also credit the main opposition party, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), with having contributed positively to the political process. In an interview with the Courier, the party’s President, Mishek Muyongo, emphasised the importance of maintaining a peaceful atmosphere for political dialogue and spoke of the DTA’s commitment to operating within the democratic framework.


Results of Namibia’s first election November 1989

The divisions between the two main parties are primarily about policies. SWAPO, although it has embraced the market system as the basis for economic progress, may be characterised as a centre-left party which gives a high priority to social reform. The DTA, according to Mr Muyongo, places ‘a lot of emphasis on private enterprise - and on giving it the leeway to stimulate economic development’. Broadly speaking this places it on the centre-right. Both parties agree on the importance of political stability for economic growth. Smaller parties represented in Parliament include the United Democratic Front (UDF), an offshoot of SWAPO and National Christian Action (ACN), a right wing grouping which is linked to the South African National Party.

The existence of a recognisable left/right division founded on a broad underlying economic consensus may be comforting for possible outside investors, but there is also a certain ethnic polarisation. SWAPO derives the bulk of its support from the Ovambo population who are mainly in the north of the country while the DTA’s vote is strongest among the various minority groupings. Of course, this division could be attributed to the relative prosperity of the different groups. In a left/right political spectrum, the voter’s perception of his own standard of living vis-is the norm is a powerful influence on his voting behaviour. At the same time, political divisions along tribal lines, whether they be in Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia or Southern Africa, pose a latent threat to stability. The Namibian political parties are acutely conscious of this and they are all keen to widen their political base. The broadly based composition of the Cabinet is a good illustration of SWAPO’s determination to avoid the kind of ethnic polarisation which currently afflicts so many countries in both Europe and Africa.

Although it is early days to pass judgment on the strength of the Namibian democratic system, few would disagree that the Namibians have made a good start in circumstances which, at least to the outsider, seemed less than auspicious at the outset.