Re-Examining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence

Re-Examining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence

Re-Examining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence

Re-Examining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence


From 1960, SWAPO of Nami-bia led the organised and later armed struggle for indepen-dence. In late 1989, the libera-tion movement was finally elected to power under United Nations supervision as the legitimate government. When the Republic of Namibia was proclaimed on 21 March 1990, the long and bitter struggle for sovereignty came to an end. This volume takes stock of emerging trends in the country's political culture since independence. The contributions, mainly by authors from Namibia and Southern Africa who supported the anti-colonial movements, critically explore the achieve-ments and shortcomings that have been part of liberation in Namibia. Henning Melber was Director of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU) in Windhoek between 1992 and 2000 and has been Research Director at The Nordic Africa Institute since then. He coordinates the research project on 'Liberation and Democracy in Southern Africa', of which this volume is part.


This introductory chapter highlights trends in the postcolonial political culture that are emerging under SWAPO in Namibia. Firstly, however, some more general aspects and issues related to processes of political transformation under liberation movements in Southern Africa are raised. These organisations seized legitimate political power and have occupied the state apparatus since the end of white minority rule. Reorganised as parties, they gained control over the political sphere and managed to consolidate their dominant position within the modified state structures. They have gained the power of definition in the political arena and shape public discourse within their societies to a considerable extent. In pursuance of their nation-building ambitions, they tend to operate with and along rather strict concepts of inclusion/exclusion.

The legitimacy of these governments is based on their being the—more or less democratically—elected representatives of the majority of the people. At the same time, however, the democratic notion is also contested territory. Postcolonial policies in most countries of Southern Africa at present lack (though in differing degrees) a commitment to democratic principles and/or practices. In particular, liberation movements in power tend to deviate from implementing originally declared policy aims and goals in terms of both democratic convictions and, even more so, of much needed policy initiatives towards socioeconomic transformation of their societies aimed at reducing inherited imbalances in the distribution of wealth.

Liberation Movements in Power—A Critical Assessment

Supported by international solidarity movements that also argued along moral and ethical lines (cf., Kössler and Melber 2002), liberation movements were fighting against systems of institutionalised violation of basic human rights. At the same time, they were not always sensitive to human rights issues and the cultivation of democratic virtues within their own ranks. The fight against unjust systems of oppression rooted in the totalitarian colonial rule of a minority did not protect liberation movements from falling prey to authoritarian patterns of rule and undemocratic (if not violent) practices, which were applied by themselves against dissenting forces. The desire for self-determination and national independence did not prevent liberation activists from abusing the power they . . .

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