GORDON MERRINGTON remembers all too well what happened after the
revolution in neighboring Zimbabwe.
A North Korean political commissar was assigned to the office of
Mr. Merrington, a housing specialist. His job: to monitor
Merrington's telephone calls - even though he didn't speak a word of
"It was a total waste," recalls Merrington, who now lives in
Namibia. "It seems every time a liberation group takes over a
nation, they feel obliged to remake the economy. I just wonder if
we're going to have to reinvent the wheel here, too."
His is a legitimate worry. For on April 1, this southern African
territory started down the road to independence after almost 75
years of South African rule. That's when a plan took effect for a
United Nations-supervised transition to elections in November.
But then hundreds of guerrillas from the South West Africa
People's Organization (SWAPO) allegedly came charging over the
border from Angola. At least 300 rebels and members of South African-
backed security forces died in the clashes, which ended with a cease-
fire arranged last Sunday. Under the plan, SWAPO fighters are
supposed to gather at designated assembly points to be escorted back
to Angola by the UN and confined to bases there.
Analysts reckon the incursion either was a terribly miscalculated
attempt to set up bases here - thus violating the UN accord - or the
work of a breakaway faction. (SWAPO claims its soldiers already were
here and were fired on by security forces.) Either explanation
raises questions about whether SWAPO, the group most likely to win
an election, has the coherence and savvy to run the place -
especially the economy.
For analysts warn that while SWAPO will inherit a workable
economy, it will have to do some sophisticated and unrevolutionary
things to keep it that way. As a start, it will have to tread
lightly around South Africa, which controls vital transport routes.
Last week's battles showed Pretoria's willingness to come down hard
on those its deems threatening.
SWAPO also will have to take care not to scare off the country's
whites, with their needed skills and capital. That means no radical
tinkering with the economy. For the stakes, analysts say, could not
be higher: a matter of making this place a Botswana - southern
Africa's showpiece of economic stability - or a basket case.
"If the ruling party goes for an orthodox Marxist orientation,
we'll go down the drain," says Fanuel Tjingaete, a University of
Namibia economist. "If it's realistic, we'll survive."
Compared with the sorry state of many of its African neighbors,
Namibia has a lot going for it: great mineral wealth; South African-
built roads and rail lines; relatively few people to feed (about 1.5
million). The UN has trained 2,000 bureaucrats for the new nation at
a SWAPO school in Zambia. And scores of Namibians received college
educations on foreign scholarships - a far cry from the handful of
university graduates nearby Mozambique boasted, for instance, when
Portugal pulled out in 1975.
But what SWAPO inherits could stymie even the most experienced of
governors. The economy grew an average of only 1 percent per annum
from 1971-85, mainly due to drought and a drop in world prices for
base metals and minerals - the country's big cash earners. …