Henning Melber. 2015. Understanding Namibia: The Trials of Independence

By McClure, Sean | African Studies Quarterly, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Henning Melber. 2015. Understanding Namibia: The Trials of Independence


McClure, Sean, African Studies Quarterly


Henning Melber. 2015. Understanding Namibia: The Trials of Independence. New York: Oxford University Press. 256 pp.

Inside the halls of Namibia's newly-constructed National Museum in downtown Windhoek, various photographs, artifacts, and heavily stylized patriotic artwork tell the story of the birth of a nation after a thirty-year political and military campaign. Despite the pageantry, visitors come away feeling that something is missing. That emptiness is the story of Namibia's post-independence era. In Understanding Namibia, Henning Melber takes on the challenge of chronicling Namibia's recent past, linking the country's economic and political course with the performance of the country's ruling political party, the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO). Melber contends that SWAPO's performance has fallen short of SWAPO's pre-independence promises for life after independence. He classifies the country as having been only partially transformed from colonial rule. Through a thorough analysis of the party's performance handling economic, social, and political issues, the book examines how Namibia has progressed over the last two and a half decades.

Despite positive external perceptions of the country's stability, Namibian society has yet to realize the benefits of independence, achieving little meaningful change for the vast majority of her citizens. Today, Namibia has an increasing amount of economic disparity, a near-dearth of political opposition, and issues with respect for human rights. Melber attributes these issues with Namibian society largely to the influence of SWAPO's narrative "gospel" of liberation. Since its origin in 1960, SWAPO has worked to be seen as synonymous with the country in the eyes of both domestic and international audiences. One popular mantra is "SWAPO is the nation, and the nation is SWAPO." Through these themes, the organization seeks to depict itself as the sole body responsible for the liberation of Namibia from South African settler colonialism in 1990. This mindset depicts Namibia's liberation as the end of history, justifying SWAPO's assumption into power as the fitting conclusion of a struggle against colonialism's evils. Conversely, this narrative also marks any measure of disagreement as heretical, further assisting the party in cementing its position, by preventing the development of any domestic political opposition. At the end of Melber's monograph, readers come to feel that SWAPO is still resting on its liberation credentials and has yet to legitimate itself through transforming Namibian society. …

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