The Constitution at Work: Ten Years of Namibian Nationhood/Reexamining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence

By Dale, Richard | African Studies Review, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Constitution at Work: Ten Years of Namibian Nationhood/Reexamining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence


Dale, Richard, African Studies Review


POLITICS Manfred O. Hinz, Sam K. Amoo, and Dawid van Wyk, eds. The Constitution at Work: Ten Years of Namibian Nationhood. [Pretoria]: University of South Africa, VerLoren van Themaat Centre for Public Law, [2002]. Distributed by African Books Collective Ltd., The Jam Factory, 27 Park End St., Oxford 0X1 1HU. 393 pp. Notes. $43.95. Paper.

Henning Melber, ed. Reexamining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2003. Distributed by Transaction Publishers. 149 pp. Notes. Bibliography. $24.95. Paper.

Both of these books are collections of essays that grew out of conferences held in Windhoek, Namibia. The conferences sought to bring together recognized Namibian and foreign scholars in the fields of law and the social sciences to assess the advances as well as the disappointed hopes of the first decade (1990-2000) of Namibian independence. There has been no dearth of books dealing with the transition to independence in Namibia before it was eclipsed by fascination with the equally difficult passage to African majority rule in neighboring South Africa. In general, the volume devoted to the constitution, edited in part by the dean (Hinz) and the deputy dean (Amoo) of the Faculty of Law at the University of Namibia, tends to be less critical of the current regime than that edited by Henning Melber, the research director of the well-established Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. This may be due, in some measure, to the fact that several of the contributors to the former are high-level officials of the Namibian government, whereas none of the contributors to the latter holds an official position. Nevertheless, both collections include essays by University of Namibia faculty members.

The twenty-nine chapters in The Constitution at Work are distributed over a range of topics, but there is neither a single introductory chapter which collates and synthesizes the various contributions nor an index, so that the reader is left to his or her own devices in terms of data retrieval and organization. One of the chapters, however, does provide a thoughtful survey of the development of the constitution during the first decade of independence. Although there is no bibliography, the chapters are usually-well, sometimes-copiously footnoted, which is a boon to researchers and graduate students.

The essays range in quality from fairly pedestrian to exceptional, and most are clearly linked to various facets of the constitution, which was drafted with considerable skill and some international assistance and mentoring. Given the significance, as well as the political delicacy, of land tenure and (re)distribution, three of die chapters are devoted to this question, with some attention to related matters in South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Other laudable chapters cover criminal law, gender, citizenship, the implementation of nondiscrimination norms and jurisprudence, the abolition of torture, the ombudsman's office, the judiciary, the reform of the prison service, and traditional authorities. A number of the essays are comparative, often illustrating corresponding practices and structures in apartheid and postapartheid South Africa. This is especially helpful in light of the colony-metropole relationship that characterized Namibia's relations with South Africa from 1915 until 1990.

The Nordic Africa Institute has had a sustained interest in Namibia, and Melber spent a number of years there both before and after independence. From 1992 until 2000 he was the director of the Windhoek-based Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit, a think tank roughly comparable to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D. …

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