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‘This House believes that Namibia is a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy, and development.’ This was the topic of a debate held in the Houses of Parliament in London on 18 March, where Henning Melber was invited to speak against the motion. The opinions in Melber's speech closely reflected those expressed in his article ‘

It was with a heavy heart but without remorse that I accepted this role to act as a proponent against the motion. I could not wish for more than being able to support it. When we celebrated our hard won independence 20 years ago, we shared similar hopes and expectations. Two decades later, I still treasure our achievements, but assess the limits to liberation in a more sombre way.

Let us not forget that this vote is not in favour of or against Namibia. We all, no matter which opinion we hold, are in favour of Namibia. You are asked to take a vote on the motion that Namibia is a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy and development. Because we are in favour of Namibia and the Namibians, my fellow proponent and I argue that adopting this motion would be misleading. Yes, we have the right to our opinion and to talk freely. But some of the reactions provoked by our initial statements have actually proven the point we made. This is the intimidating way in which critical views are met and dealt with.

Since Independence, the Republic of Namibia:
- has deployed its army to be involved in a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- has been involved in the civil war in neighbouring Angola;
- has declared a state of emergency as the result of a failed secessionist attempt in the Eastern Caprivi region

This does not speak in favour of a degree of post-colonial peace, which would allow us to be praised as a shining example. With reference to democracy, our domestic policy has:

- displayed characteristics of a dominant party state or partocracy based on the sole power of definition exercised by the former anti-colonial movement
- resulted in a first constitutional amendment to allow the Head of State a third term in office
- intimidated and restricted the freedom of expression and limited the access to information for the media.

True democracy is not the absence of more openly repressive interventions. The features of our post-colonial development bear traces of the colonial past. Our present socio-political and economic realities have not overcome the structural legacy or the mindset we were confronted with at Independence. 20 years later we cannot blame any longer merely apartheid for this failure.

To compare Namibia with post-colonial societies on the continent, which have done worse, is no justification for elevating us to a category we do not deserve. To give us a bonus for the absence of civil war, less repressive politics and not deteriorating into a fragile or so-called failed state should not translate into a somewhat patronising reward. Yes, we could have failed more and we have not ended as dictatorial kleptocracy. But we also could have done better.

To honour our mixed record with the praise the motion suggests would be a blatant insult to those who seek to promote more democracy, more human rights and more socio-economic justice – values and norms the struggle was ultimately supposed to be about. It would betray the true meaning of liberation. Instead, we need the kind of critical solidarity in our struggle for more rights, freedom and equality, which supports the emancipation of most if not all people in Namibia from any forms of discrimination and marginalisation.

I hence finally appeal once again to all of you, to vote against the motion. Namibia is despite all limited progress after all no ‘shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy and development’. If we want to achieve this, the struggle needs to continue.


Abstentions: 17
Yes: 22
No: 24

The motion was dismissed.


* The discussion was organised by the Friends of Namibia and the Royal African Society at the Houses of Parliament in London, 18 March 2010.
* Dr Henning Melber is executive director of The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala/Sweden. He joined Swapo in 1974.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.