Freedom in the world 2002

Trend Arrow: 

Namibia received a downward trend arrow for attempts to limit the distribution of an independent newspaper that had been critical of the government's policies, and threats to bar the entry of homosexuals into the country.


President Sam Nujoma in November 2001 said he would not seek a fourth term in office, putting to rest questions about whether there would be a constitutional change similar to the one that allowed him to seek a third term in 1999. Human rights abuses in the northern Caprivi and Kavango regions abated somewhat in 2001, although there were continued reports of serious violations, including torture and extrajudicial killings. The Namibian Society for Human Rights said there had been "widespread and systematic acts or statements manifesting or inciting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance" in the country. Nujoma in 2001 threatened to deport homosexuals who tried to enter Namibia. Press freedom suffered a setback during the year when the government banned the distribution of the independent Namibian newspaper in government offices.

Namibia was seized by German imperial forces in the late 1800s. Thousands of people were massacred by German troops in efforts to crush all resistance to colonial settlement and administration. The territory became a South African protectorate after German forces were expelled during World War I and was ruled under the apartheid system for 42 years after 1948. A United Nations-supervised democratic transition, with free and fair elections in which Nujoma was elected president, followed 13 years of violent guerrilla war, and Namibia achieved independence in 1990.

The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) scored a sweeping victory, and Nujoma was reelected in November 1994. Nujoma, the leader of the country's struggle against apartheid, has adopted an increasingly authoritarian governing style. He was easily returned to power with 77 percent of the vote for a third five-year term in the December 1999 elections that also saw SWAPO dominate national assembly polls. The party had succeeded in passing a bitterly contested constitutional amendment to allow Nujoma to seek another term.

Capital-intensive extractive industries such as diamond and uranium mining have drawn significant foreign investment and are the centerpiece of Namibia's economic growth. Most Namibians, however, continue to live as subsistence farmers, and many lack basic services. Insecurity in the northern Kavango region has taken its toll on the country's important tourism industry.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Namibia's 1999 elections were judged as largely free and fair and allowed Namibians to exercise their constitutional right to choose their representatives for the third time. There were some instances of government harassment of the opposition, as well as unequal access to media coverage and campaign financing. The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) retained its two-thirds majority in the 72-member national assembly in 1999, increasing its number of seats from 53 to 55. The Congress of Democrats and the Turnhalle Alliance each got 7 seats. The United Democratic Front won 2, and the Monitor Action group got 1 seat.

In 1998, the electoral commission was removed from the prime minister's office and reorganized as an independent agency. While the president will still appoint commission members, he does so on the advice of a board that includes representatives of civil society. Political discussion is generally open and vigorous. The ruling party's main base is among the country's largest ethnic group, the Ovambo, whose prominence within SWAPO has evoked allegations of ethnic discrimination.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respects this. In rural areas, local chiefs use traditional courts that often ignore constitutional procedures. The government in December 2001 appealed a high court ruling that required it provide free legal representation to 128 high-treason suspects. They had been in custody for nearly two years in connection with alleged secessionist activities in Caprivi. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in December 2001 expressed concern that 80 suspected National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) fighters and collaborators had not yet appeared in court 18 months after they were detained. Critics accused Namibia of abandoning its neutrality in the Angolan war after it granted Luanda the right to use its territory to launch attacks against strongholds of UNITA under a December 1999 mutual defense pact.

Respect for human rights in Namibia is good, although allegations of abuses by security forces, including torture and extrajudicial killings, have emerged from the Caprivi Strip, the Kavango region, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting in Caprivi flared in October 1998 and in August 1999. Caprivi, a finger of land poking eastwards out of northern Namibia along its borders with Angola and Botswana, differs geographically, politically, and in its ethnic makeup from the rest of Namibia. It was used by South Africa in that country's operations against SWAPO guerrillas. Caprivians accuse the government of neglect in the province, which is among the country's poorest. UNITA has been accused of supporting Caprivi insurgents.

The Herero and Damara peoples are among the minority ethnic groups demanding larger government allocations for development in their home areas. Former guerrilla fighters of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia continue to demand jobs, land, and other benefits that they had been promised.

Namibia's constitution guarantees the right to free speech and a free press, and those rights are usually respected in practice. Private radio stations and critical independent newspapers usually operate without official interference, but reporters for state-run media have been subjected to indirect and direct pressure to avoid reporting on controversial topics, such as the Caprivi issue. The government received widespread criticism in 2001 for first barring government advertising in the independent Namibian newspaper, and then prohibiting that the paper be distributed in government offices. Measures included in a proposed defense bill that would have limited media coverage of security and defense issues was tabled in 2001. There are at least five private radio stations and one private television station. The state-run Namibia Broadcasting Corporation has regularly presented views critical of the government.

Freedom of assembly is guaranteed, except in situations of national emergency. Organizers of public meetings are required to obtain police approval, but the law is rarely enforced. Freedom of religion is guaranteed and respected in practice. Despite constitutional guarantees, women continue to face serious discrimination in customary law and other traditional societal practices. Although violence against women is reportedly widespread, there is greater attention focused on the problems of rape and domestic violence. Women are increasingly involved in the political process, but remain underrepresented in government and politics.

Constitutionally guaranteed union rights are respected. The two main union federations are the National Union of Namibian Workers and the Namibia Federation of Trade Unions. Collective bargaining is not practiced widely outside the mining and construction industries. Informal collective bargaining is increasingly common. Essential public sector workers do not have the right to strike. Domestic and farm laborers remain the country's most heavily exploited workers, in part because many are illiterate and do not know their rights.

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)