Freedom in the World 2003


Namibia's white farmers became increasingly nervous in 2002 following comments made by President Sam Nujoma about the country's land redistribution program. Nujoma, speaking at the World Development Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September, said that he supported the controversial land seizures being carried out by the government of President Robert Mugabe in neighboring Zimbabwe. There have been increasing calls in Namibia for more rapid land redistribution. Whites, who make up about 6 percent of the population, own just under half of Namibia's arable land. Nujoma, a close ally of Mugabe's, referred to "arrogant white farmers" during a congress of the ruling South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in 2002 when discussing land redistribution. A proposed amendment to the country's land policy of "willing buyer-willing seller" would make it more difficult for foreign nationals to own land in Namibia. Although leaders of the Herero people in 2002 threatened to forcefully repossess farms in Namibia if they did not receive compensation for abuses they suffered during colonialism, the country is not expected to experience the violence that has wracked Zimbabwe. Namibia's cattle farms are of poorer quality, and larger areas are needed to make commercial farms viable.

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. After 13 years of violent guerrilla war, Namibia achieved independence in 1990. During a UN-supervised democratic transition, Nujoma was chosen president that year by a freely and fairly elected National Assembly.

SWAPO scored a sweeping victory, and Nujoma was reelected in 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 5-year term in the 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 a third term. Nujoma in 2001 said he would not seek a fourth term, but there is some pressure within the ruling party for him to run again.

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 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. 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. 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 Supreme Court in June 2002 ruled that the government must provide legal aid for 128 defendants accused of high treason and other crimes in relation to the Caprivi separatist rebellion. Human rights groups in 2002 said eight Caprivi suspects have died in police custody since 1999. Authorities have dismissed allegations of torture.

Respect for human rights in Namibia is good, although allegations of abuses by security forces, including torture and extrajudicial killing, have emerged from the Caprivi Strip, the Kavango region, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All Namibian troops had withdrawn from Congo by 2002. 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. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) has been accused of supporting Caprivi insurgents. Human rights groups in 2002 said abuses in the Caprivi region diminished following the truce signed in April between the Angolan government and UNITA. Under a 1999 mutual defense pact, the governments of Angola and Namibia agreed that each could pursue suspected rebels on the other's territory.

The Herero and Damara peoples are among the minority ethnic groups demanding larger government allocations for development in their home areas. Herero leaders in 2002 demanded reparations for abuses they suffered at the hands of German colonists. The Herero were nearly wiped out during colonialism. The government has made efforts to end discrimination of indigenous San (bushmen).

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. There are at least eight 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. 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. Violence against women is reportedly widespread, although there is greater attention being focused on the problem. Women are increasingly involved in the political process, but remain underrepresented in government and politics.

Constitutionally guaranteed union rights are respected. 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.

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)