Freedom in the World 2017 - Namibia

Freedom Status: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Namibia is a stable multiparty democracy, though the ruling party, SWAPO, has overwhelmingly won every election since independence. Protections for civil liberties are generally robust. Minority ethnic groups claim that the government favors the majority Ovambo—which dominates SWAPO—in allocating funding and services, and the nomadic San people suffer from poverty and marginalization. Other human rights concerns include the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations under colonial-era laws and discrimination against women under customary law and other traditional societal practices.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • A corruption case dating to 2009 faced further obstacles as the defendants sought to have the trial judge removed.
  • Both the state and defendants in a collection of treason cases linked to secessionism in the Caprivi region pursued appeals of their 2015 verdicts during the year.
  • In April, authorities temporarily detained two Japanese journalists shortly after they interviewed a cabinet minister about Namibia’s use of North Korean workers on military construction projects. The journalists were released, and their seized equipment was eventually returned.
Executive Summary: 

A long-running corruption trial continued to face delays during 2016, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in June on the defendants’ petition to have the trial judge, Maphios Cheda, removed from the case. Prosecutors accused three business partners—former public service commissioner Teckla Lameck, Jerobeam Mokaxwa, and Chinese national Yang Fan, whose employer had close ties to the Chinese Communist Party—of defrauding the state in 2009 through inflated contract prices, among other offenses. The Supreme Court was still considering Cheda’s removal at year’s end.

Although the High Court issued verdicts in 2015 for the last of more than 100 alleged secessionists who were accused of treason and other crimes related to fighting in Namibia’s Caprivi region between 1998 and 1999, a series of related court proceedings began in 2016. These included defendants’ appeals of their convictions, civil suits against the state by those found not guilty, and state appeals of the acquittals. Hearings were expected to continue in 2017.

The issue of land reform remained a contentious one in 2016. A small white minority owns just under half of Namibia’s arable land, and redistribution has been slow and fraught with disagreement. In August, the radical Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement threatened to take the government to court for failing to make affordable, rent-controlled land available as previously agreed. Disputes over land policy have divided SWAPO in recent years; four SWAPO youth wing officials were reinstated in the party after a court ruled in April that their 2015 expulsions—largely for involvement with or support of AR—had violated the party’s own rules.

Political Rights

Political Rights 30 / 40

A. Electoral Process 10 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 11 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 9 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 47 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 14 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 12 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 11 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 10 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Namibia, see Freedom in the World 2016.