Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 20:05 GMT

Freedom in the World 2011 - Namibia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 12 May 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Namibia, 12 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dcbf5141f.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Windhoek
Population: 2,171,000

Political Rights Score: 2 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Status: Free

Overview

Questions emerged in 2010 over who would succeed President Hifikepunye Pohamba in the 2014 elections, portending possible divisions in the ruling party. Planned protests by civil servants in November signaled a potential weakening of the ruling party, which nevertheless dominated regional and local elections later that month. Meanwhile, a major scandal erupted in July following revelations that millions of dollars from a government pension fund had been lost in recent years.


Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa, was claimed by German imperial forces in the late 19th century and became a South African protectorate after World War I. In 1966, South Africa's mandate was revoked by the United Nations, and the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) began a guerrilla campaign for independence. After years of war, a UN-supervised transition led to independence in 1990, and SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma was chosen as president. The previous year, SWAPO had won 57 percent of the ballots in a free and fair vote for the Constituent Assembly, which became the National Assembly after independence.

Secessionist fighting in Namibia's Caprivi region between 1998 and 1999 led some 2,400 refugees to flee to neighboring Botswana. A mass trial of 120 defendants involved in the separatist rebellion opened in October 2003 and was ongoing at the end of 2010.

Nujoma and SWAPO retained control of the presidency and legislature in the 1994 and 1999 elections. In 2004, after a bitter succession contest within the party, Nujoma's longtime ally, Hifikepunye Pohamba, was chosen as the party's presidential candidate and went on to win elections. Divisions within SWAPO became a central concern for Pohamba, as the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) – a breakaway party headed by several former prominent members of SWAPO – emerged in 2007. Challenges also emerged from elements within the ruling party, notably the hard-line SWAPO Party Youth League (SPYL) and to a lesser degree from Nujoma.

Nevertheless, Pohamba won 75 percent of the vote in the November 2009 presidential elections, while the first runner-up, RDP's Hidipo Hamutenya, obtained just 11 percent. In concurrent parliamentary elections, SWAPO won 54 seats in the 72-member legislature, while RDP took 8. Following the contests, nine opposition parties filed a legal challenge calling for the nullification of the presidential and parliamentary elections because of "gross irregularities." Key allegations included claims that some areas registered turnouts of over 100 percent and concerns that polling centers failed to post results as they were tallied, as is required by law. While the high court dismissed the case on a technicality in March 2010, a supreme court decision in September overruled that verdict; the case remained under review by the high court at year's end.

In advance of local and regional elections held in November 2010, a number of opposition parties voiced a lack of confidence in the electoral commission, claiming that the voters roll was contaminated. SWAPO dominated those contests, winning a total of 226 council seats compared to 48 for the RDP. Throughout the year, individuals began positioning themselves for the upcoming contest over who would succeed Pohamba as party president and candidate for the 2014 elections.

The small white minority owns just under half of Namibia's arable land, and redistribution of property has been slow despite efforts to accelerate the process. In 2004, the government declared that all landholders were susceptible to expropriation. While 30 farms have been targeted, the government had expropriated only five by the end of 2009. Several farm owners have used the courts to contest the expropriation or the prices offered. In 2010, several SWAPO parliamentarians warned of a "land grab" if reforms were not expedited.

Namibia's economy has been among the strongest in the region, and the country has consistently been rated positively in terms of competitiveness and ease of doing business. While the economy contracted 0.7 percent in 2009, it grew at a rate of approximately 4 percent in 2010.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Namibia is an electoral democracy. The bicameral legislature consists of the 26-seat National Council, whose members are appointed by regional councils for six-year terms, and the 72-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms using party-list proportional representation. The president, who is directly elected for five-year terms, appoints the prime minister and cabinet.

A number of amendments to the electoral code were passed in advance of the 2009 elections, such as authorizing the counting of ballots at polling places. These changes were applauded by the opposition, but other issues, including the length of the polling period and the absence of an electoral tribunal, remained the subject of criticism. The campaign period witnessed some localized tension and violence between SWAPO supporters and the opposition RDP. Domestic and international observers declared the elections free and fair, although the latter raised some concerns about the pro-SWAPO bias on the government-run Namibian Broadcast Corporation (NBC), delays in the counting process, and organizational mishaps during the polling process.

The ruling SWAPO party has dominated since independence. Significant opposition parties include the recently formed RDP, the Congress of Democrats, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, and the United Democratic Front. Since its formation in 2007, RDP supporters have been subject to harassment and intimidation by SWAPO members, who occasionally disrupt RDP rallies despite calls by police to disperse. While these problems have subsided somewhat in recent years, the RDP experienced some difficulty in holding rallies before the 2009 elections and faced isolated bans and disruptions of demonstrations in 2010. The RDP also boycotted parliament for most of 2010 to protest the failure of the high court to decide their election petition on substantive grounds and delays in the resolution of their appeal of that decision with the supreme court.

Although President Hifikepunye Pohamba has made anticorruption efforts a major theme of his presidency, official corruption remains a significant problem, and investigations of major cases proceed slowly. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has considerable autonomy, as it reports only to the National Assembly. However, it lacks prosecutorial authority; it can recommend cases to the prosecutor-general, who has final say on whether to proceed. In two separate cases in 2010, a former minister and the former head of the NBC were found guilty of corruption-related charges. While the ACC was actively pursuing a number of other corruption investigations, criticism remained over the quality of its work and its focus on relatively low-profile cases. A major scandal surfaced in July 2010 concerning the depletion of a government pension fund, which lost huge sums from 1994 to 2002 when money was loaned to individuals with suspected connections to the ruling elite; a forensic audit was ongoing at year's end. Namibia was ranked 56 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution guarantees free speech, and Namibia's media have generally enjoyed a relatively open environment. Private broadcasters and independent newspapers usually operate without official interference. However, government and party leaders at times issue harsh criticism and even threats against the independent press, usually in the wake of unflattering stories. While many insist that the state-owned NBC has been free to criticize the government, concerns have increased about excessive government influence over programming and personnel.

There are no restrictions on internet sites. While many publications and organizations have websites that are critical of the government, the 2009 Communication Act has raised concerns about privacy rights. The new legislation, which allows the government to tap into private communications without a warrant, threatens to limit private discussion.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed and respected in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

Freedoms of assembly and association are guaranteed by law and permitted in practice, except in situations of national emergency. In August 2010, a police attempt to temporarily ban public demonstrations was declared illegal by the high court. Through informal pressure, such as declining to grant civil servants' requests for time off from work, the government in November tried to limit protests by civil servants over the government's tepid response to the pension fund scandal. Although human rights groups generally have operated without interference, government ministers have in the past threatened and harassed nongovernmental organizations and their leadership. Constitutionally guaranteed union rights are respected. Although collective bargaining is not widely practiced outside the mining and construction industries, informal collective bargaining is increasingly common. Essential public sector workers do not have the right to strike.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the separation of powers is observed in practice. Access to justice, however, is obstructed by economic and geographic barriers, a shortage of public defenders, and delays caused by a lack of capacity in the court system, especially at lower levels. Traditional courts in rural areas have often ignored constitutional procedures. However, legislation to create greater uniformity in traditional court operations and better connect them to the formal judicial system was implemented in 2009. Allegations of police brutality persist, and conditions in prisons and military detention facilities are quite harsh.

Minority ethnic groups have claimed that the government favors the majority Ovambo in allocating funding and services.

Despite constitutional guarantees and one of the highest percentages of women parliamentarians in Africa, women continue to face discrimination in customary law and other traditional societal practices. Widows and orphans have been stripped of their land, livestock, and other assets in rural areas. Lack of awareness of legal rights as well as informal practices have undermined the success of legal changes, such as the 2002 Communal Land Reform Act. Violence against women is reportedly widespread, and rights groups have criticized the government's failure to enforce the country's progressive domestic violence laws. The government has been praised for providing antiretroviral drugs to Namibians infected with HIV/AIDS and for its 2007 policy outlawing societal and workplace discrimination against those living with the virus. Concerns about human trafficking increased in the context of the 2010 World Cup in neighboring South Africa and led to government efforts to promote awareness of trafficking issues among personnel in state agencies.


* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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