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Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Namibia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 10 July 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Namibia, 10 July 2008, available at: [accessed 22 November 2017]
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.

Period of democratic transition: 1989
Pro-democracy civic movement: not present

In 1988, Namibia – governed by South Africa as a protectorate under a 1920 League of Nations agreement – was finally given its independence in an international treaty contingent upon the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. South Africa had administered Namibia under apartheid in contravention of a 1966 United Nations resolution granting Namibia independence.

In addition to independence, the agreement called for a cease-fire between South African forces and the Southwest African People's Organization (SWAPO) – an association with Communist tendencies that had been fighting for independence since 1966. Preparations were also made for a phased withdrawal of South African troops as well as free parliamentary elections. By the end of June 1989, South Africa had granted amnesty to all Namibian guerrilla fighters, repealed apartheid legislation, and pulled its defense force out of Namibia, leaving just 1,500 troops in the country. Leading up to the November 1989 parliamentary elections, SWAPO reversed earlier statements favoring a preference for a one-party state by issuing public reassurances that it would respect democratic principles and multiparty politics should it win; it has largely lived up to this promise. In addition to SWAPO, 10 newly formed political parties participated in elections, considered to be free and fair by UN observers, for which almost 98 percent of registered voters turned out to cast ballots. SWAPO dominated the elections, taking 57 percent of the seats and enabling the party to nominate Sam Nujoma, one of its own, as the first president of Namibia. By February 1990, the Constituent Assembly had drafted and adopted a new liberal constitution.

Despite SWAPO's continued dominance of the political process, Namibia has generally been one of the most consistently free and open countries on the continent, and its elections have continued to be among the fairest.

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