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Namibia celebrates 25 years of independence and democracy

Philipp Sandner / ewMarch 20, 2015

25 years after independence Namibia is politically stable, but continues to depend on foreign aid. One possible issue on the agenda of the new President Hage Geingob is reparations from Germany.

Namibia's flag
Namibia is politically stableImage: imago/Mint Images

This year's independence celebrations in Namibia are special. Saturday (21.03.2015) will mark exactly 25 years since the country gained its independence from South Africa. Hage Geingob will be sworn in as the country's new president on the same day, just as his predecessor, Hifikepunye Pohamba, was sworn in on March 21 2005.

Celebrating independence in Namibia is also celebrating democracy: A democracy that is cherished by the government and which analysts in the region hold in high regard. The country is politically stable and changes in government have been peaceful and democratic.

The former liberation movement, the Southwest African People's Organisation (SWAPO), which has been in government since 1990, is viewed as the founder of Namibian democracy.

The party has played a major role in bringing peace and stability to the country, said Graham Hopwood of Namibia's Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). "To SWAPO's credit Namibia has not become an authoritarian country, despite them dominating a political landscape." Namibia is regarded as one of the countries in Africa with a high ranking in press freedom. "There has been no attempt to use that domination of the political landscape to clamp down on the newspapers or on human rights activists" he said.

SWAPO domination

Young Namibians have a positive view of the future. "Usually we had hardcore politicians who were made to be politicians. But now (with Geingob) we have somebody from an academic [background]", said Leonard Imene from the capital Windhoek, who works in software development. He hopes that Geingob, who completed his doctorate at the University of Leeds, UK, during his term as prime minister, will strengthen the education system. Many young people look up to Prime Minister Hage Geingob, said Asnath Kambunga, who runs social media training courses for young Namibians. "On NBC television (state television) you always have this dialog going on. You can ask questions then he can answer and give his views".

Election campaign in Namibia. A poster written vote for Dr. Hage Geingob
Former Prime Minister, Hage Geingob, completed a doctrate at a British university.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Gao Lei

Henning Melber, from Sweden's Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation is critical of SWAPO’s dominant role. He says it is in a ‘hegemonic position,' because of a lack of political and ideological alternatives. The other nine parties in parliament were ethnically and regionally orientated, but had no clear common political policies. Nor was Hifikepunye Pohamba's government able to attain its goals. Pohamba, who was recently awarded the Mo Ibrahim Prize for good governance, was not successful in the fight against poverty and unemployment. His election campaign promise to fight corruption was also not implemented. "Ten years down the line, the impression persists that self-enrichment of the elite has continued to increase."

Namibia's new President Hage Geingob
The new president Geingob has German-Namibian relations on his agenda.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Lecocq

For and against German reparations

Namibia's relations with Germany have been clouded by a single topic: how to come to terms with the genocide of the Herero and Nama people between 1904 and 1907 during German colonial rule. Even after the former minister for development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, asked for forgiveness on behalf of Germany in 2004 during the 100-year commemorative ceremony, many Namibians still feel like Germany is showing double standards when compared to its attitude to the Nazi era, said Henning Melber. "There is a lack of acknowledgement of guilt", said the African expert. He wishes for a historical gesture, similar to that made by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt when he fell to his knees in Warsaw in atonement for German atrocities during World War Two.

Namibia's outgoing President Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba
The outgoing president won the Mo Ibrahim PrizeImage: AFP/Getty Images/J. Watson

People in Namibia are divided over the issues of German reparations for crimes committed in the colonial era. The SWAPO government has never politically identified itself with the demands of the descendants of the Herero and Nama ethnic groups, said Melber. These ethnic groups form a minority in Namibia.

Hopwood believes the key issue is who should recieve compensation. He asks whether it should be "for the Namibian population who all suffered under colonialism and apartheid. Or should it be targeted and how would you do that in a country that doesn't allow that kind of positive discrimination towards particular ethnic groups?"

Since Wieczoreck-Zeul's visit to Namibia, Germany's government has maintained its silence on the question of reparations. More recently a dispute broke out over the return of skeletal parts from the victims of the Namibian genocide, which were taken to Germany by the colonial government for research purposes. As a high-ranking Namibian delegation received the remains from Berlin in 2011, Germany was only represented by a single minister who left the ceremony before it was over. Prime Minister Hage Geingob was very disappointed by Germany's conduct, according to Melber. "This led the Namibian government not to demand reparations as a priority, but to position themselves alongside the Herero and the Nama ethnic groups".

Two skeleton scalps on display
Skeletons of the victims of the Herero Genocide, were taken to Berlin for research.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Compensation will remain an issue in the German-Namibian relations. However, many young Namibians like Asnath Kambunga are unperturbed. "What happened in the past, we can't really change," she said, "but then we can look forward to what will happen in the future."