Understanding Namibia: The Trials of Independence

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Understanding Namibia: The Trials of Independence
by Henning Melber
Oxford University Press, 2015
256 pp.
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Since it achieved independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has generally been considered one of Africa’s more stable democracies, with regular multiparty elections, a progressive constitution, and seemingly robust personal freedoms. Melber, a veteran member of the country’s entrenched governing party, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), casts a much more critical look at Namibia’s record. He argues that SWAPO has become too dominant, too willing to use state resources to maintain its grip on power, and too thin-skinned. His criticism of the country’s economic policies is even harsher. He complains that the state has done little to reduce the high levels of inequality bequeathed by the pre-independence white minority-rule government. SWAPO’s management of the country’s significant land, mining, and marine resources has mostly served to create a new, black oligarchy. Melber ends his compelling account by pondering the future. In a country where a majority of the population is under 30 years old, the swapo leadership increasingly looks like a gerontocracy. But Melber believes its hold on power is secure for now.