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.

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.

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