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Namibia - Politics

After Independence came, reconciliation and nation-building became the leitmotivof the politics of the new State. Given the history that deformed Namibia and the politics of liberation with its craving for loyalty, solidarity and unity, both projects were hardly surprising. What was surprising, however, is that both reconciliation and nation-building have taken different forms to those originally envisioned by their architects.

The post-colonial (and post-apartheid) state, having escaped in important respects from its racial past, nevertheless remained imprisoned by the shackles of its economic and social foundations. the undoubted neo-liberal character of the State, reinforced by the provisions of the Constitution, the party system and the nature of class power and dominance that it makes possible, are key elements in any analysis of the country's politics.

Namibia's leading labor union federation, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), has long argued that its close relationship with the ruling South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) party ensures workers' concerns are considered when the Namibian government (GRN) crafts and implements economic policy. In practice, however, the NUNW-SWAPO alliance has served to siphon off NUNW's old guard into plum GRN and state-owned company jobs, while compromising the federation's independence.

The linkage between NUNW and SWAPO's more populist faction mirrors in many ways the relationship between the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). It is not today's South African context that is influencing Namibia but, rather, the legacy of apartheid in both countries that has led their respective liberation movements to similar political ends. The failure of both the ANC and SWAPO to govern (administer) in a way that provides adequate economic opportunities for previously disadvantaged groups has resulted in frustration and rivalries within both ruling parties. This allowed for the emergence of more populist factions.

Three decades after independence from South Africa, white Namibians still own the vast majority of commercial farm land. The Namibian government's (GRN) land reform efforts have helped resettle more than 3000 black Namibian families on previously white owned farms, but the program still is not considered a political success. Independent economists view land reform, to date, as an economic failure. Few if any black Namibians have been lifted out of poverty through resettlement, but land reform remains popular with the majority of Namibians.

Politically, land reform is viewed as a tool to bring about social justice, as a mechanism to reverse the colonial policies that allowed prior governments to seize land from black Namibians and distribute it to German settlers and later white South Africans. Access to "land" has always been a key issue in the ruling SWAPO party's platform since the liberation struggle against apartheid South Africa. As an economic policy tool, the GRN has sought to use land reform as a means to raise poor (predominately black) Namibians out of poverty and reduce the nation's devastatingly high level of income disparity. The GRN also asserts that land reform can boost agricultural output and help Namibia achieve sustainable economic growth.

According to 2009 news reports some 1300 farms, approximately six million hectares (18 percent) of the nearly 36 million hectares owned by white farmers in 1990 have been redistributed. For years senior members of government and opposition party legislators have argued the pace of land redistribution is too slow. The longing for land by dispossessed black communities is deeply ingrained and reinforced by the political leadership.

Having a house in a town or the city is not sufficient to achieve the Namibian dream; a farm in the country is the Namibian ideal. Many middle-class urban Namibians, white and black alike, either own a farm or want to own a farm. However, farming in Namibia is extremely difficult and in many cases a money losing proposition. During the apartheid regime, white farmers received considerable government subsidies. Today many white farmers are struggling, even with their many economic advantages.

Namibians vote for 72 members of the National Assembly based on a party list system. Political parties have ranked their candidates, and voters will select a party rather than voting directly for a particular candidate. Parliamentary seats will be distributed on a proportional representation basis. The total number of votes cast will be divided by 72 to determine the quota necessary for winning one seat. The number of votes cast for a political party is then divided by the quota to determine the number of seats for a given party.

Namibian politics is centered around personalities rather than policies, but most candidates highlighted poverty reduction, education, unemployment, and land reform in party manifestos and speeches. The ruling SWAPO has benefitted from legislation that allocates state resources for campaigning according to the number of National Assembly seats a party holds. Hoping to avoid confrontational rallies, some parties, such as the RDP, have also focused on new strategies for disseminating their message, including, text messages, websites, and door-to-door campaigns. The majority of Namibians, particularly those outside urban centers, still feel strong loyalty to their liberation party, SWAPO. While Namibia has not reached Zimbabwe levels of corruption, like in Zimbabwe, SWAPO manipulates elections at the grassroots level by casting the opposition parties as tools of the West. The opposition leaders believe common people are still very ignorant, so they believe whatever SWAPO says, and will not try to find the answers on their own.



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