PR Political Rights 31 40
CL Civil Liberties 46 60
Last Year's Score & Status
77 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

While Namibia is a multiparty democracy, the ruling South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) has ruled since independence. Protections for civil liberties are generally robust. Minority ethnic groups accuse the government of favoring the majority Ovambo in allocating services. The nomadic San people suffer from poverty and marginalization. Other human rights concerns include police brutality, the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations, and discrimination against women.

header2 Key Developments in 2020

  • Nationwide protests against gender-based violence (GBV) were held in October after the remains of a missing woman were found in Walvis Bay. Police forcefully responded; at least 27 people were arrested, including 3 journalists.
  • Local and regional elections were held in November. While SWAPO won a majority of regional votes, it fell short of its 2015 performance and lost control of the Windhoek municipal council to opposition groups.
  • Namibian authorities relied on public-assembly restrictions, travel restrictions, and other measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Despite these efforts, the country faced infection waves in August and December. Some 23,333 cases and 196 deaths were reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by year’s end.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The president is both chief of state and head of government and is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. In November 2019, Hage Geingob of SWAPO was reelected with 56.3 percent of the vote. While international observers deemed polls peaceful and credible, concerns were raised about the lack of verifiable paper trail, long waiting times, and delays in the counting and release of results.

In February 2020, the Supreme Court ruled the use of electronic voting machines without a paper trail invalid but did not accept an opposition call to overrule the 2019 results.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The National Council, the upper chamber of the bicameral parliament, has 42 seats, with members appointed by regional councils for six-year terms. The lower house, the National Assembly, has 96 seats filled by popular election for five-year terms using party-list proportional representation. International observers considered the November 2019 polls competitive and credible, though some logistical glitches with electronic voting machines were reported, and concerns were raised about other aspects of the electoral process.

SWAPO won a lower-house majority in those elections, though its dominant position was challenged. It won 63 seats and 65.5 percent of the vote. Opposition parties performed well. The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) won 16 seats, while the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) won 4.

Local and regional elections were held in November 2020. SWAPO won a majority of votes cast in regional polls but fell short of its 2015 performance. SWAPO notably lost control of the Windhoek municipal council to opposition groups. In December, the Electoral Court accepted a motion from the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) to reject some regional-council and local-authority results due to the delivery of ballots meant for other races and the premature closure of a polling station.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3.003 4.004

The electoral framework is robust and generally well implemented. The controversy around use of electronic machines dominated the 2019 elections, with some party leaders expressing doubt about the results for want of a verifiable paper trail. The 2019 results were declared free and fair by the Commonwealth Observer Group and the South African Development Community, although they raised concerns over other aspects of the electoral process.

The use of electronic voting machines without paper trails was ruled invalid in February 2020. In July, the High Court ruled that the ECN acted unconstitutionally when it removed names from a PDM candidate list.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3.003 4.004

Political parties may form and operate freely. Registration requirements are not onerous and there were no time limits for parties wishing to register and participate in the 2019 elections. However, candidate-registration fees and campaign financing can place an undue burden on smaller parties. Parties that hold parliamentary seats receive annual public support based on parliamentary representation, which disproportionately benefits SWAPO. Small parties lack financial resources or broad nationwide membership bases, making it difficult to mobilize electoral support. Some 18 parties nevertheless registered for the November 2020 local and regional elections.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3.003 4.004

Opposition parties may freely compete in elections and generally do not encounter intimidation or harassment during election campaigns. Although opposition parties have historically been regarded as weak and fragmented, they gained several seats in the 2019 elections, dislodging SWAPO from the two-thirds majority it held since 2014. Eleven of the 15 parties that registered for the 2019 parliamentary elections secured seats. Opposition parties also did well in the November 2020 local and regional elections, though only six parties won regional seats.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 3.003 4.004

People are generally able to express their political choices without undue influence from external actors, including the church and traditional leaders. However, the historic domination of SWAPO—an ideologically diverse party that often faces intraparty disputes—limits voters’ ability to directly express a preference for particular policies.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3.003 4.004

The constitution guarantees political rights for all, and the government works to uphold these rights in practice. Namibia has made great strides in increasing female parliamentary representation; women held 46 National Assembly seats as of December 2020. Nevertheless, women are often discouraged from running for office and few women contested the November 2020 regional and local elections.

Almost all ethnic groups are represented in the parliament and in senior political positions. However, members of the San ethnic group have faced restrictions on their political rights due to widespread discrimination and marginalization. LGBT+ people face discrimination that hampers their ability to openly advocate for their interests.

In December 2020, the Namibian Federation for the Visually Impaired lauded the ECN’s production of Braille ballot papers and voter-education efforts intended for the visually impaired.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3.003 4.004

The democratically elected government freely determines policies. However, 2014 reforms increased executive power, including by adding parliamentarians who are appointed by the president and by limiting the National Council’s power to review certain bills.

A growing Chinese presence, and Chinese ties to Namibian political elites, have prompted questions over the country’s influence. In September 2020, an LPM parliamentarian alleged that over 3,500 Chinese troops were stationed in Namibia, which Defence Minister Peter Hafeni Vilho neither confirmed nor denied later that month.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

While Namibia has a sound legal anticorruption framework, concerns remain that anticorruption laws are inconsistently enforced, and difficulties in accessing government-held information present barriers to gathering evidence. Light sentences on high-profile cases and low prosecution and conviction rates undermine the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The ACC is also underfunded; in June 2020, director general Paulus Noa warned that the agency would stop work on 17 high-profile cases due to shortfalls. In October, the government used a contingency fund to direct resources to the ACC.

Despite these challenges, high-profile anticorruption activity continued during the year. Six people, including former ministers and other officials, were accused of corruption in 2019 for allegedly colluding with Icelandic fishing company Samherji, which sought preferential access to Namibian waters. The case was ongoing as of September 2020.

The Witness Protection Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act, which were signed in 2017, remained unimplemented as of September 2020. That month, Justice Minister Yvonne Dausab reported that the government would need to spend N$160 million ($9.2 million) annually to implement the Witness Protection Act.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

Namibia lacks access-to-information laws despite government promises to finalize this legislation. While a draft was tabled in June 2020, it was not passed by year’s end.

Namibia also lacks an institutional culture of openness and transparency. A veil of secrecy exists over the extractive industry, military spending, statehouse upgrades, state security infrastructure, and private funding of political parties. In September 2020, Minister Vilho announced that some defense-spending information would not be shared with the National Assembly.

According to a September 2020 report from the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Namibian government agencies denied some requests for information using the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason.

While a commission of inquiry sent a report on ancestral land issues to President Geingob in July, his office did not make the report public by December, despite promises to do so.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

The constitution guarantees media freedom and freedom of expression. In practice, journalists face few legal restrictions and generally work without risking their personal safety. While self-censorship is common in state media, private media remain critical of the government. The absence of information laws obstructs investigative journalism, however.

Journalists did face impediments during the COVID-19 crisis, or under the pretext of the pandemic. In June 2020, the president’s office apologized after journalists were blocked from attending the opening ceremony of a COVID-19 isolation facility in Windhoek; two female journalists who attended reportedly filed assault complaints against police over their treatment. In August, the Namibia Press Agency was criticized for distancing itself from correspondent Edward Mumbuu, who asked Geingob a question about the Samherji affair during a July COVID-19 press conference.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Religious freedom is generally respected in practice.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom is guaranteed by law and generally respected in practice.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of expression is legally guaranteed and generally observed in practice. However, Namibia lacks cyber-harassment or data-protection legislation.

Social media is increasingly used to express political dissent, though most citizens avoid criticizing the government. In October 2020, activists organized nationwide protests against GBV under the #ShutItAllDown hashtag.

The government reportedly maintains significant capabilities to surveil citizens. However, the legal framework for doing so remains questionable.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of assembly is guaranteed in law and is usually observed in practice. Public-assembly restrictions were imposed under a COVID-19-related state of emergency. A ban on outdoor assemblies of over 100 people remained in force at year’s end.

Protests nevertheless took place during 2020. In July, antiabortion activists held an event in Windhoek. #ShutItAllDown protests were held nationwide in October, after the remains of a missing woman were found in Walvis Bay. Police used force against some protesters; at least 27 people were arrested, including 3 journalists.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Human rights groups generally operate without interference, though government leaders sometimes use public platforms against civil society.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4.004 4.004

Constitutionally guaranteed union rights are respected and observed in practice, though essential public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Collective bargaining is not widely practiced outside the public-service sector and the mining, construction, and agriculture industries. Union membership has declined in recent years, with 25 percent of the labor force unionized.

Despite COVID-19-related restrictions, labor activity took place during 2020. In May, the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union backed protests against a Windhoek hotel, prompted by layoffs and pay cuts.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 3.003 4.004

By law and in practice, the separation of powers is observed, and judges are not frequently subject to undue influence. The 2015 establishment of the Office of the Judiciary affords the system administrative and financial independence. However, the judiciary lacks adequate resources and is vulnerable to budget cuts.

Judges are appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, which the president has some influence over. Public access to court documents and proceedings has been restricted in recent years; in 2019, documents implicating the president and justice minister in a fraud case were kept out of public view by a court ruling. In February 2020, the Legal Assistance Centre criticized a proposed rule that would allow case files to be kept from public view.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

The rule of law and fair-trial rights are constitutionally protected, though equal access to justice is obstructed by factors including economic and geographic barriers, a shortage of public defenders, a lack of resources, and backlogs. A pilot program meant to address the backlog launched in September 2019; Chief Justice Peter Shivute is expected to comment on the program’s success in 2021.

Due process was impacted by COVID-19 measures; while courts functioned during the lockdown, some cases were postponed and services were relatively limited.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Namibia is free from war and insurgencies. However, police brutality and the abuse of suspects in custody are problems. In March 2020, an individual in Ohangwena Region died after he was allegedly assaulted by police. While two officers faced accusations related to his death, they remained on duty after receiving bail. In July, three officers received 10-year sentences for murdering a suspect in 2013.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

While the constitution guarantees the right to equality and prohibits discrimination, challenges remain. The San people face widespread societal discrimination and marginalization and lack land access.

Same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized, though the prohibition is not enforced. LGBT+ people and women face widespread discrimination. In April 2020, video of a local community leader verbally insulting and physically assaulting a transgender woman in the eastern city of Gobabis was made public. Police reportedly turned the woman away when she attempted to press charges, though charges were filed after a nongovernmental organization (NGO) intervened.

Increased government support and NGO educational programs about the condition of people living with albinism, who are targeted by ritual killings, has helped improve their living experiences.

In October 2020, an organization representing members of the Baster and Zambesi groups noted widespread discrimination in a report to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of movement is constitutionally guaranteed and generally observed in practice. However, authorities imposed COVID-19-related restrictions when a state of emergency was declared in March 2020. Some movement restrictions were relaxed in May, though a tighter lockdown was imposed in August as cases rose.

The illegal fencing of communal land and its impact on freedom of movement and access to resources found in communal areas remains a challenge.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3.003 4.004

Private property rights are guaranteed in law and largely respected in practice. The constitution prohibits expropriation without compensation. There are no legal barriers to women’s access to land. However, customs regarding inheritance procedures and property rights limit women.

Parliamentarians considered a National Equitable Economic Empowerment Bill (NEEEB) in 2020. Independent Patriots for Change leader Panduleni Itula criticized it in September, saying it would restrict ownership rights. NEEEB remained under consideration at year’s end.

Land rights remain a contentious and unresolved issue. The Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Rights and Restitution presented its report to President Geingob in July 2020, though the report was not made public as of December. In April, the indigenous Hai//om group sued the government in an effort to gain recognition for its ancestral rights to land in the Etosha National Park.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

LGBT+ people face harassment, discrimination, attacks, and impeded access to public services. Same-sex marriages are not recognized, and many churches have indicated their unwillingness to recognize or perform them. Legal challenges from people in same-sex partnerships exist in the courts, seeking either residency permits or recognition of their marriages. Sodomy laws exist, though there have been no recent convictions. Rates of GBV are high.

Abortion is only available for those in medical danger and for survivors of rape and incest. Forced and child marriages occur; 7 percent of girls are married before turning 18.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Slavery and servitude are constitutionally outlawed. However, forced child labor is prevalent in the agricultural sector and in domestic settings. San and Zemba children are especially at risk. In the 2020 edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department reported that Namibia nevertheless met antitrafficking standards.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    77 100 free