While Namibia is a multiparty democracy, the 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.
- In September, the Electoral Court ordered a recount of the 2020 regional elections for the Ndonga Linena constituency, following complaints from the losing party. Though SWAPO, which initially had won the election, also won the recount, in October, President Hage Geingob encouraged SWAPO supporters to retaliate against the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) for permitting the rejection of the initial results.
- In July, SWAPO pushed through appointments for the leadership of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the ECN during brief windows of time between COVID-19-related suspensions of parliamentary sessions. Opposition parties claimed the appointments were performed illegally, though their August bid for the High Court overturn them failed.
|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 2019, Hage Geingob of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (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.
|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.
SWAPO won a lower-house majority of 63 seats (65.5 percent of the vote) in the 2019 elections. The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) won 16 seats, while the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) won 4. International observers considered the polls competitive and credible, though concerns were raised about several aspects of the electoral process.
SWAPO also won a majority of votes cast in the regional elections were in November 2020. In December 2020, the Electoral Court accepted a motion from the ECN to reject some results due to some irregularities flagged by the opposition All People’s Party (APP) and ordered a recount in September 2021 for the Ndonga Linena constituency. The SWAPO candidate won the recount. In October 2021, President Geingob encouraged party supporters to retaliate against the ECN for permitting the rejection of the initial results.
|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. However, political parties fail to follow financial transparency rules. The controversy around the 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 polls 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 2020, the High Court ruled that the ECN acted unconstitutionally when it removed names from a PDM candidate list.
|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, impeding their ability to mobilize support.
|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.
|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.
|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 parliamentary representation of women, who hold 46 National Assembly seats. Nevertheless, women are often discouraged from running for office and few 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 May 2021, Ephraim Nekongo, secretary of SWAPO’s youth wing, used derogatory language against LGBT+ people in a statement to party members, reprimanding those who entertained legislation to increase LGBT+ rights.
|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. Concerns have grown over the Chinese Communist Party’s influence and ties to Namibian political elites.
The government suspended parliamentary sessions during parts of 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, SWAPO pushed through appointments for the leadership of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the ECN during brief windows of time when Parliament was not suspended. Opposition parties claimed the appointments were performed illegally, though their August bid for the High Court overturn the appointments failed.
|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. The Witness Protection Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act, signed in 2017, have not been enforced.
Light sentences in high-profile cases and low prosecution and conviction rates undermine the work of the ACC, which is also underfunded. In July 2021, the National Assembly approved the president’s extension of the ACC head, Paulus Noa, for another five years, a decision criticized by those who believe that his 15-year tenure has been largely ineffective. The appointment process also lacked transparency. In April 2021, it was reported that the ACC was investigating 20 high-profile cases, including what has become known as the Fishrot corruption scandal.
The government’s purchase of two farms from the prime minister in 2020 at an allegedly inflated price came under intense scrutiny in April 2021.
|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, which was resubmitted to the National Assembly in September 2021 but was not passed by year’s end. According to a September 2020 report from the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Namibian government agencies denied some requests for information in 2020, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. A report on ancestral land issues submitted to the president in 2020 was leaked online in January 2021 after the government failed to release it.
A veil of secrecy exists over the extractive industry, military spending, statehouse upgrades, state security infrastructure, and private funding of political parties. The government budget process also lacks transparency.
|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 and was on Parliament’s 2021 agenda. Journalists have faced impediments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2021, the labor minister, Utoni Nujoma, filed a defamation suit against the owners of the weekly Windhoek Observer and its editor over a 2019 article alleging he had extorted money from a farmer in 2017 and 2018.
|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.
|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.
|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. The government reportedly maintains significant capabilities to conduct surveillance on citizens, which may discourage people from expressing dissent. In March 2021, the government published new regulations of the 2009 Communications Act that would enable interception of telecommunications by national intelligence and the police. Defamation laws may also discourage free speech.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is legally guaranteed and is usually observed in practice. Though restrictions on public gatherings were imposed during the government’s state of emergency to address the coronavirus, several protests took place during 2021. In September, about 300 protesters stormed Parliament ahead of a scheduled vote on a $1 billion compensation offer from Germany for genocide committed against the Herero and Nama people during colonial rule.
|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.
|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.
Reports of unfair labor practices and the firing of union leaders by a state-owned Chinese company, China National Nuclear Corporation Rössing Uranium (CNNC RUL), led to an international solidarity campaign on behalf of the Namibian miners.
|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. 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.
|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 case backlogs. In October 2021, the High Court overturned a 2018 corruption indictment of two men, including National Assembly member Tobie Aupindi, on the grounds that they did not receive a fair trial. A September 2021 auditor general report for 2014–18 revealed that only 8,172 cases were finalized and 29,608 were pending.
Some cases were postponed, and services were severely affected in lower courts due to government-imposed public health restrictions intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
|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. There is no independent police oversight mechanism as investigations are conducted by an Internal Investigation Directorate.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
While the constitution prohibits discrimination, challenges remain. The San people face widespread discrimination and marginalization and lack land access. In October 2021, Amnesty International issued a report condemning the government’s “rampant discrimination” against the San communities in the Omaheke and Otjozondjupa regions.
Same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized, though the prohibition is not enforced. LGBT+ people, people living with disabilities, and women face widespread discrimination. 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).
|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, it was restricted when authorities imposed COVID-19-related restrictions when a state of emergency was declared in March 2020.
The illegal fencing of communal land, condemned by the Commission of Inquiry into Ancestral Land Rights in January 2021, and its impact on freedom of movement and access to resources found in communal areas remains a challenge.
|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.
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. That 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; the case had not been resolved by the end of 2021.
|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|
Same-sex marriages are not recognized, and many churches have in the past 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. In April 2021, a court refused to grant a same-sex couple travel documents for their twin surrogate daughters, who were born in South Africa, and asked them to prove a biological link to the children. The government issued emergency travel documents for the children to enter Namibia in May.
Rates of gender-based violence and rape of minors 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.
|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. The US State Department reported in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report that Namibia fully met antitrafficking standards.
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