Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Namibia's civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2 due to improvements in the rule of law, including the continued stabilization of the Caprivi region and the creation of a Ministry of Safety and Security.


Following an extensive ballot recount in the November 2004 national elections, President Hifikepunye Pohamba was sworn into office in March 2005, replacing long-time president and liberation hero Sam Nujoma. In September, the government began expropriation proceedings on the first of 18 white-owned farms targeted for distribution under the country's accelerated land reform program. The situation in the formerly volatile Caprivi region remained stable; refugees from the 1998-1999 conflict continued to return, while the trials of suspected secessionists proceeded in 2005.

Namibia-formerly known as South West Africa-was claimed by German imperial forces in the late 1800s. Efforts to consolidate German colonial rule and expand white farming settlements resulted in the massacre of thousands of Herero, Nama, and Damara peoples during a series of wars with German troops in the early twentieth century. German forces were expelled during World War I, and the territory was made a South African protectorate by the League of Nations in 1920. South West Africa was ruled under the apartheid system after 1948. In 1966, South Africa's mandate was revoked by the United Nations, and the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) began a guerrilla campaign to secure the territory's independence. After 14 years of violent guerrilla war, a UN-supervised transition led to independence for Namibia in 1990, and SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma was chosen as president. The previous year, SWAPO had won 57 percent of a free and fair vote for the Constituent Assembly, which became the National Assembly on independence.

Nujoma was reelected in 1994 with more than 76 percent of the vote, the same year as a widespread SWAPO victory in the first legislative elections under the new constitution. However, Nujoma, the leader of the country's struggle against apartheid, adopted an increasingly authoritarian governing style. Before the 1999 presidential election, SWAPO succeeded in passing a bitterly contested constitutional amendment allowing Nujoma to seek an extra, third term. He was easily returned to power with 77 percent of the vote; his closest rival, former trade union leader Ben Ulenga of the Congress of Democrats, won only 11 percent. In legislative polls in 1999, SWAPO retained its two-thirds majority in the 72-member National Assembly, increasing its number of seats from 53 to 55.

Secessionist fighting in Namibia's Caprivi region flared in October 1998 and continued into 1999. Caprivi, a strip of land extending eastward out of northern Namibia along its borders with Angola and Botswana, differs geographically, politically, and in its ethnic makeup from the rest of Namibia; it was formerly used by South Africa in that country's operations against SWAPO guerrillas. The government accused the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), an Angolan rebel group, of supporting the Caprivi insurgents, and in 1999, Namibia entered into a mutual defense pact with the Angolan government that allowed each country's security forces to pursue suspected rebels into the other's territory. Also in 1999, Nujoma declared a state of emergency in the Caprivi Province, giving security forces wider-ranging powers. The resulting violence led approximately 2,400 refugees to flee to Botswana. A mass trial of 120 defendants involved in the separatist rebellion in Caprivi opened in October 2003 and is ongoing. Another 12 alleged Caprivi secessionists were brought to trial in September 2005.

The November 2004 elections for the National Assembly saw SWAPO maintain its overwhelming majority in the parliament by winning 55 seats; the Congress of Democrats won 5 seats, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance won 4, the United Democratic Front took 3, and other parties took the remaining 5 seats. In concurrent presidential elections, SWAPO's Hifikepunye Pohamba-the minister of Lands, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation in Nujoma's government and his chosen successor-eas-ily defeated six other candidates, taking 76 percent of the vote in the election for head of state. Turnout was approximately 85 percent, compared with 61 percent in 1999.

Despite criticizing the vote tabulation system and the opposition's unequal access to media and campaign resources, observer missions-including the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa and monitors from the Southern African Development Community-deemed both elections as free and fair. After successfully petitioning the high court to allow a review of official election documentation in December 2004, the Congress of Democrats and the Republican Party (RP)-citing vote discrepancies at polling stations, evidence of destroyed ballots, and an allegedly inflated voter roll-secured a court-ordered recount of all 820,000 ballots in March 2005. That recount, observed by opposition parties and members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), confirmed SWAPO's landslide victory and did not result in any changes in the allocation of seats in the National Assembly. Nevertheless, four opposition parties, led by the RP, petitioned the high court to declare the original election null and void in April 2005. The matter was pending at year's end.

Whites, who make up about 6 percent of the population, own just under half of Namibia's arable land. Since independence, the government has pursued a "willingbuyer, willing-seller" land reform program; it has purchased between 118 and 135 farms, on which it has resettled some 37,100 people. However, the program has come under increasing criticism for proceeding too slowly, and the government has taken steps to speed up land redistribution. Since 2003, the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation has assessed the value of more than 12,000 commercial farms and plans to implement a land tax that will help pay for the land reform program. (Farm owners who contest the valuations may appeal in court.)

In 2004, the government for the first time declared that all Namibian landhold-ers-not just farms belonging to foreign, absentee, or "unproductive" landlords- were susceptible to expropriation under the accelerated land reform program. In September 2005, the government served expropriation orders on 18 white-owned commercial farmers; only one of these farm owners accepted the government's proposed price, while the rest are expected to challenge the orders at the Land Tribunal. A report that same month by the Legal Assistance Centre, a local NGO, stressed the need for adequate training and support for resettled farmers, echoing an April 2005 study commissioned by the Namibia Agricultural Union.

Capital-intensive extractive industries, such as diamond and uranium mining, have drawn significant foreign investment and are the centerpieces of Namibia's economy. Most Namibians, however, continue to live as subsistence farmers, and many lack basic services. As in other southern African countries, the expiration of the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2005 and the end of textile quotas mandated by the World Trade Organization significantly affected the competitiveness of Namibia's textile industry. The country is also a recipient of substantial foreign aid. In September, Namibia secured $44.7 million in UN development support to assist government efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and food insecurity and to improve public service delivery. That same month, the African Development Bank gave the government a $34 million loan to implement its "Green Scheme Project," a series of irrigation and crop development initiatives aimed at boosting the country's agricultural sector.

In November 2005, two mass graves-believed to be filled with members of SWAPO's armed wing killed in fighting with South African forces in 1989-were discovered at a former South African military base near the Angolan border.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Namibia can change their government democratically. Despite a court-mandated recount owing to opposition allegations of voting irregularities-including an inflated voter roll and destroyed and missing ballots-the 2004 presidential and legislative elections were judged to be largely free and fair. The bicameral legislature consists of the 26-seat National Council, whose members are appointed by regional councils for six-year terms, and the 72-seat National Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. National Assembly seats are allocated by proportional representation, based on a party-list system. The president is directly elected and serves as the head of state for a five-year term.

The ruling SWAPO party has dominated both the legislative and executive branches since independence. Significant opposition parties include the Congress of Democrats, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, and the United Democratic Front.

While Namibia has a legislative and institutional framework to combat corruption, corruption is a significant problem in government and parastatals. Upon entering office in March 2005, President Hifikepunye Pohamba declared tackling public corruption to be his top priority. Nevertheless, budgetary constraints continue to obstruct effective implementation of the 2003 Anti-Corruption Bill, and the country is still without a promised anticorruption commission with strong enforcement powers. In August, Paulus Kapia, then deputy minister of Works, Transport and Communication, resigned after being implicated in a fraud scandal involving the misdirection of government monies and illegal payments to SWAPO members. That same month, Lazarus Kandara, a businessman also implicated in the scandal, allegedly shot himself while in police custody; the National Human Rights Society called for an independent investigation into the incident. Namibia was ranked 47 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution guarantees the right to free speech and a free press, and Namibia's press is considered one of the freest on the continent. Private radio stations and critical independent newspapers usually operate without official interference, but reporters for state-run media have been subjected to indirect and direct pressure to avoid reporting on controversial topics. While many journalists insist that the state-run Namibia Broadcasting Corporation enjoys complete freedom to criticize the government, others believe that it is biased toward the ruling party. There are at least eight private radio stations and two private television stations that broadcast in English and German, and international broadcasts are available to those who can afford access. Although then-president Sam Nujoma appointed himself minister of Information and Broadcasting for a period in 2004, no significant problems were experienced during his tenure. There are no government restrictions on the internet, and several publications have popular websites.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed and respected in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

Freedom of assembly and association are guaranteed by law and permitted in practice, except in situations of national emergency. Local and international human rights groups operate freely without government interference, though some officials have verbally attacked NGOs that criticize the government.

Constitutionally guaranteed union rights are respected. Although collective bargaining is not practiced widely outside the mining and construction industries, informal collective bargaining is increasingly common. Essential public sector workers do not have the right to strike. Domestic and farm laborers remain the country's most heavily exploited workers, in part because many are illiterate and do not know their rights.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respects this right in practice; judicial decisions concerning the recount of the November 2004 elections underscored this independence. Access to justice, however, is obstructed by economic and geographic barriers, a shortage of public defenders, and substantial trial delays caused by a lack of capacity in the justice system. In rural areas, traditional courts often ignore constitutional procedures.

Police and military forces are under civilian control. Pohamba's administration includes the newly created Ministry of Safety and Security, which supervises both the police and the national intelligence services. Allegations of police brutality persist, although the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) reported only two such cases in its August report covering July 2004 through July 2005. Human rights groups have called for independent investigations into the 1999 arrest and detention of suspected Caprivi separatists, and the deaths of 13 suspects in police custody; authorities have dismissed allegations of torture. Conditions in prisons and military detention facilities are harsh but generally meet international standards.

After nearly four years of delays, the mass trial of 120 defendants accused of high treason and other crimes in relation to the separatist rebellion in Caprivi opened in October 2003. In February 2004, high court judge Elton Hoff acquitted 13 of the defendants; however, the men were immediately re-arrested and the Supreme Court later upheld their detention. Twenty-nine of the defendants effectively dismissed their state-appointed counsel in early 2005 by asking them to challenge Namibia's jurisdiction over Caprivi. The trial of another 12 alleged Caprivi separatists began in September 2005; these defendants argue-although unsuccessfully-that they have been denied due process by both the Namibian and Botswana governments.

Respect for human rights in Namibia is good, and the NSHR said that the overall civil and political situation in Namibia "improved remarkably" in 2005. Nevertheless, several minority ethnic groups-including the Herero and Damara peoples- claim that the government favors the majority Ovambo in allocating development funding and providing local services. In May, a group representing the Khoisan people became the latest group to demand reparations from Germany for colonial-era atrocities; Herero leaders have already filed a $2 billion lawsuit in the United States seeking reparations for similar abuses. In 2004, the German government had apologized for atrocities committed against the Herero people but had ruled out reparations, promising increased development aid instead. The Namibian government has made efforts to end discrimination against the indigenous San (Bushmen), although the NSHR says that the San remain marginalized and subject to rights abuses; in September 2005, the rights group stated that the government should compensate the San for "gross negligence."

Despite constitutional guarantees, women continue to face discrimination in customary law and other traditional societal practices. In July, the government announced plans to introduce an inheritance bill to protect the property rights of widows and orphans, who are often stripped of their land and livestock in rural areas. Violence against women is reportedly widespread, and despite the existence of progressive legislation-including a domestic violence act-rights groups have criticized the government for failing to prosecute the majority of cases or provide compensation to the victims. Women are increasingly involved in the political process but remain underrepresented in government and politics.

Abortion is illegal in Namibia except in cases of incest or rape. Homosexuals are discriminated against and have been accused by government officials of causing HIV/AIDS; in 2001, then-president Nujoma called on police to arrest, deport, and imprison homosexuals. In February, the government launched a national policy intended to assist orphans and vulnerable children by supporting community groups, NGOs, and faith-based institutions. In addition, the government has been praised for its programs providing antiretroviral drugs to Namibians infected with HIV/AIDS.