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Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)

How are we doing?
Comparative democratisation and development between Namibia and her peers1

IPPR Briefing paper no. 23

Prof. Bill Lindeke with assistance from Nangula Shejavali2

Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)

December 2007

SARPN acknowledges IPPR as a source of this document:
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After achieving several milestones in her seventeen years of post independence democratic consolidation, Namibia seeks to achieve even higher standing in both democracy and development. Democracy continues to find popular support in Namibia and in Africa following reforms over the past two decades. Now seems to be a suitable time for Namibians to ask "How are we doing?" After a general discussion of democracy in Africa, this paper explores several recent indexes measuring performance according to social, economic, and governance indicators. It compares Namibia with five peer countries that are small, middle income democracies ranking above Namibia in development. These comparisons show Namibia to be generally competitive with some of the peers in many areas, but demonstrating particular weaknesses in human capital development, HIV/AIDS impacted health issues, and excessive state intrusion in the economy. Namibia exceeds the peers in gender achievements, but governance issues provide a more mixed case.

Namibia's independence was finally attained on the cusp of Africa's entrance to the Third (or as some argue, the Fourth) Wave of democratisation. During the vote counting in 1989, as the Berlin Wall came down and former SWAPO allies in Eastern Europe perished before the eyes of the world, Namibia's leaders-to-be settled on the necessity of accepting the voters' will in order to determine the country's future. Returning to the bush was not an option.

Subsequently, Namibia became the first African country to author its own constitution.3 In the context of uncertainty in 1990 (given the still recent destabilising experiences in Angola and Mozambique, combined with the possibility that South Africa could have sent troops back in to Namibia as they had in Angola), Namibia's founding fathers and mothers crafted a document that was meant for a stable democratic future. Unlike many of the new constitutions of that period, Namibia's has not been altered to an unrecognisable form. The original document has served well and is a source of justified pride for the country and its leaders.

In the process of living their democracy, Namibians have now passed several milestones in terms of democratic consolidation: second, third and fourth elections, retirement of the Founding President Sam Nujoma in a controversial though successful succession process, and the stepping down of the Founding and only President of SWAPO. In many democracy and development reports over the past few years Namibia has featured near the top of the tables for Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. In the 2007 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance Namibia ranks seventh. Afrobarometer4 surveys show high levels of trust and support for the country's political system and officials. (Afrobarometer Working paper #34: 31, 33, 35)

Additionally, Namibia has set a very ambitious goal for itself to become a developed country by 2030. This goal, embedded in Vision 2030, is probably too ambitious.5 However, the consensus of SWAPO leadership was for Namibia to become the most successful country in Africa. Given the inheritance from the apartheid regime at independence, such as the world's most unequal income distribution and an overwhelming dependence on South Africa (roads, rail, imports, currency, customs, etc.), this indeed is an ambitious goal.

Recent data releases from the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, among many others, provide an excellent opportunity for Namibians and scholars alike to take stock of how the country is performing in terms of consolidating democracy and developing the society and economy as a national unit. As a country that is both small and comparatively new in terms of independence, Namibians tend to focus extensively on personalities and on the country's uniqueness. This is quite understandable. However, the current challenge is to make broader comparisons to gauge how Namibia is performing relative to some important peer countries. A broader comparison helps to concentrate thinking on what has been accomplished and what needs attention during the next phase of development.

This paper will trace several types of comparison. First, six peer societies (discussed below) will be examined in terms of narrative descriptions and basic quantitative measures. A comparison of social performance will examine the consequences of government and societal actions in terms of the World Bank's World Development Report or the UNDP's Human Development Report, or other sources. Further, a comparison of the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Index against the same peer countries on economic performance will be examined. This will emphasise the business context for both performance and remaining challenges. The paper also will feature a test of governance performance, as measured by the latest World Bank team's index of approximately thirty-three global indexes. Finally, a gender analysis will examine this important political performance in achieving greater equity in several aspects of empowerment.

  1. Adapted from a paper prepared for the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) Second Annual Symposium 2007. Theme: In Search of Sustainable Democratic Governance For Africa: Does Democracy Work For Developing Countries? Johannesburg, South Africa 7-9 November 2007. Permission to publish is appreciated.
  2. Professor Lindeke is currently serving as Acting Executive Director of the IPPR, where Nangula Shejavali recently was an intern.
  3. There are still disagreements about this from certain perspectives. But they are countered by the crafters of the document, such as Chair of the proceedings, Hage Geingob, and others who were present. Further, the 1982 Principles that formed the basis for constitutional negotiations featured intense SWAPO participation.
  4. These are public opinion surveys conducted through a network of researchers centered at Michigan State University to show opinion and opinion trends among previously under surveyed democratic countries in Africa (now 21 countries), Latin America, Asia, and the former Soviet sphere.
  5. The Bank of Namibia recently suggested that Namibia needs to grow at 11% a year to attain many of the targets. This would be two to three times the best growth performance to date. (Katswara 2007)

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