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NAMIBIA'S INDEPENDENCE AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF AFRICA John A. Marcum For Africa the independence of Namibia marks the completion of one era and the beginning of another. The one-time class "C" League of Nations mandate of South West Africa and the first African territory to be a focus of United Nations debate on decolonization, Namibia finally emerged only in 1990 from its tattered colonial cocoon. Africa's last colony has entered the global community of independent states just as that community itself is emerging from the cleaving bipolarity ofthe Cold War into a more complex, polycentric state system. Unlike the more than fifty African countries that preceded it, Namibia's independence will not be buffeted or deformed by the Cold War's dichotomous forces. Although Cold War logic underlay long-term East-bloc support for the nationalist insurgency against South African rule, in the end Namibia was escorted into independence by UN supervised elections as part of an international accord underwritten by both superpowers. In contrast to the experience of neighboring Angola, which hosted insurgent nationalists of Namibia's South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) from 1975 to 1989, independent Namibia is not fated to be ravaged by externally fueled civil war. Moreover, Namibian John A. Marcum, professor of politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, is currently serving as director of the University of California's Education Abroad Program. Former president ofthe African Studies Association, he is also the author of the two-volume study, The Angolan Revolution (MIT Press, 1969, 1978), Education, Race and Social Change in South Africa (U.C. Press, 1982), and numerous anthology and journal articles focused on Southern Africa. 153 154 SAISREVIEW nationalists are keen to see that fratricidal conflict and political dogmatism do not waste their fledgling state as they did Angola. In one sense a climactic event, closing off the era of African decolonization , Namibia's independence also serves as a prelude to a new, intense phase in the central political drama of southern Africa—the struggle for racial justice in South Africa. Given its sizable white minority (roughly 80,000 out of 1.5 million), Namibia's peaceful transition to at least initially stable democratic rule has helped prospects for political accommodation within the neighboring polity that for decades imposed its own apartheid laws on Namibia. The decisions by State President F.W. de Klerk to release Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and to accept both the imperative and the risk of attempting a negotiated political settlement with the African National Congress (ANC) and other black political groups were made at least marginally easier by the orderly and disciplined manner in which Namibia's internationally supervised transition to independence took place. What was feared by some—the specter ofwhite refugees from a radical Marxist regime pouring across the Orange River into the northern Cape—failed to materialize. In its own fashion Namibia added to the example of Zimbabwe another instance of racial accommodation to a new political order. When South Africa's political leadership finally faced up to the negative cost-benefit equation of continued rule by force, Namibia's accession to statehood was only one in a panoply of amazing political events taking place around the world. From Berlin to Vilnius, from Santiago to Seoul, from Ulaanbaatar to Pretoria, governments were grappling with the imperatives oftransformation—political, economic, and technological. To appreciate the significance of Namibian independence, therefore, one must examine not only that country's particular and comparative historical genesis but also the global transformation within which that event is situated and to which it will make its own special contribution. Background to Independence The history of political protest and nationalism in Namibia since the Second World War provides a backdrop to its future prospects. In 1946, a western missionary and disciple of Gandhi, Reverend Michael Scott, delivered to the United Nations the first political petition by a Southwest African. It was from a Herero tribal chief, Hosea Kutako, who publicly heralded Scott's departure for New York with the ceremonial prayer: "O'Lord, help us who roam about. Help us who have been placed in Africa and have no dwelling place of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-4724
Print ISSN
1945-4716
Pages
pp. 153-165
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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