Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Namibia is an upper-middle-income country with perennial food deficits, recurring droughts and floods, alarming rates of chronic malnutrition - and one of the highest levels of HIV/AIDS in the world. It is also one of the most unequal societies on earth, with a shocking Gini coefficient of 0.7.
Income distribution in Namibia is highly distorted with about 35 percent of the country’s population living on less than US$ 1 a day. While the country’s economy is heavily dependent on the mining sector, roughly half of Namibia’s two million people rely on subsistence agriculture, characterized by low productivity and high variability due to water scarcity, erratic rainfall, poor soils and low capacity to support intensive agricultural methods.
Namibia has a progressive constitution and is a multi-party democracy. However, the political dominance of the ruling SWAPO Party persists. This dominance by SWAPO is attributed to the opposition parties struggle to present themselves as credible alternatives. Furthermore, the ruling party is still able to capitalise on its image as the victors of the liberation struggle, a record of steady, if unremarkable economic growth and public spending that has largely focused on health and education.
Namibia's proportional representation system appears to be encouraging the development of ethnic niche parties whose appeal is to core support groups that can deliver one or two seats in the National Assembly.
There is some concern that Namibia has a weak civil society sector. Few NGOs get involved in hands-on political lobbying and few are prepared to actively attempt to set the agenda on politics, apart from some women's organisations. This may be because government and party rhetoric against certain organisations has had a chilling effect on others becoming more openly political. Many do not get involved and even avoid political controversies. While few are pro-active in lobbying, many organisations do send representatives to government-sponsored workshops on policy matters and give feedback when asked to comment on a draft bill or policy, although they are rarely the initiators of such consultations.
In general the human rights situation has improved since the late 1990s when instability in the north-east of the country was met with security clampdowns, detention without trial, and torture. However, no one has yet been prosecuted for the torture of suspects rounded up in the wake of the armed rebellion in Caprivi in August 1999.
While the intensity of rhetoric against gays and lesbians (which reached a pitch when the Home Affairs Minister called for their ‘elimination' in 2000) has lessened, homophobia remains a concern. Violence against women and children continues to be a major problem in Namibia.