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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Kunze

Understanding Henning Melber

In order to understand the perspective and position that Henning Melber wrote “Understanding Namibia” from, we needed to understand who Melber was himself. As a teen, Melber came with his family to Namibia from Germany, and found the social transition of elitism and dominant values of the White minority in society was difficult for him. During his youth, he studies politics and sociology, and eventually got involved in the SWAPO liberation movement in 1974. Early on in his experience with SWAPO, he was banned from Namibia for 14 years for his political outspoken-ness and decisions, though it was unclear of any specifics as to why. When he re-entered Namibia post-independence he became active in from 1992 to 2000 as Head of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU) in Windhoek. From 1994 to 2000 he was the Chairman of the Namibian-German Foundation for Cultural Cooperation in Windhoek.

Throughout this time he witnessed the attempted social transitions of Namibia and the government as a response to being newly independent. In particular, he notes that the liberation movement was supposed to be a struggle for self-determination which would promote human dignity and social justice. It was supposed to create conditions of better well-being for most of the people of Namibia, and it was supposed to replace the legitimizing of privileges for some and eliminate the disrespect and dehumanization for those considered as different, or who had been previously marginalized. Unfortunately, he found that the government had nonetheless misunderstood the social implications of colonization. Particularly that the president Sam Nujoma himself lacked the analytical grasp of social transition and transformation, and due to this policies and national change has nothing been nothing but a repackaged version of their previous colonized history.

The book “Understanding Namibia” was a critical reflection on some of the developments, and mistakes, made since Independence. The chapters that follow challenge parts of the dominant narrative sung by the SWAPO liberation movement, and presents some of the counter arguments of the independent and grassroot movements in Namibia. The book does an excellent job of breaking the implications of these movements by land, economy, and people. In particular Melber highlights how the movement among the “Black Elites” have been another form of upholding previous ideologies that align with pre-independence thinking.

Much of the motivation to “Understanding Namibia” stemmed from Melbers frustration with the definition of democracy, and how the term has been construed by the governments actions. In particular, the voices that are represented in the decisions the government makes are extremely limited. When thinking about how Pandu said the voter turnout against the majority, which is the youth, is so low, it makes sense that not all voices are being represented. Then again, many of the youth I spoke to see a disconnect between the impact of their votes on government-based decisions. Henning Melber with his book raises the great question of “what is democracy and who is democracy for?”

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