Namibia: A Lesson for Success
by Jane Madden
Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Namibia: A Lesson for Success," chap. in Building International Community, Kevin Clements and Robin Ward, eds. (St. Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1994) pp. 255- 260.
In 1978 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 435, which provided for a UN supervised transition to independence for Namibia. Due to international politics, the UN was not able to implement that plan until 1989. Aside from a brief skirmish between Angolan guerrillas and South African troops at the very outset, the transition was swift, smooth, and successful. Madden examines the factors contributing to the Namibian success, and distills four general lessons for further UN peacekeeping operations.
First, Madden notes that by 1989 the timing was right for settlement of the Namibian case. The superpowers had withdrawn from the region, other regional conflicts were coming to a close, and the public and political organizations were ready for peace. Second, UNTAG, the UN peacekeeping force in Namibia, included a substantial civilian component which was most appropriate given the essentially political nature of the settlement process. Third, the UN had been involved in Namibia for some time, and so senior UNTAG personnel had substantial knowledge of the situation. UNTAG leaders were also prompt in recruiting well-qualified staff. Lastly, UNTAG had a wide mandate, and so was involved at every stage of the transition. Activities included "refugee repatriation and settlement, military and police monitoring, election supervision, public relations, prisoner release, human rights, voter education and information dissemination."[p. 257] Establishing a network of regional offices, daily radio programs and weekly television spots all further contributed to UNTAG's high profile within Namibia. UNTAG was able to assert authority over the colonial government, which enhanced UN credibility in the eyes of the Namibian public.
The UN formed a joint commission for interested third-parties. The commission provided an opportunity for those nations to discuss issues and concerns relating to Namibian independence without derailing the independence process. The presence and power of a UN Special Representative was also helpful in dealing with third parties. The Special Representative was given "a right of veto with regard to political processes in Namibia and strengthened the negotiating power of UNTAG in all its dealings with the South African Government and other parties."[p. 258]
Problems for the UN operation included overly intrusive oversight from the UN headquarters in New York, lack of coordination verging on opposition between the military and civilian arms of the operation, and logistical problems.
Madden suggests five general lessons for future UN peacekeeping operations. First, a successful operation requires the cooperation of the involved parties. Second, proper timing is an important factor in securing general cooperation. Third, the operation needs a clear mandate. Investing a senior UN official with veto powers may help the operation to maintain clarity and focus. Fourth, budgets should be pre-approved to allow for early and full deployment of peacekeeping forces. Fifth, the authority and responsibilities of the military and civilian branches must be clearly specified, to insure their better coordination.