The government has all but banned a political party wanting self-rule for the Caprivi Strip in northeastern Namibia, drawing strong criticism from human rights organisations on the grounds that this is "unconstitutional".
"No UDP [United Democratic Party] meetings will be allowed in the Republic of Namibia from 1 September. Those individuals who are publicly advocating the secession of the Caprivi Region from the rest of Namibia, in furtherance of UDP objectives, will be dealt with according to our laws," Deputy Information Minister Raphael Dinyando announced at a media briefing. "The secessionist activities of the UDP render it an illegal organisation."
In a telephonic interview from Copenhagen, Denmark, the UDP's exiled leader, Mishake Muyongo, told IRIN that "the decision to virtually ban our party is a step of frightened people who are undemocratic. They are shooting themselves in the foot - the government should learn and listen about the Caprivi history. We will never become Namibians, not even by force; we are Caprivians."
Phil ya Nangolo, of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), said the government's action regarding the UDP was both undemocratic and counterproductive, and that peacefully advocating for Caprivi's independence "is a basic human right, guaranteed under the Namibian constitution and international law".
"We totally reject the government's unfounded contention that peaceful activities for Caprivi secessionism [by the (UDP)] also appear to be 'illegal' or constitute a violation of the Namibian Constitution," he said.
The UDP was founded in 1985 by Muyongo and evolved from the Caprivi African National Union (CANU), which Muyongo co-founded. In the 1960s CANU merged with Sam Nujoma's South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO), which has been the ruling party in Namibia since independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990.
Muyongo, vice-president of SWAPO, fell out with the party leadership in 1980 but returned to Namibia in 1985 under an amnesty agreement with the South African authorities and founded the UDP. It became a member of the South African-backed Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), which formed the largest opposition bloc in Parliament until 1994. The DTA expelled Muyongo and the UDP in 1998 after rumours of secessionism surfaced.
Muyongo has maintained that the 1964 merger with SWAPO took place on condition that Caprivi would have self-rule in an independent Namibia. "CANU and SWAPO signed the merger agreement on 5 November 1964. My signature and that of Nujoma is on the document," said Muyongo, who has lived in exile since 1999. "I still have a copy of this document, which includes the clause on the self-governance for Caprivi."
SWAPO Secretary-General Ngarikutuke Tjiriange said there had only been a verbal agreement to merge the two parties. "There exists no signed document of the 1964 agreement," he told reporters earlier this year. "The CANU members then became SWAPO members, but there was no talk of a separate Caprivi after independence."
The Caprivi Strip, about 20km wide and 400km long, was established in 1890 after Germany exchanged it for the islands of Heligoland, off the coast of Germany in the North Sea, and Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania, with the British to give the German colony of South West Africa access to the Zambezi River.
The largest ethnic groups in the Caprivi - the Mafwe, Mayeyi, Mayuni and Masubia - have strong connections with ethnic groups in neighbouring Zambia and Botswana, but not in Namibia. Until the end of the 1800s the area was known as Itenge or Linyanti, and ruled by the Lozi Empire as part of the Barotseland Kingdom. The empire included parts of present-day Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.
On the eve of Zambia's independence in 1964, then Prime Minister Kenneth Kaunda and the King of Barotseland, Sir Mwanawina Lewanika, signed an agreement incorporating the autonomous Barotseland Kingdom into Zambia without the Caprivi Strip.
The demand for self-rule in Caprivi turned violent in 1999, after a group claiming to be the UDP's military wing tried to seize the regional broadcasting station, police offices and an airstrip at Katima Mulilo, capital of the Caprivi Strip.
Namibian security forces quashed the attempt and about 130 people were arrested, of which 120 were put on trial in 2004 for treason. The case is continuing.
In November 2004, 12 other men were arrested after clashes with Namibian security forces near Katima Mulilo and are also standing trial for treason.
According to a poverty profile assessment by Namibia's National Planning Commission, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme, "Caprivi is the poorest region in the country."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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