Reintegration as Recognition: Ex-combatant and veteran politics in Namibia

by Lalli Metsola

Institution: University of Helsinki
Department: Department of Economic and Political Studies
Year: 2015
Keywords: kehitysmaatutkimus
Record ID: 1142028
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/154055


This is a study of Namibian ex-combatant and veteran policies after the country s transition to independence in 1990. Instead of assessing the successfulness of reintegration against its stated objectives or the perspective of post-conflict policy discourses, it examines the politics of reintegration as a process of multiform negotiation over recognition and entitlements for the ex-combatants, and political authority and legitimacy for party and government leaders. The study interrogates the ways in which this process reflects and contributes to postcolonial Namibian politics, state formation and citizenship. It is based on nine months of fieldwork in 2002, 2003 and 2009 and its main sources include ethnographic observation, life historical interviews with ex-combatants, thematic interviews with politicians and civil servants, grey literature as well as Namibian newspapers and internet sources. The study finds that instead of being a neutral exercise in post-conflict management and peacebuilding, Namibian reintegration has been motivated by more exclusive ideas of the nation and by the special bond between the ruling party and the former liberation movement Swapo and its formerly exiled cadres. This close tie and the characterization of Swapo combatants as heroes who hold a special place in the Namibian narrative of national liberation have repeatedly enabled Swapo ex-combatants to demand recognition, employment, monetary compensation and other benefits. Coupled with this, the relative strength of the Namibian state and economy has made it possible to plan and implement ex-combatant reintegration as a predominantly domestic process without the close involvement of international agencies. Hence, it has been possible to diverge from mainstream disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes and attempt to solve the ex-combatant question by broad-based public employment. After most ex-combatants were employed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, their demands and policy responses shifted towards monetary compensation. The domestic character of Namibian reintegration also made it possible to implement ex-combatant and veteran policies selectively so that former Swapo exiles have gradually been transformed into an officially recognized group of veterans while their former enemies, Namibian fighters of South African surrogate forces, have been sidelined. This process of domestically driven, selective reintegration has multiple broad implications. First, as Namibia has recently emerged from a long period of violent conflict, security concerns and the imperative to control organized violence are clearly visible. The targeting of Swapo ex-combatants in reintegration and their recruitment to the public service, particularly the uniformed services, have relinked their fates with that of the Swapo government, pacifying them and making them useful in consolidating the hold of the regime over the security agencies and the marginal and frontier areas and populations. Indeed, a key reason why the demand…