Conference report

(Re-)Conceptualising Democracy and Liberation in Southern Africa

11–13 July 2002, Windhoek, Namibia

Following the Consultative Workshop during December 2001 in Cape Town, this Conference was organised by the Nordic Africa Institute’s research project on ‘Liberation and Democracy in Southern Africa’. The local collaboration with the Legal Assistance Centre and the Namibia Institute for Democracy as civil society agencies from the NGO sector underlined the approach of combining rigorous academic debate by committed scholars with a wider dissemination having an impact on public discourse.

This understanding was also reflected by a diverse by-programme to the Conference. It included two press briefings, which were attended by most of the local media. Conference themes were widely acknowledged in the radio programmes of the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation and all eight local newspapers reported on some of the events. Three public lectures by the Institute’s Research Director (organised jointly with the Namibia Scientific Society on the impact of September 11, 2001, with the local office of the Hanns Seidel Foundation on NEPAD and with the Namibia German Foundation for Cultural Cooperation on socio-economic aspects of reconciliation at their respective venues in town) attracted up to 100 participants. Among the audience were members of the diplomatic corps, high ranking political office bearers and senior officials from various ministries. Two public panel debates during the evenings of the Conference on ‘Decolonisation, Violence, Memories and Reconciliation’ and ‘Political Perspectives in Southern Africa’ received similar attention.

Three book launches presented recent publications of the Nordic Africa Institute (Tor Sellström’s second volume on ‘Sweden and National Liberation in Southern Africa’, organised jointly with the Embassy of Sweden, as well as Discussion Papers produced by the research project during the first half of 2002 on ‘Zimbabwe’s Presidential Elections 2002’, ‘Political Cultures in Democratic South Africa’ and ‘Measuring Democracy and Human Rights in Southern Africa’), a monograph from one of the participants published by the Legal Assistance Centre (Sufian Bukurura, ‘Essays on Constitutionalism and the Administration of Justice in Namibia 1990–2002’) and a monograph published by the Namibia Scientific Society (Henning Melber, ‘Namibia 1990–2000. Eine analytische Chronologie’). Furthermore, a former SWAPO activist now living in Sweden presented his recently published account (Keshii Nathanael, ‘A Journey to Exile’) during one of the panel debates.

The Conference was attended by 61 registered participants from 13 countries: Angola (1), Botswana (4), Canada (1), Finland (1), Germany (1), Italy (1), Mozambique (1), Namibia (27), South Africa (11), Sweden (3), United Kingdom (1), United States (7) and Zimbabwe (2). Twenty papers by scholars mainly from the Southern African region were presented in five different sessions. They dealt with regional comparative perspectives, gender aspects as well as a variety of case studies focussing on Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Most of the papers will be published in a separate volume on Namibia, a special issue of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies or as topical Nordic Africa Institute Discussion Papers or Research Reports.

With an average conference attendance of 30 participants, the audience peaked to a maximum of over 50 during the Namibia session—a clear indication that the deliberate effort to make the proceedings accessible to interested members of the public (in some cases themselves visitors to Namibia, such as a group of US-American Fullbright-Hays delegates) achieved the intended response. Local participants included students and academic staff from the arts, history, political science and sociology departments of the University of Namibia as well as members from a wide range of civil society agencies. Temporarily present were also the chief whip of SWAPO’s parliamentary faction (the party holds three quarters of the elected seats in the National Assembly) and the Secretary General of the SWAPO Women’s Council. The Conference closed with a sightseeing tour for the more than twenty external participants brought to Windhoek by the Nordic Africa Institute and a social get-together at a grass root self-help project operated by women in the vicinity of the former township of Katutura.

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