NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD Albert Kawana fled to the bush to fight and came back with a PhD. ``I wanted to fight,'' he says with the same smiling determination he had 14 years ago. But SWAPO (Southwest Africa People's Organization), which he joined in order to achieve Namibia's independence, said it had better use for him.
``They said fighting for your country doesn't necessarily mean fighting with a gun'' he recalls. ``So they divided us up, some to take up arms and some to study.''
Dr. Kawana is now a law lecturer at the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN), located in Lusaka, Zambia, and funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Fund for Namibia, and the European Economic Community. The United Nations established UNIN in 1976 in preparation for what was expected to be a quick transition to independence for Namibia. Students were recruited for two-to-three-year courses in social services, administration, and management, with the aim of preparing them to replace the predominantly South African bureaucracy.
``We didn't know we were going to last this long; we expected maybe two to four years,'' says acting director Mark Bomani, a Tanzanian who will be director for two years until UNIN is transferred to Namibia. ``That influenced the design of the programs. We didn't offer such subjects as engineering or medicine, which would take a long time. Besides, you can always hire technicians from outside, while you can't hire bureaucrats or diplomats.''
Some 1,500 Namibians have graduated from UNIN with specialties in development, teaching, law, and secretarial skills. About 200 have gone on to graduate studies in mostly Western universities, while others are receiving practical training in African governments or are members of SWAPO's diplomatic missions. But most are in the refugee centers in Zambia and Angola.
``Their presence in the refugee settlement centers has had an impressive effect on the nature of the settlements,'' says Mr. Bomani. ``Having spent three years here and going back with skills in agriculture and teaching English, they have tended to improve the quality of life and increase efficiency.''
UNIN has three campuses that include classrooms and student housing for its 300 students and 40 faculty members. Many of them spend lunchtime engaged in lively conversations in the sunny yard of the school's large and growing, two-story headquarters structure. The student body is 60 percent women and the average age is 23.
The faculty currently includes only seven Namibians; others have returned to Namibia to plan for the November elections. Most teachers are Africans, with some lecturers from India, Sri Lanka, East Germany, the Caribbean, and Western nations.
UNIN's greatest accomplishment has been its research, which has resulted in the publication of 20 books on future development options for Namibia. Ranging from manpower surveys to language policy, the studies, which draw on the experiences of neighboring countries, will provide a foundation for the new government that will design the country's future.
``In a way, delayed independence has had this favorable effect,'' says Bomani. ``Namibia has had time to train personnel so it will start with a big advantage.
UNIN's biggest obstacle has been recruitment. It can select students only from those who have left Namibia, since the South African government does not allow UNIN to recruit within the country. Only 1 percent of black Namibians reach secondary school because there are few schools, and the tough entrance examinations are graded in Pretoria. Many students admitted to UNIN speak mostly Afrikaans and a little English.
Kawana was an exceptional student. He had completed 4 1/2 years of secondary school in Caprivi province, located in the tiny northeastern strip of land that juts into Zambia and Botswana. He and his friends were avid listeners of the Voice of Namibia, broadcast by SWAPO from Zambia, and in September 1975, at the age of 19, he left to join SWAPO in Angola. He has not had any communication with his family since then, because even writing them a letter would endanger their security, he says.
``First and foremost is the independence of Namibia,'' he repeats throughout the interview in response to questions about his family and personal plans. He will not even visit his hometown when he goes to Namibia, not until his contribution to the elections is complete. It will be his first time in Windhoek, the capital, having been excluded from it by law in the past.
The $3.9 million in funding from UNDP for the period 1988 to 1991 will last until UNIN is phased out. Then the new Namibian government will decide if it will continue with UNIN in Namibia, and, if so, how it will change. What is certain, according to Bomani, is that in Namibia, UNIN would be open to the entire population with entrance based on competitive examinations. At present, most students are members of SWAPO, the only entity that has been effective at providing safe passage for people leaving Namibia.
Some young members of SWANU (Southwest Africa National Union), who are based in Gaborone, Botswana, have received scholarships to study in and outside African countries. These funds are provided by the UN Educational and Training Programme for Southern Africa and the UN Department of Technical Cooperation for Development.
In preparation for independence, UNIN has already been charged with conducting workshops and seminars, and distributing materials that will educate future government officials and make them aware of the country's development options.
Kawana completed his graduate study, including a PhD in law, at the University of Warwick in Britain. He specialized in the political economy of mining laws and regulations. Because South Africa is a major exporter of diamonds, thanks to its mines in Namibia, Kawana will have much to contribute to the most sensitive aspects of the transition. He says he wants to be a technocrat - not a politician - who will design laws that execute the government's chosen policy.
SWAPO, which is expected to win the election, proposes a foreign investment policy that will provide mutual benefits to the investors and the Namibian people, according to Kawana.
Although SWAPO has plans for a socialist state, UNIN's curriculum is heavily influenced by the West. Only one faculty member is from a communist country - an East German veterinarian. All the economics lecturers were educated in the United States, the United Kingdom, and India. And almost all the students who have gone on to graduate study abroad have gone to Western universities.
These Western graduates who have close ties to SWAPO, an organization that favors a planned economy, should provide Namibia with leaders well-educated in the many directions open to a new nation.