Namibia One Year Later

NO anniversary is more significant for the people of Namibia than this, the first year of our independence. The past 12 months our expectations have been higher than during any period in our history. Finally, after 106 years of colonialism, our future was placed in our own hands. And for the first time, we could determine our destiny - meeting challenges, demands, and even setbacks without direct interference of any foreign power. That is the backdrop for celebration in Namibia, the world's youngest democracy. Ours is a celebration tinged with sober optimism as we continue to engage in the experiment of nation-building.

Many of our recent accomplishments have gone unnoticed, overshadowed by conflicts and changes in southern Africa and the world. But for our people, the quest for peace, stability, and a new order has persisted. Emerging from a legacy of war and injustice, Namibia's ability to avert major crises in these formative months is perhaps one of the most important achievements of our independence.

When Namibia's flag was raised for the first time on March 21, 1990, the ceremony attracted representatives of virtually every nation of the world. It was the largest international assembly ever held in Africa, reflecting the unique position colonized Namibia held in the international community. The opportunities and challenges for a new world order were personified by that historic gathering.

The United States played an important role in brokering the plan which led to implementation of the United Nations independence process. We witnessed the deployment of one of the largest multinational peacekeeping efforts ever undertaken by the world body. Namibia's independence truly represented a demonstration of East-West, North-South cooperation.

But from the first day, independent Namibia had as many doubters as well-wishers. Some had predicted that the task of writing our Constitution would be prolonged and unfruitful. Others were convinced that the democratically elected representatives, the spectrum ranging from former exiled liberation leaders to backers of the colonial administration, would never unite around a multiparty assembly. And still others believed that chaos and violence which prevailed during the colonial era would continue to s hape our national reality.

The pundits were wrong. Namibia's Constitition, drafted and adopted in less than three months, is hailed as one of the most democratic in the world. Our new parliament, a classic demonstration of multiparty democracy, is an arena of vigorous political activity. Clashes of opinions are not necessarily seen as a cause for division but a sign of freedom of views. And threats of violence and destabilization have been swiftly and decisively confronted. We are uncompromising about our commitment to maintain t ranquillity won only after decades of unrest.

Parallel to our task of building a new nation, we are vested with the obligation to dismantle the old order. That includes eliminating all apartheid legislation and restructuring our society. The deficiencies and inequities of apartheid present a formidable challenge. When our government was formed last year, unemployment hovered at 30 percent. With the return of some 40,000 exiles, we estimate that joblessness is now closer to 40 percent. Namibia's dual economy has created gross disparities between ric h and poor.

Over the last year, emergency measures never before undertaken in Namibia have begun to address the needs of the black population. One of our first demands was to tackle the crisis of famine in rural regions. Mobilization of emergency food shipments and completion of a hydroelectrical facility for pumping badly needed water helped avert massive starvation. For the first time, rural children were immunized as part of our universal child-immunization program. We anticipate many firsts yet to come as we wo rk to correct poor and inadequate education facilities, the near absence of preventive health care, inadequate housing, and a host of other vestiges of the apartheid system.

We have learned lessons from those who have come before us, painstakingly cognizant of the special challenges that confront newly independent nations. Successful implementation of our new order demands a continuing commitment to democracy and accountability at home, and friendship and cooperation abroad.

As President Bush forges ahead with his new world order, we hope the vision and resources will be committed to help the world's youngest nation grow and thrive. That truly contributes to a new world order.

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