The Namibian War of Independence, 1966-1989
Diplomatic, Economic and Military Campaigns
McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2014, 216 pages
Book Review published on: May 5, 2017
I had just finished a presentation on Mozambique’s independence movement and subsequent civil war at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, when a classmate’s hand shot up. He commented that Mozambique’s independence in 1975 seemed very late and asked if there were any other African countries that had achieved independence after 1975. I answered that, while not a European colony, the country of Namibia did not achieve independence from South Africa until 1990 (not to mention Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and South Sudan). While I generally knew of Namibia’s relatively late independence, I did not have any real understanding of the factors that characterized Namibia’s independence movement. Thus, when I saw Richard Dale’s The Namibian War of Independence, 1966-1989, I eagerly picked it up.
Dale is a political scientist by training and has published several books and articles on southern Africa. He has spent what appears to be substantial time and energy to understand and document Namibia’s de-colonialization from South Africa. The result of his research is a fairly comprehensive overview of Namibia’s long-frustrated quest for independence and the reasons for its protracted nature. Dale provides solid analysis and definitive commentary on this issue and routinely (and helpfully) points the reader to other sources of information on related topics and on areas for further research.
Dale ably places Namibia’s war of independence in the context of the African independence-movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Cold War period that endured through the early 1990s. He views Namibia’s war of independence through economic, diplomatic, and military lenses, and provides useful anecdotes to back up his assertions on each. Dale illustrates the role played by both African neighbors as well as international actors in Namibia’s war of independence, including nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations, foreign governments, and commercial enterprises.
Dale describes how South Africa continuously used the threat of the spread of communism in southern Africa to maintain tacit support from Western powers for its policies on Namibia. This predictable Western response to combat the spread of communism through proxies was reflective of events in other parts of the world during the same time period. Moreover, Dale highlights the constructive role that international institutions tried to play in this conflict, though their efforts were anemic at times and perhaps nothing more than an irritant to South Africa for a good deal of the conflict. However, this international pressure along with the untenable structure of white-rule in South Africa increasingly had the South African regime on its heels, and ultimately enabled Namibia to achieve independence in 1990.
While this may be an idiosyncratic topic of likely interest to only a relatively small group of scholars and regional specialists, it is nonetheless a valuable contribution to the literature. The book does not always hang together in a cohesive manner, and there is a good deal of jumping back and forth over a seventy-year period, but it contributes to a fuller understanding of Namibia’s independence struggles and ultimate success. For anyone interested in the politics of southern Africa and/or Namibia during the latter half of the twentieth century, this book is worth the read
Book Review written by: Patrick Wesner, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas