Namibia’s reputation as a role model for press freedom in southern Africa, thanks largely to its liberal constitution, took another beating in 1999, as both domestic and foreign conflict had negative repercussions on local media.
In January, Prime Minister Hage Geingob admitted in a letter to the independent daily Namibian that the Ministry of Defense was deliberately withholding information from all domestic media concerning Namibia’s involvement in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The prime minister claimed that the Namibian press had published “distortions” about the conflict in the DRC and that news published in the Namibian also appeared on the Internet and was therefore accessible to DRC rebel forces.
In March, Nathaniel Maxuilili, a member of Parliament from the ruling South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), threatened to ban a popular Oshiwambo-language talk show for airing what he called “nonsense” about the country’s involvement in the DRC. “If I ask the government to stop [the talk show], it will,” said Maxuilili at a Defense Ministry press briefing (reported in the Namibian), At the same press conference, Maxuilili also reprimanded journalist John Grobler for asking “silly questions” about the role of Namibian troops in the DRC conflict.
In early August, fighting broke out between Namibian security forces and separatist rebels in the northeastern region of Caprivi. Rebels, reportedly members of the Caprivi Liberation Front, attacked the police station and the state-run radio station in the main town of Katima Mulilo. The radio station sustained some damage when government forces counterattacked.
In October, Namibia’s deputy minister for information and broadcasting Ignatius Shixwameni resigned from SWAPO, citing the party’s “undemocratic practices” and the president’s “reluctance to act against corrupt leaders.” Less than two months later, Namibian president Sam Nujoma and SWAPO cruised to victory in the presidential and general elections, held on November 30 and December 1, respectively.
Conrad Angula, Namibian THREATENED
The former president of the Namibian Football Association, Immanuel Namaseb, twice visited the home of Angula, a reporter for the Namibian newspaper, and allegedly threatened to commit “grievous bodily harm” against him because of a story he had written for the newspaper. Angula was not home on either occasion; Namaseb relayed the threats through Angula’s wife and brother-in-law. On the second visit, on February 21, Namaseb allegedly produced a gun.
Angula told CPJ that the threats were in connection with articles he had written for the Namibian alleging that Namaseb had embezzled money from the association. Angula subsequently pressed assault charges against Namaseb. He told CPJ that the police had tried to persuade him to drop the charges.
Lozi-language Service of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) ATTACKED
Alleged secessionist rebels attacked the headquarters of the Lozi-language Service of the state-owned Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in the town of Katima Mulilo, in Namibia’s Caprivi Province. The rebels, who unsuccessfully tried to broadcast a message to the nation, also occupied other key installations in the town for several hours.
In an attempt to drive the occupiers from the station, Namibian Defense Force squads blasted the building with mortars, inflicting minimal damage on NBC’s equipment.
No NBC staff were injured during the attack. Several of them expressed fear for their lives, however, including John Mutongo, manager of NBC’s Katima Mulilo office.
NBC’s Lozi-language Service, which resumed broadcasting later in the day, generally opposes the year-old armed rebellion, which has forced thousands of the province’s residents into neighboring Botswana.