Keeping the peace and building stability in Namibia

Summary

The United Nations Transition Assistance Group helped to ensure that the withdrawal of South African troops and broader post-conflict transition of the newly independent Namibian state was peaceful.

The German colony of South West Africa was occupied by the British colony of South Africa during the First World War. A League of Nations mandate conferred legitimacy on South African administration of the Territory; however, this became increasingly tenuous during the period of de-colonisation. In the 1960s, the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) launched an armed struggle for independence and adopted the name “Namibia” for the country they were fighting for. The Government of South Africa had other plans, seeking instead to incorporate South West Africa as a fifth province.1 The 1978 Settlement Proposal, developed by the UN Security Council, outlined a framework for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, by which the UN would supervise elections in Namibia and South Africa would withdraw its forces from the area.2 Before the Proposal could be implemented, SWAPO became embroiled in the conflict in neighbouring Angola (which also involved South Africa), stalling the peace process.3

In 1988, two major peace agreements ended international involvement in the armed conflict in Angola and Namibia, removing the key barrier to implementing the 1978 Proposal.4 The negotiations also facilitated a ceasefire between the belligerents in Namibia, which in turn aided the deployment of United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) personnel in April 1989.5 The arrival of the peacekeepers coincided with movements of large numbers of SWAPO troops and equipment into Namibia from Angola, leading the South African administration to warn of renewed conflict unless the UN resolved the crisis. In response, UNTAG facilitated dialogue between the parties while the UN Secretary-General urged both sides to calm the situation. The international mediation effort culminated with the Mount Etjo Declaration, which reaffirmed the commitment of all sides and observers to the peace process.6 With renewed conflict averted, UNTAG returned its focus to supervising Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration programmes and the withdrawal of South African troops, monitoring police conduct, assisting with the return of 43,000 refugees, and preparing for the election.7 The Namibian people went to the polls in November 1989 in a peaceful environment, and in March 1990 the elected Constituent Assembly promulgated a constitution. UNTAG handed over responsibility to the new administration and withdrew, its mission complete.



1

2 Security Council Resolution 435 (1978): Namibia, 1978. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/namibia-resolution435 (Accessed 01/12/2020)

3 UCDP. South Africa: Namibia.

4 Agreement among the People's Republic of Angola, the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of South Africa (Tripartite Agreement), 1988. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/angola-tripartite-agreement88 (Accessed 01/12/2020)

5 UN Peacekeeping. Namibia – UNTAG: Background. (UN, 2020) Available at: https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/past/untagFT.htm (Accessed 01/12/2020)

6 Mount Etjo Declaration, 1989. Available at: https://search.archives.un.org/agreements-mount-etjo-declaration-9-4-1989 (Accessed 01/12/2020)

7 UN Peacekeeping. Namibia – UNTAG: Background.

Start Year

1989

End Year

1990

Location

Namibia

UN Regional Group

Africa

Type of Conflict

Risk of a conflict relapse, Risk of an interstate conflict

Type of Initiative

International transitional administration, Peacekeeping mission

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The UN

Impact

Lasting

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