Exploring economic reintegration in Namibia: individual trajectories of PLAN ex-fighters and SWAPO exiles, 1989 – 2018
Mazarire, Tichaona Trust
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This thesis draws from life histories to present constraints and possibilities that have shaped former SWAPO exiles’ economic reintegration in post-colonial Namibia. The thesis advances three arguments each of which pushes beyond existing scholarship on Namibia and/or reintegration broadly. Collectively, these arguments challenge dominant narratives that have generalised former SWAPO exiles’ reintegration experiences, highlighting that there is no single narrative that can describe their unique life stories of reintegration in the post-colony. First, for almost three decades, patriotic history has shaped and influenced Namibia’s post-colonial reintegration discourses and policies, delineating who fought on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side of the liberation struggle. However, for the majority of former SWAPO exiles (including PLAN ex-fighters) whom patriotic history has designated as having fought on the ‘right side’, their glorification in liberation histories has not always translated to tangible benefits in their actual lives. Consequently, former SWAPO exiles have often exploited their ‘hero’ status to push for various benefits. Nevertheless, they have profited unevenly from these initiatives, with benefits often being skewed in favour of direct participants of the armed struggle/violent resistance. Moreover, patriotic history distinguishes between the patriotic credentials of a range of people with differing relationships to the armed struggle as defined by the ruling Swapo Party elites. Its social impact, therefore, is quite complex and requires a nuanced understanding of Namibians’ experiences in exile that can best be accessed through tracing the details of individual life stories. Beyond highlighting the complex repercussions of patriotic history, former SWAPO exiles’ personal stories also reveal how UNTAG’s limited role in Namibia’s transition had lasting effects that shaped former SWAPO exiles’ reintegration processes in the post-colony. These life stories invite the reader to consider the prospect of UNTAG’s mandate as having been limited and its humanitarian support to returning SWAPO exiles as being overrated. This then brings the spotlight back to the Cold War and how it dictated UNTAG’s minimalist security centred approach that had far-reaching consequences for economically vulnerable former SWAPO exiles in the aftermath of repatriation. Finally, life histories show how former SWAPO exiles’ human and social capital originated in exile where differing access to skills and networks were instrumental in class formations that manifested in the post-colony. These forms of capital have contributed to the economic inequality amongst former SWAPO exiles in post Independence Namibia. Nevertheless, some life stories highlight how some former SWAPO exiles who have found themselves in difficult positions in postcolonial Namibia, have built decent lives for themselves in spite of these circumstances. These former SWAPO exiles highlight the limitations of reintegration programming and the broader DDR framework, which privileges its own measures of analysis at the expense of understanding how people make lives in the aftermath of war with or without assistance from programming. Thus, they suggest that successful reintegration hinges, to a great extent, on one’s ability to adapt and not necessarily on benefits from reintegration programming.