Accepted paper:

The struggle over the struggle - contested meanings


Sabine Hoehn (University of Glasgow)

Paper short abstract:

Paper long abstract:

The paper focuses on a recent Namibian submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The charges were grave human rights violations before 1990 and responsibility for people who disappeared during SWAPO’s struggle for independence. One of the four main accused was no other than the first president of the independent republic Sam Nujoma, also often referred to as the “father of the nation”. The submission was filed by a local human rights organization and has triggered fierce reactions from government officials accusing the organization and its director of trying to destabilize the country. The organization insisted that the submission was necessary in bringing justice and holding those responsible for past atrocities to account. However it offered to withdraw the submission if Namibia was to have its own truth commission dealing with SWAPO’s past human rights abuses. The paper takes the submission and the following public debate as starting point to illustrate how the two opposing sides drew on very different ideas about how to remember the past and what it means to be a (national) hero. Looking at the distinctive ways participants used “reconciliation” to justify their stance will show that the term is far from clear and that “to reconcile” might mean very different things to different people indeed. Finally, the paper argues that the ICC submission is part of a wider and ongoing debate about responsibility, accountability and guilt of all sides in the previous war, which continues to inform present politics and underlies contemporary Namibian society. It thus challenges the widespread notion of Namibia as a “young nation” as present-day national politics and society are very much a product of the past.

panel F7
Human rights