Namibia’s Foreign Policy: Fit for the 21st Century?

Most small states face a common problem – defining an appropriate relationship between capability and policy. Given that there might be limited machinery for conducting external relations, it is even more important that Namibia’s foreign policy is clear, principled and focused.

There will be times we need to take sides and we need a foreign policy based on our Constitution that guides responses and interventions. A starting point for defining foreign policy should be Namibia’s Constitution, particularly the values expressed in the Bill of Rights.

The Namibian Constitution promotes human rights, access to justice, poverty alleviation and economic development. Through bodies like the UN Human Rights Council and other international organisations and fora, Namibia should take a more pro-active role in promoting these ideals at a global level.



Namibia benefitted from the cooperation of the international community in the brokerage of its independence and should promote and support similar programmes in areas of conflict mediation.

Namibia is a small country with limited resources and cannot be everywhere at all times. Therefore, aligning our presence abroad to our foreign policy goals is crucial. The establishment of embassies and high commissions should be subject to cost-benefit analyses.

Aside from the running costs, it is very expensive to buy properties overseas for embassies and ambassadorial residences (in part due to the exchange rate). The strengths and weaknesses of each foreign mission’s performance should be assessed on a regular basis to ensure these high costs are worth it.

Since Namibia’s foreign policy is being reviewed and public engagement and inputs have been encouraged it is important that a foreign policy discussion paper is produced before a formal policy is adopted.

This will enable these important discussions to be taken beyond the confines of a conference hall in Windhoek. This discussion paper could be in the form of a Green Paper before a formal While Paper is agreed and adopted.

In order to update and aid focus in foreign policy Namibia should re-asses what it means to be non-aligned in the post Cold War world, as well as what modern Pan-Africanism means in practice. For example, Pan-Africanism cannot mean ignoring human rights abuses in nearby countries in the interests of African solidarity or the need for a quiet diplomatic life.

Foreign policy cannot primarily be based on relations that existed in 1990 and before. With the inauguration of President Geingob there is a sense that various aspects of government policy are being overhauled and revitalised.

President Geingob has committed himself to a domestic agenda focused on tackling poverty, improving service delivery and ending corruption. Some steps such as the declaration of assets by the President and the First Lady have been presented as good examples for Africa and the international community.

Such commitments could be given a higher profile to advocate for greater transparency. Namibia’s foreign policy is not about slogans – however nice they might sound. It is about practical action – how we use public diplomacy to entrench our values and promote them abroad. Although some might think that Namibia has little need of a foreign policy due to its size, in fact there are many issues on Namibia’s agenda, whether we choose to address them or not.

While an updated White Paper is needed, the new approach of inclusivity could be used to first generate a Green Paper – a working document to encourage national discourse about modern Namibian values and how they should be reflected and projected in our foreign policy.

To come back to one of the opening quotes of this paper – “Soft power is determined not only by economic strength, but also by the ability of states to produce knowledge and influence thinking.” (Jakkie Cilliers, ISS).

Namibia may not be the most powerful nation in terms of its economy or its military but we can be strong in the way we produce knowledge and influence thinking. This could be our greatest contribution to international progress in the 21st century.

• Extract from a discussion paper, ‘Reflections on the role of the media and public diplomacy,’ by Jessica Brown, Gwen Lister and Graham Hopwood.

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