Information in the national liberation struggle: modelling the case of Namibia (1966-1990)

The Namibian liberation struggle, 1966-1990, is discussed as an information war, rather than a military conflict, so as to explore the dimensions of information activity under conditions of conflict. This builds upon the idea, expressed by participants in earlier struggles of this kind, that the contest for ‘hearts and minds’ is more significant than the armed confrontation that accompanies it. A model that incorporates information and communication activity by both contestants, at their command centres, in the field and in the media was elaborated in a previous paper, using data from a number of conflicts mainly in Southern and Central Africa. The present paper focuses on the Namibian struggle so as to examine the capacity of the model to assist in explaining the outcomes of the conflict. Using published sources, printed archive material and oral testimony, the range of information inputs, the incidence of suppression of information and information outputs are set out in the pattern provided by the model. This shows how both sides used covert intelligence gathering, secret communication, propaganda and disinformation, accompanied by censorship and the suppression of critical comment by force to further their political/military aims. Whilst South Africa and its Namibian military structures were generally successful in armed confrontation with the chief liberation organisation (SWAPO)’s forces, they were not able to bring the conflict to a successful military conclusion. This was because SWAPO’s attention to the diplomatic war, based on strong and consistent information flows, convinced the United Nations and other allies to press for a negotiated solution. Once this was agreed, the success of the liberation movement’s news and education campaigns in attaching the people to the cause of liberation was revealed by SWAPO’s overwhelming success in free elections in 1989.