The United Nations has finally completed arrangements to supervise the transition to independence for Namibia, last of the African colonies. It is an important achievement, capping decades of useful work by the world organization in facilitating the end of the era of global colonialism.
There remain some concerns about the Namibia operation. The size of the U.N. peacekeeping force of 4,650 is substantially smaller than earlier studies had recommended, and there has had to be a compromise with the sanctions against South Africa to permit the purchase of some supplies and the lease of some equipment for the peace force from Pretoria. These compromises have stirred legitimate concerns that there is still room for the government of South Africa, which administers the vast territory, to try to de-stabilize the situation, as it has in the past in other neighboring nations.
Namibia will test more than the integrity of South Africa. It will also test the ability of the black nationalists to establish a new nation that respects the multiracial character of the population and establishes democratic institutions. The war for independence has been waged for 22 years, led by the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO). Given the bitterness of that struggle, which has seen some 20,000 deaths, it will not be easy to build a new democracy and find a basis for national reconciliation.
The detailed plan for Namibian independence was worked out nine years ago by the United Nations, but all efforts to facilitate the agreement had been frustrated until last year by South Africa. The resurgence of respect for and interest in the United Nations will create a test of its own for the U.N. The world will be watching to see if the international force can assure a fair election and also effectively oversee implementation of the concomitant regional peace plan calling for the end of external interference in neighboring Angola, including the withdrawal of South Africans, already completed, and Cubans, now under way. The prospects are favorable, for the United Nations has developed real expertise in peacekeeping, an expertise recognized last year with the Nobel Peace Prize.