History of Namibia's Decentralisation: The Road to the Policy

Namibia's Decentralisation Policy was adopted in 1997, but the idea of empowering communities through sharing power and responsibility between national and sub-national governments dates back to the time before Independence. 

The introduction of decentralisation in Namibia should be viewed against the historical background of the un-democratic and discriminatory form of governance before Independence. At the time, the majority of people did not have the right to make decisions on matters that directly affected their lives, and were not given opportunities to determine their own destiny.

The liberation movement SWAPO saw decentralisation as a means of achieving local democracy and grassroots-level participation in government affairs long before the Independence in 1990. This is demonstrated in the 1988 SWAPO blueprint (UNIN) on governance in the independent Namibia. 

At Independence, the concept of decentralisation was enshrined in the Constitution, the fundamental law of a sovereign and independent Namibia. The Constitution provides for the establishment of sub-national governments and a system of decentralised government within the confines of a unitary state and national policies, ideals and values.

The next step paving way for a decentralisation was the creation of sub-national governments. They came into being through the enactment of the Regional Councils and Local Authorities Acts in August 1992 and their governing bodies – regional councils, town councils, municipality councils and village councils – became operational after the first regional sub-national elections in December 1992.

In 1996, more than three years after the enactment of the Regional Councils and Local Authorities' Acts, the Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing instituted a review to establish whether decentralisation was on course. It indicated that progress was slower than expected, and that the reform needed a clear policy framework for its implementation.

This prompted the then Minister of Regional and Local Government and Housing, Hon Dr. N. Iyambo to develop a fully fledged and all encompassing decentralisation policy for Namibia. The policy was published in the booklet ‘A Decentralisation Policy for the Republic of Namibia – Decentralisation, Development and Democracy', in November 1996, and sanctioned by Cabinet on 11 December 1996.  (In 1998, the booklet was later followed by ‘The Policy, Its Development and Implementation'.)

The Decentralisation Policy was tabled in the National Assembly on 30 September 1997 and unanimously adopted as a national policy for the promotion of equal economic, cultural and socio-economic development and improved public service provision across the country.