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Key findings
  • Three-fourths (76%) of Namibians see their country as going in the wrong direction, a three-fold increase since 2014.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of citizens describe their country’s economic condition as “fairly bad” or “very bad,” while more than half (52%) say the same about their personal living conditions.
  • Optimism that things will improve during the coming year has declined sharply, to 38%.
  • Unemployment ranks highest among the most important problems that Namibians want their government to address (61%), followed water supply (22%) and corruption (20%).
  • Approval of the job performance of the president and prime minister has declined sharply, to 54% and 47%, respectively.

From independence in 1990 until 2015, Namibia experienced a period of strong and stable economic growth, with its gross domestic product (GDP) rising by an average of nearly 5% annually amid high levels of domestic and foreign investment (World Bank, 2022a). The South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), which has governed Namibia since it gained independence from South Africa, dominated Namibian electoral politics, with its presidential candidate, Hage Geingob, winning an all-time high of more than 86% of votes cast in the 2014 election (Weylandt, 2015).

From 2016 onward, however, economic growth halted, with stagnant or negative GDP growth every year from 2016 and 2020 amid difficulties in the construction and mining industries, widespread drought, and decreasing demand for Namibian exports. The COVID- 19 pandemic in early 2020 devastated international trade and the domestic retail and tourism industries, causing a record 8% annual decrease in GDP, which was only partly reversed by 2.7% growth in 2021 (African Development Bank Group, 2021; World Bank, 2022b).

Namibia’s economic struggles have had a material impact on its citizens. The country’s unemployment rate, for example, rose from 16.8% in 2012 to 23.4% in 2016 (its highest rate since 1997), and after a dip from 2016 to 2018 climbed by nearly 2 percentage points back to 21.3% in 2021 (World Bank, 2022c). The proportion of Namibians experiencing a high level of lived poverty, which considers families’ access to food, clean water, medical treatment, cooking fuel, and a cash income, likewise increased from a low of 5% in 2014 to 22% in 2021 (Survey Warehouse, 2022). SWAPO’s electoral dominance has simultaneously fallen drastically, with Geingob winning only 56% of votes cast in his 2019 re-election, the party’s worst results since independence (Melber, 2020).

This dispatch examines Namibians’ changing views on the country’s economic trajectory alongside evolving public support for its ruling party. Since 2017 – and especially since 2019 – Namibians have expressed significantly more pessimistic views on the country’s general direction and economic condition as well as their personal living conditions. Unemployment remains by far the most salient issue to Namibian voters. Meanwhile, popular evaluations of government performance have become significantly more negative, and approval of, closeness to, trust in, and support for SWAPO and its national leadership have plummeted.

Darren Janz

Darren Janz is an undergraduate student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, United States.