A Nation is born: The inside of Namibia’s independence

This is a historical and educative book on the role of United Nations’ Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in the elections towards Namibia’s independence written by Cedric Thornberry and published by Gamsberg McMillan Publishers (Pty) Ltd.

A Nation is Born: The Inside of Namibia’s Independence tells the tale of one of the United Nations’ most ambitious and successful peacemaking missions.

UNTAG remained in Namibia for one year to help bring about victory for a much-represented people after a century-long, blood stained struggle for freedom.

In this book, the reader’s focus shifts from behind the scenes at United Nations (UN) Head Quarters in New York into ‘the field’ in Namibia, where the multitask, multi-disciplinary mission faced many challenging crises.

Through illuminating and frank diary entries, the reader gains access to the heart and mind of the author who is one of the experienced peacekeepers and negotiators.

As an ardent witness and prolific United Nations note-taker of the unfolding political history of southern Africa, the author undertakes a monumental task to give an in-depth explanation of the events and discussions as they unfolded, giving information about the proceedings that took place each day from the year 1988 until Independence Day, by concerned parties towards the independence of Namibia.

The author writes that the implementation of Resolution 435 on Namibia became one of the prime objects of worldwide diplomacy, and remained so until it had been carried out nearly 12 years later.

“With this resolution, the Council gave a definitive form to the terms of UNTAG; a body to support the Special Representative.

“UNTAG’s establishment was intended by the Contact Group to increase psychological pressure on South Africa, while giving hope to the Non-aligned states that the west was serious about a Namibian settlement,” writes Thornberry.

UNTAG was to be “a peacekeeping operation, but such peacekeeping operations neither the UN nor its members had previously seen. Throughout the long preparations, whatever nuances of disagreement might have arisen between member states, there was a consistent theme. Namibia had been the special responsibility of the United Nations since its foundation and indeed, since the inception of the organised international community in 1919, that responsibility must be fully met. However, demanding it might show proof and the Secretary General was to be given every support in its implementation.”

Thornberry carefully divided the 381 paged book into three parts with part one talking about the preparation for Independence from 30 January 1976 when the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted its resolution plan. Part two talks about the tragedy of the 1st of April as part three, which constitutes 14 chapters, talks about the birth of a nation.

“This dramatic story of high adventure will claim its place in history for introducing a new and more comprehensive template for international peacekeeping and peacemaking, instances of which have since occurred around the globe.

“It shows how much the international community can achieve when it decides whole heartedly to empower international organisations to carry out humanitarian principles of the UN Charter.

“To the very last days, UNTAG’s opponents used murder squads, sensational ‘dirty tricks’, intimidation, duplicity and disinformation in an attempt to thwart free and fair elections and the will of the Namibian people.

“But with the UN’s help, Independence and democracy were finally achieved and the success in Namibia opened doors through which South Africa finally ventured, first with the release of Nelson Mandela and the ANC leadership, then with the attainment of a democratic settlement in that country,” writes Thornberry.

Cedric Thornberry is an international lawyer and former assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, for which he worked for 17 years.

He is an experienced peacekeeper who has mediated cease-fires and humanitarian initiatives in more than a dozen warring countries and has helped train senior officers for NATO peacekeeping.

Cedric Thornberry joined the United Nations in 1978 and became involved in the internationally-supervised settlement of the Namibia question and was also in charge of the operational planning for the non-military side of the UNTAG.

“During UNTAG, he was the Director of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Namibia, Martti Ahtisaari and responsible for co-ordination of the Mission’s day-to-day political operation.

Thornberry also served as the Senior Political and Legal Adviser to UNFICYP and to UNTSO and was Director of Administration and Management at UN headquarters for four years.

He was the director of UNPROFOR Civil Affairs at the beginning of the Mission in February 1992 and shortly afterwards became Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations when he was made Deputy Chief of Mission of the 50 000-person UN operation in ex-Yugoslavia as well as senior negotiator with all of the Balkan parties. Until the appointment of an SRSG, he was in charge of UNPROFOR’s political, civil, legal and police activities. He remained the head of UNPROFOR’s Civil Affairs until early 1994.

He was also as a founder of the Northern Ireland civil rights in the 70s; reporting for The Guardian from Athens during the Greek military dictatorship; working to establish free and fair elections in the Caucassu countries; organising the lifting of sieges in Sarajevo and Mostar as well as negotiating democratic elections in Cambodia (where he convened the first-ever public debate between its political leaders).

As an international consultant, he has been a professor of peace studies in Derry and defense studies in London.

He is armed with an honorary doctorate from the British-based Open University and is an honorary fellow of the London School of Economics and Political Science and is currently a consultant to NATO in the exercises it conducts with the Partnership for Peace countries and a visiting professor at King’s College in London. PF