The formalising of repressive tendencies and security creep should become major concerns on the Namibian political and democratic landscape this year as a number of proposed policy initiatives threaten to undermine a range of constitutionally enshrined human rights.

While anti-democratic tendencies have from time to time reared up within the ruling party and its government, and mostly menacingly simmered below the surface for the last 27 years, in 2017 these tendencies have become more discernable and pronounced and now increasingly find expression in securocratically inclined policy and regulatory proposals set for possible emergence in 2018.

These proposals would empower law enforcement and security agencies to engage in widespread communications interception and surveillance (with indications being that they are already quite extensively engaging in such activities), with the cooperation of telecommunications and internet service providers, while affording the public very little data and privacy safeguards and not providing for meaningful oversight mechanisms to prevent interception overreach or surveillance abuse.

What is worrying is that while these securocratic blocks are seemingly set to fall into place one by one, selective closed-door consultations are being used to create the illusion of public or stakeholder engagement, while no actual broad-based public awareness raising is happening.

These proposals and the measure of stealth with which they are gradually creeping into law and regulation speaks to an increasingly paranoid security mindset that has infiltrated and significantly informs the highest levels of the Namibian political establishment, which commands a vast and inscrutable state security apparatus.


In early 2017 the first of these problematic proposals made an appearance, when then information minister Tjekero Tweya in early February tabled the long-in-coming electronic transactions and cybercrime bill in the National Assembly. However, the bill was swiftly withdrawn again from the parliamentary agenda following an outcry from sections of civil society.

Amongst what civil society actors were flagging and objecting to were sections of the bill which appeared to enable warrantless communications interception and surveillance, as well as not providing for proper interception and surveillance oversight mechanisms and some level of transparent accounting for such practices.

Not long afterwards, at the end of March 2017, a two-day “national multi-stakeholder” workshop, on “preventing and countering violent extremism”, was held under the auspices of the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) in Windhoek, which was followed up by another one in September last year to discuss recommendations from the first workshop.

Amongst the proposals that came out of these workshops were “a need to urgently implement the requirement for telecommunication service providers to register SIM cards against the name of owners” and “a need to devise mechanisms to monitor social media with the aim to detect extremist tendencies”. The NCIS appears to have come into the workshops having broadly and generically labelled religious and civil society organisations and youth movements as potential agents of such “extremist tendencies” and possible threats to national security.

The same themes resonated again not long after at the Swapo congress of last November, which was preceded by divisive campaigns of mudslinging through various traditional media and online social media platforms. The ruling party congress ultimately resolved that “a Ministry of Cyber Security be established in order to control information in the social media (sic) and guard against cyber crimes such as hacking and monitor illicit flows”.

The Swapo proposal seems an attempt to copy the Zimbabwean cybersecurity ministry set up in mid-2017 to ostensibly monitor and counter cyber attacks and detect cyber threats, but has already been accused of being nothing more than a legalised instrument for widespread spying on citizens, non-state actors and political opposition figures.

It is important to note that while these proposals were creeping through 2017 the political space had already been permeated by paranoia and alarmism, which included alarmist pronouncements about the threats lurking on the internet and especially online and mobile-based social media. And the concerning proposals now stand as human rights infringing responses, especially in terms of the freedoms of expression and association, and the right to privacy.

These proposals also come as evidence is piling up of invasive telecommunications surveillance, through the abuse of SIM card registration regimes, and social media clampdowns being used on the continent and in the region, as well as internationally, for invasive, widespread spying and to suppress legitimate political expression, which conversely lead to more instability not less.


In light of this, Namibian law enforcement and security authorities could already be engaging in surveillance abuse and could now just be seeking legal cover from politicians and lawmakers for what they’ve been doing for a while. In late 2016, Motherboard magazine listed Namibia amongst a host of countries that had purchased interception and surveillance technologies from British companies.

Motherboard was able to get the information of companies selling such technologies and countries buying the equipment through a freedom of information request to Britain’s department for international trade.

Prominent amongst the technologies sold mostly to developing countries, were devices known as IMSI-catchers, which Motherboard described as “devices which can monitor large numbers of mobile phones over broad areas”.

“Some of the UK companies were given permission to export their products to authoritarian states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt; countries with poor human rights records that have been well-documented to abuse surveillance technology,” Motherboard stated.

The article quoted Edin Omanovic of international human rights organisation Privacy International stating in an email: “There is absolutely a clear risk that these products can be used for repression and abuses.”

The British company from which Namibia appears to have bought IMSI-catchers, is CellXion Ltd, which is based in Caterham, Surrey, and offers “cellular intelligence solutions”.

In the dataset released by the British department for international trade it states that three export licences were issued for “telecommunications interception equipment” to Namibia, of which one was for a “Searchlight UMTS/GSM detection and location system”, which is an IMSI-catcher.

“IMSI catchers are probably one of the most controversial and yet more demanded pieces of surveillance technology marketed today. They are of dubious legality and their use raises serious ethical and privacy concerns due to their invasiveness and wide reach,” Motherboard quoted Claudio Guarnieri, of Amnesty International.

Against this backdrop, it seems reasonable to assume that since making the purchase sometime between February 2015 and April 2016, that Namibian security authorities have deployed the equipment, and might actually have purchased more such technologies in 2017.

This raises an issue of legality, as Namibian authorities officially continue to maintain that Part 6, which authorises telecommunications interception, of the Communications Act of 2009 has not been gazetted and operationalised, while unofficially a range of officials have hinted that such surveillance is in fact happening extra-judicially.

And despite all the claims of enhancing transparency in state activities, there are no moves being made to introduce transparency, even if very limited – but still enough to classify as meaningful oversight measures – over the activities and workings of the state security machinery.