Namibia Paralegal Association, Namibia (EN)

The Namibia Paralegal Association (NPA) was established in 2003 as a non-profit, volunteer organization of community advocates.  The Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia’s sole public interest law organization, began a program in 1998 to train community leaders to act as civic educators and lay advocates for the people living in their home communities around the country.  The 280 paralegals who completed the program were sent back to their communities with the mission of providing educational programs on such topics as:  the structure of the government; domestic policies; the legislative process; the meaning of new laws as they are implemented; updates on changes to the law that affect the lives of the community residents; the educational system; civic engagement; voting rights; and community economic development.  In addition to its foundational work of providing educational programs to Namibians—who had no rights until the country gained independence and came out from under the South African Apartheid Regime in 1990—the NPA’s paralegals were tasked with developing an assistance center to provide help to community members with various problems.  This aspect of the NPA’s work sought to meet at least some of the great need for legal assistance across the country’s thirteen disparate regions.  This work entailed educating community members about their rights in a wide range of circumstances—such as domestic relations, criminal justice, education, pension rights, and labor rights—and working with them to find a solution to their problem, whether it involved merely making a telephone call, filing a lawsuit in the magistrates’ courts, or mediating the dispute.  As a result of the paralegals’ deep commitment to service and their leadership roles in local communities, paralegals are the principal form of legal aid for most impoverished and marginalized members of Namibian society.  The third aspect of the NPA’s work involves providing assistance with community development projects.  In quite a few of the rural settlements around the country, few services are available to the residents of the town or village.  To help bridge the gap in some of the most critical areas, NPA paralegals have stepped in a number of ways, from assisting individuals and groups with accessing loans to start businesses to helping the community design and build a school where there was none available for the children.  In sum, the NPA is a critically important means by which poor Namibians learn about the benefits of living in a parliamentary democracy and about how they can more fully participate in their society.

 

Over the past decade, NPA paralegals have worked to close the information, resource, and advocacy gap in the country by: (i) presenting free legal education programmes to teach citizens about their civil, constitutional, and human rights and explain the context for and meaning of the country’s newly enacted laws; (ii) offering detailed informational sessions and materials about civil society organizations and governmental agencies that can assist people in vindicating their rights; (iii) holding skills training programmes to help people acquire skills that will help them gain employment in sectors of the economy other than the agrarian sector; (iv) providing organizing and advocacy assistance to groups to help them develop their political voices and plan strategies for the advancement of their causes; (v) assisting people with the handling of labor and family law disputes; and (vi) offering mediation services for those individuals seeking to resolve disputes outside of the court system. 

 

Recent examples of NPA educational programs include, among many others:  (a) a two-day workshop on Namibia’s new Anti-Corruption Law, with a focus on how citizens can be involved in ensuring public accountability of their elected and appointed leaders; and (b) a five-day workshop, held in collaboration with the Namibia Institute for Democracy on “The Impact of HIV and AIDS on Local Government in Namibia.”  In addition, the paralegal office for the central region of the country, located in town of Gobabis, regularly offers a comprehensive computer training course in which community members are schooled in the basics of computer hardware and maintenance, provided with typing lessons, and taught key software programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, with the ultimate objective of gaining skills that will make them employable. 

 

In sum, the NPA paralegals are the teachers, advocates, and foot soldiers of Namibia’s new democracy.  They bring to the generations of Namibians who suffered under the brutal reign of Apartheid, and the “born frees”—the generation under 20 years of age that have grown up in freedom under the new democracy—information and advice about, and the advocacy services to implement, the new constitution and the rights of all Namibians under it.  The paralegals quite literally translate Namibia’s new democracy into the languages and cultures of the country’s many ethnic groups.

 
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Administration

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.