Ben Maure’s recently published book narrates the experiences of police officers and their impact on their host country, Canada, to make the world a safer place to live. The author, being a full-time peace officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), provides vivid descriptions of historical events and simultaneously educates on the subjects of criminology and social science. What is more captivating is the fact that the first chapter is dedicated to Namibia, exploring the role the Canadian police played in keeping the peace and promoting democratic policing for the birth of Namibia.
The Canadian participation in Namibia was through the United Nations Transition Authority Group (UNTAG), from April 1989 to March 1990. The book features the United Nations mission in Namibia, which is a collection of ten real-life stories from the Canadian police in peacebuilding and peacekeeping missions from around the world. The book has been approved by the RCMP, and it has also been supported by a number of universities, including Harvard University in the United States and the University of Bath in England. It is without doubt that the book will make a significant contribution to the shelves on the Namibian history, particularly, and that of the world in general.
Birth of a Nation: UNTAG, Namibia 1989-1990
The discovery of this book came at the right time when Namibia is celebrating its 31st anniversary, and what other way is there to celebrate a milestone without reminiscing on the past, or rather the begininnig? The following excerpt helps readers to chant to the attainment of Namibia’s independence – the birth of the nation:
The birth of a nation! Who can actually boast participation in such a formidable event? A country that has been subjected to nothing but colonial power for the past hundred years finally obtains its own sovereignty and experiences its first democratic vote. The year is 1989, and for the first time, the United Nations has invited Canada to supply its own civilian police contingent to act as international peacekeepers. 100 police officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) set off for a faraway land that will soon become Namibia. The contingent of 96 men and four women will become the pioneers of Canadian police peacekeeping. They will join forces with thousands of other international police officers, military personnel, and civilians who have arrived in the country.
Their mission is of utmost importance: to ensure a smooth electoral process for the first election to be held in this new country. Chief Superintendent Larry Proke will lead these first Canadian police peacekeepers to the country formerly known as South West Africa, to witness its first steps as its own nation: Namibia. Larry’s story in this distant land is an inspiring tale of adventure and devotion. Its success paved the road for a new tradition, which would see Canadian police officers travel throughout the world for decades to come... Election Day, 7 November 1989, finally arrived. The voting would actually run from November 7th to 11th. For Larry and the United Nations, it meant that their primary role would be to ensure safety at the polling stations so that ordinary people could cast their votes.
Larry’s first day started at around 05h00 to prepare for the long journey ahead and to be on time for the opening of the country’s voting stations at 07h00.
In the early morning hours, something amazing had taken place in many regions: eager voters, even some very old men and women with young babies, had arrived at the polling stations and started to line up. The result was that by the scheduled opening time of the voting centres, many of them already had queues of voters more than half a mile long!
For Larry and the other peacekeepers, the day would bring a great sense of responsibility; it was, after all, an unequalled moment of significance for the people of Namibia. Larry’s role from his headquarters’ perspective was to receive intelligence and updates from the country’s polling stations. Already on the first day, some incredible stories were coming in from the regions.
Take the example of a gravely ill woman out of Damaraland, roughly an hour away by air from Windhoek. She had not wanted to miss her chance to vote. Her son had helped her to make it to the polling station. After it was confirmed that her fingerprints matched those on record, she was given a ballot paper to select her party. The poor lady was so weak and ill that her son had to actually cast her vote in the box. Her desire to vote being fulfilled, she later passed away...
...At the end of the first day, it was apparent that more ballot papers would be needed at some of the polling stations. Voter turnout had been overwhelming. ...Despite some mishaps, in the end, the five-day elections were considered a success. Once all votes were counted, it became clear that the Namibian people had made up their minds: they wished for Independence!
At last, the big day came: Independence Day, 21 March 1990. At midnight that day, the South African Police and military troops still in Namibia departed. The sole exception was a few South African law enforcement officers, who supported Namibian Independence and had agreed to stay to help with the police transition. All other South African Police officers and military personnel operating in Namibia had to return to South Africa.
In Windhoek, hundreds of thousands of people had gathered on the streets to witness the takedown of the South African flag and the raising of the new, Namibian flag. All were rejoicing to finally have a country of their own! Representatives and dignitaries from all of the Commonwealth countries were also present; their security details all fell within Larry’s purview. Thanks to the military and months of preparation, all went well.
The moment the Namibian flag went up, Larry witnessed Namibian indigenous embrace their Caucasian countrymen, celebrating that, after all these decades of fighting, forgiveness was in order. Black, white, young, old: all were rejoicing with tears in their eyes.
...and just like that, a new country came to be! Being part of the birth of Namibia and witnessing the atmosphere of celebration is something, Larry and the Canadian peacekeepers will never forget and can be proud to have been a part of...