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Independence Memorial Museum

    
 3Stars10px  - darkometer rating: 5 -
  
NIMM 01   striking architectureA museum about Namibia’s modern history from just before the colonial era to after independence in 1990. It covers the genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples at the hands of the German colonialists and the long struggle and guerrilla war for independence – so this museum has to be of prime interest to the dark tourist. An added aspect is the fact that the museum, and partly its contents, were designed by the North Korean Mansudae Art Studio, whose style is very much to the fore here.

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

    
More background info: for general background see the separate chapter on Namibian history.
  
Like the older Heroes’ Acre monument outside Windhoek, this museum was designed and built by the Mansudae Studio’s ‘Overseas Projects’ branch from North Korea. Much of the interior is also in the typical socialist-realist style of Mansudae, especially the various statues, bas-reliefs, big paintings and above all the huge panorama that is the exhibition’s finale with a flourish (see below). The artefacts and historical photos, however, are authentically Namibian.
  
The museum was opened on 21 March 2014, on the 24th anniversary of Namibia officially gaining its independence.
  
The exact name of the museum is a bit of an enigma. It’s mostly referred to simply as Independence Museum, but also as Independence Memorial Museum, while the abbreviation “NIMM” suggests either Namibian Independence Memorial Museum or National Independence Memorial Museum. I’ll stick with the short form.
  
Also a bit unclear is whether the location of the Sam Nujoma statue in front of the museum is the same place where the controversial Reiterdenkmal equestrian statue from the German colonial era used to stand, or whether it was at the location now occupied by the genocide memorial monument in front of the Alte Feste (see under Windhoek).
  
The museum’s design and location is somewhat controversial, as it jars drastically with the colonial historical buildings of the centre of the city. But that was presumably the point.
  
  
What there is to see: The architecture of the museum is certainly striking, to put it mildly. It consists of a triangular superstructure around an elevated cylindrical main part housing the exhibition. On the edge of the superstructure are glass elevators taking visitors from floor to floor (there are stairs too).
  
Looking at it from the outside not knowing it’s a museum you’d be forgiven if you thought it was some kind of industrial silo of some description – except for the golden coloured metal sheets covering most of the facade. In the centre of the golden cylinder is a sun symbol around the geographical shape of Namibia. The top of the cylinder is actually a balcony – it belongs to the museum restaurant (called “NIMMS” – what the final “S” stands for I don’t know).
  
At the top of the stairs leading to the museum entrance stands a large bronze statue of Sam Nujoma, the nation’s founding father and first president for three terms. He’s holding up the Namibian constitution and on the statue’s base is a Nujoma quote saying “Namibia is forever free, sovereign and independent”, together with the date 21 March 1990 (when Namibia’s independence came into effect). There are also some very kitschy North-Korean-esque bas-reliefs on the inside of the legs of the triangular superstructure.
   
The exhibition inside is spread over three floors and is thematically subdivided thus: 1st floor “Colonial Repression”, 2nd floor “Liberation War”, 3rd floor “Road to Independence” and “History Panorama”. The 4th floor is home to the restaurant and the 5th floor is inaccessible to the public (presumably holding administrative offices or so). The signs explaining this layout also note that “no skulls or human remains” are exhibited here. I wonder why that would be stressed so – were there expectations by visitors of such exhibits?
  
The first part of the exhibition actually starts with a short section on pre-colonial times and claims that this was characterized by “peaceful coexistence”, which is hardly accurate (see Namibian history). A few pre-colonial artefacts are on display, such as some cracked cooking pots.
  
But then we move on to “Early Resistance Leaders”. There are two huge typical Mansudae-style (see above) paintings of amassed soldiers, tanks and civilians flanking a central depiction of Sam Nujoma as well as bas-relief portraits of other resistance leaders such as Hendrik Witbooi and Hosea Kutako.
  
In another ensemble three busts of such resistance leaders stand in front of a wall with dozens of historical photos. These show some of those leaders back in the day, but also the German colonial “Schutztruppe” (‘protection force’, as it was cynically named). Some of the atrocities by that colonial military are graphically depicted too, including executions. The concentration camps at the Alte Feste in Windhoek and at Shark Island in Lüderitz are covered too. And that infamous photo of two skulls of Shark Island victims sent back to Germany for “scientific” research is shown here too – but it is noted that these skulls were finally returned to Namibia by the German government in 2011.
  
Moving on, visitors pass a series of drastic bronze bas-reliefs depicting the suppression of the native population – although broken chains are a recurring image. One relief is about a particular atrocity at the hands of the German colonialists, and there are yet more chains as a thematic leitmotif. More grand paintings in that very North-Korean style feature as well (and in them more broken chains and some by now familiar faces, such as Hendrik Witbooi’s).
   
Along the way I noticed the absence of several screens, with only the stands and wall-mounts and connection cables in situ. I wonder whether these would have been interactive screens, temporarily removed because of the Covid pandemic. There were no explanations given.
  
The next main section deals with the long South African Border War, aka Namibian War of Independence. The largest exhibit here is a tank – though I couldn’t work out if it’s a real one or a replica (or even a scale-model … it did look a bit small to me). Another large exhibit is an APC (armoured personnel carrier), presumably of the sort used by South Africa in its suppression of freedom in Namibia.
  
Again, many dozens of photos feature, all briefly labelled in English. But there aren't any longer interpretative text panels, so there isn’t much you can learn about the actual historical background to all this. Maybe the removed screens would have been more enlightening but as it was at the time of my visit (August 2022), the informational added value of this museum was rather thin.
  
The focus in this section is very much on SWAPO (“South West African People’s Organization”) and its military wing PLAN (“People’s Liberation Army of Namibia”). Some weapons and bits of uniforms are on display, but overall the number of artefacts isn’t so great.
   
One subsection is about South-African rule under Apartheid, including its racial segregation, discrimination and exploitation. Also covered are the diplomatic efforts of Namibians in exile, in particular Sam Nujoma’s campaigning at the UN. The “exodus into exile” in general is a subsection here too, as are the role of the church, youth resistance and workers’ resistance.
   
The role of supporting forces is also covered, especially Angola’s, Cuba’s and China’s. In addition to photos showing Sam Nujoma with leaders such as Fidel Castro, there is also one of him with North Korea’s Kim Il-sung!
   
Again large war paintings in typical Mansudae style (see above) feature here too, as well as yet more sculptures, including a very weird one with little humans inside what looks like a broken bomb.
  
The section culminates in the most North-Korean-style large painting of the lot, showing a soldier in fatigues and a civilian woman, both brandishing machine guns, in front of a stylized sun with doves of peace in between its rays. And above it is the legend “Glory to the Heroes”. It can’t get much more kitschy than that … or can it? (Yes it can … wait and see).
  
The next section is about UN Security Council resolution 435 and the role of UNTAG (United Nations Transition Assistance Group) in paving the way for Namibian independence. Artefacts on display include ballot boxes and a voting booth, and a glass cabinet contains all manner of election campaign material, including many leaflets by SWAPO.
  
Then there’s a large painting that has to be another contender for the kitschiest example of Mansudae artwork of the whole collection: under the banner of “Long Live Namibian Independence” a very content looking Sam Nujoma oversees what is supposedly meant to be a representation of the diverse Namibian society, with one African in traditional dress next to a white farmer holding a basket of veg, a soldier in uniform, a nurse, a schoolgirl, some black scientists, a worker and a suit-wearing black man in a wheelchair – all looking hopefully up towards a shining sun against the backdrop of cheering masses in front of what looked to me like a New-York-type skyline of skyscrapers (hardly characteristic of Namibia!).
  
Finally the symbols of Namibia, i.e. flag, coat of arms, etc. are explained, there’s a copy of the constitution on display as well as the lyrics and sheet music of the national anthem, and photos of the first cabinet of independent Namibia.
  
There’s one more semi-separate small photo exhibition about the removal of blacks into new townships from what was simply known as the “Old Location”, as part of the introduction of Apartheid in Namibia by South Africa.
   
And then comes the grandiose final flourish of Mansudae-style North-Korean-ness in overdrive: the “History Panorama”. Visitors view this from a balcony on the third floor, but the panorama extends over two floors including also the second floor. So you view it from an elevated position. The panorama consists of a mix of oversized paintings and bas-reliefs all picked out by garish coloured LED lighting. The ensemble covers the three thematic main strands of the exhibition, i.e. the colonial era and resistance, the War of Independence and finally glorious independence with a content population, more peace doves and waving flags … It’s so over the top that it almost hurts.
  
I did not go to the restaurant NIMMS on the fourth floor, which also doubles up as a museum shop. But I’ve since researched it from home and found out that this is actually one of the very few places in Namibia where traditional African dishes are on offer (including Mopane worms!). So if you feel adventurous as well as curious in that department, then this is the place to go! There are also some non-African dishes that the more squeamish can choose from. The balcony of the restaurant offers grand views over Windhoek.
  
All in all, this is a rather odd museum. It’s patchy, under-curated and not always totally reliable in terms of the information it conveys, it’s a little biased towards SWAPO (though that is unsurprising) and the glorification of heroes is bit heavy-handed. Most of all it’s the North-Korean-ness of all those paintings, bas-reliefs and sculptures, and especially that huge “History Panorama” at the end, that feel a bit out of place in Namibia. On the other hand, having been to North Korea to see the “real thing” there, I have to admit that this entertained me in a kind of “retro” fashion. But others may find this intense North-Korean infusion uncomfortable to handle.
   
  
Location: on Robert Mugabe Avenue in the very heart of old Windhoek, just opposite the landmark Christuskirche (a German-style Lutheran church), directly adjacent to the Alte Feste ('old fort') and just a stone’s throw from the parliament and supreme court.
  
Google Maps locator: [-22.5689, 17.0881]
  
  
Access and costs: easy to locate; free/by donation
   
Details: Easy to find but you need a car, unless you’re on an organized tour or are staying in the old centre of Windhoek (say at the Hilton or the historic Haus Schwerinsburg, from where it would be walkable).
  
From the main east-west street Sam Nujoma Drive (the B6, which also leads to the international airport) turn off northbound into Robert Mugabe Avenue. There is plenty of parking at the Christuskirche opposite the museum, accessible from the north of the church. Parking is nominally free, but some self-appointed “wardens” may expect a small tip for “watching” your vehicle.
   
Admission to the museum is also nominally free but a donation is welcome, and indeed expected.
  
Opening times: different sources state various times, but at the minimum the museum should be open every weekday from 9 a.m. (possibly 8 a.m.) to at least 5 p.m. (possibly 7 p.m.); at weekends the museum may have reduced opening times or even be closed altogether. Definitely closed on public holidays.
  
  
Time required: ca. 45 minutes to an hour – probably longer if the removed screens get reinstated.
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: See under Windhoek – the Alte Feste and the genocide memorial monument in front are directly adjacent to the museum.
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: See under Windhoek.
  
 
   
  • NIMM 01 - striking architectureNIMM 01 - striking architecture
  • NIMM 02 - Sam Nujoma statueNIMM 02 - Sam Nujoma statue
  • NIMM 03 - more North-Korea-nessNIMM 03 - more North-Korea-ness
  • NIMM 04 - continued insideNIMM 04 - continued inside
  • NIMM 05 - colonialism and resistanceNIMM 05 - colonialism and resistance
  • NIMM 06 - unfinished-looking sculptureNIMM 06 - unfinished-looking sculpture
  • NIMM 07 - drastic bas reliefNIMM 07 - drastic bas relief
  • NIMM 08 - atrocitiesNIMM 08 - atrocities
  • NIMM 09 - bizarre sculptureNIMM 09 - bizarre sculpture
  • NIMM 10 - tankNIMM 10 - tank
  • NIMM 11 - freedom fightNIMM 11 - freedom fight
  • NIMM 12 - weapon of resistanceNIMM 12 - weapon of resistance
  • NIMM 13 - weapon of repressionNIMM 13 - weapon of repression
  • NIMM 14 - exileNIMM 14 - exile
  • NIMM 15 - UN helpNIMM 15 - UN help
  • NIMM 16 - campaigningNIMM 16 - campaigning
  • NIMM 17 - ballot boxNIMM 17 - ballot box
  • NIMM 18 - another home of the brave NIMM 18 - another home of the brave
  • NIMM 19 - North-Korea-ness in overdriveNIMM 19 - North-Korea-ness in overdrive
  • NIMM 20 - Sam Nujoma overseeing Namibian gloryNIMM 20 - Sam Nujoma overseeing Namibian glory
  • NIMM 21 - history panoramaNIMM 21 - history panorama
  • NIMM 22 - again, full-on North-Korea-nessNIMM 22 - again, full-on North-Korea-ness
 
 
 
   

 

  
  
  
  
 

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