The Republic of Namibia
POPULATION: 2.403 million (2014)
AREA: 317,260 sq. mi. (824,295 sq. km)
LANGUAGES: English (official); Afrikaans, German, Damara, Herero, Kavango, Ovambo, Nama
NATIONAL CURRENCY: Namibian dollar
PRINCIPAL RELIGIONS: Christian 80–90%, Traditional 10–20%
CITIES: Windhoek (capital), 190,000 (1995 est.); Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Keetmanshoop, Rehoboth
ANNUAL RAINFALL: Varies from less than 2 in. (51 mm) in western Namib and lower Orange River valley to more than 19.8 in. (508 mm) in the northern border regions.
ECONOMY: GDP $13.43 billion (2014)
PRINCIPAL PRODUCTS AND EXPORTS:
- Agricultural: millet, sorghum, peanuts, livestock, fish
- Manufacturing: meat packing, dairy products, fish processing
- Mining: diamonds, copper, gold, tin, lead, uranium, salt, cadmium, lithium, natural gas, zinc
GOVERNMENT: Independence from South Africa, 1990. Republic with president elected by universal suffrage. Governing bodies: National Assembly and National Council (legislative bodies); Cabinet appointed by president.
HEADS OF STATE SINCE INDEPENDENCE:
- 1990– President Samuel Nujoma
ARMED FORCES: 9,000 (2000 est.)
EDUCATION: Compulsory for ages 6–16; literacy rate 40%
The Republic of Namibia, which achieved independence in 1990, was the last country in Africa to throw off colonial rule. Although thinly populated and dominated by deserts, its great mineral wealth made it an attractive target for European colonizers. Namibia’s natural riches continue to play a significant role in the country’s economy. However, many years of colonialism have left deep scars in the social and economic fabric of the nation.
Namibia lies along the west coast of southern Africa. About twice the size of California, it has fewer than two million people. Its sparse population is due largely to the dry climate, which makes most of Namibia unsuitable for agriculture. However, the rugged and inhospitable terrain contains large deposits of gold, diamonds, uranium, and other valuable mineral resources.
Namibia consists of a high central plateau surrounded mostly by dry grasslands and deserts. The Namib Desert runs the length of the coast and stretches some 60 miles inland, while the KALAHARI DESERT covers most of the northern and eastern portions of the country. To the south is a vast dry area known as Namaqualand. Wedged between these barren areas is the central plateau, which is home to most of Namibia’s people. In the southeast, the Orange River forms Namibia’s border with SOUTH AFRICA.
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
Before the mid-1800s Namibia was home to KHOISAN hunter-gatherers and some pastoralist BANTU PEOPLES. By the 1850s, European traders had begun operating from Walvis Bay on the Namibian coast. Local HERERO peoples obtained guns from the traders and overthrew various Namibian states of the Oorlam peoples. As Oorlam power crumbled, settlers from what is now South Africa moved into the region and established a republic in southern Hereroland. This alarmed the Herero, who asked Britain to establish a protectorate over central Namibia. The British declared a protectorate in 1876, but it included only the area around Walvis Bay.
In the 1880s a German entrepreneur named Adolf Luderitz acquired some Namibian coastland. Germany set up a protectorate over the land in 1884 and later annexed the entire coast except for Walvis Bay. In 1889 the Germans seized Walvis Bay and over the next 15 years gradually expanded their control over the interior by cooperating with some local chiefs and fighting others.
Tensions between German settlers and indigenous peoples led to full-scale war in 1904. More than 80 percent of the Herero and some 75 percent of the Nama people died during four years of fighting. Many survivors were placed in concentration camps, sent to other German colonies in Africa, or pressed into forced labor. Meanwhile, colonial officials gave ranch land to German settlers, and the discovery of diamonds and other minerals led to a growing colonial economy.
South African Domination
During World War I, troops from the Union of South Africa invaded Namibia and defeated the German troops there. After the war South Africa received international authorization to oversee Namibia, making it in effect a South African province. During the 1920s the South African government resettled hundreds of white families in Namibia to strengthen its control over the colony. The indigenous peoples rose up against South African rule several times during the 1920s and 1930s, but each revolt was crushed by South African forces.
After World War II South Africa adopted apartheid laws and policies and applied them to Namibia as well. It also tried to convince the United Nations (UN) that Namibians wanted their country to become part of South Africa, but the UN rejected that claim. During the 1950s and 1960s, apartheid policies forced Namibian blacks off their lands and led to occasional outbreaks of violence. During this period, Namibian nationalists founded the Southwest African Peoples Organization (SWAPO), which became the leading force in the struggle for independence.
In 1966 SWAPO guerrillas in Namibia began an armed struggle against South African rule. The 1970s saw an intensified fight for independence. When neighboring ANGOLA became independent in 1975, it allowed SWAPO guerrillas to operate out of Angolan bases. South Africa responded by increasing the size of its army in Namibia and sending troops into Angola to attack SWAPO bases. The fighting took a toll on both the Namibian and the South African economies and eventually became unpopular with the South African people. In 1989 South Africa agreed to a cease-fire, and the following year it withdrew its troops. Namibia gained independence on March 21, 1990.
Namibia Since Independence
Namibia’s president since independence has been Sam Nujoma, a prominent SWAPO leader. He overwhelmingly won elections in 1990 and 1994, but the nation’s constitution limited him to two terms in office. In 1997 Nujoma announced his intention to run again in 1999 and called for a constitutional amendment to allow him to do so. His action led to a split in the SWAPO party and charges that Nujoma was trying to establish himself as a dictator. Despite the controversy, the amendment passed and Nujoma enjoyed another sweeping victory in 1999.
Nujoma has ruled Namibia in an authoritarian style, rewarding his political supporters but neglecting those areas and groups loyal to his opponents. His policies have resulted in unrest in the Caprivi Strip in northeastern Namibia, which threatened to secede in the late 1990s. Nujoma has also angered neighboring BOTSWANA by proposing to reroute water from the Okavango River to Windhoek, the Namibian capital. Nujoma’s persecution of anyone opposing his plans threatens to undermine his attempts to bring stability and prosperity to the nation.
Northern Namibia is the only area with enough precipitation for intensive agriculture. However, the central plateau receives sufficient rain to produce a groundcover for grazing sheep and cattle, long a major economic activity in the country.
Two industries that show promise in Namibia are FISHING and TOURISM. The cold Benguela Current that runs along the Atlantic coast attracts large schools of fish. This area was overfished in the 1980s, but the government has since passed strict controls to help fish stocks recover.
Meanwhile, tourism has been growing at an impressive rate in Namibia since independence.
The economy of Namibia depends heavily on the export of raw materials such as diamonds, metals, and livestock. In the past South Africa has been the most important market for Namibian goods, but in recent years Namibia has tried to reduce its dependence on that nation.
Despite a relatively high average annual income, Namibia suffers from a large gap between rich and poor. Unemployment stands at about 30 percent of the workforce and more than half of Namibians are illiterate. Fortunately, the country’s foreign debt is small and its population is growing at a modest rate. Even so, factors such as unequal distribution of land and ethnic strife severely limit Namibia’s potential for economic growth.
PEOPLES AND CULTURES
The population of Namibia is mostly Christian (about 90 percent) and very young (about half of the people are under 18 years of age). The major ethnic groups in the north are those of the Huambo cluster, who practice agriculture and livestock raising. They are one of many matrilineal societies in this part of Africa. Other matrilineal groups inhabit the Caprivi Strip and the Okavango River in the northeast. Pastoralists and foraging groups such as the !Kung live outside the towns and mining areas of northern Namibia.
Western, central, and southern Namibia are home to pastoralists such as the Herero and some of the Khoisan. The Herero also have a primarily matrilineal society, although religious items such as sacred cattle are passed through the male side of the family. The Khoisan include both pastoralists and foragers whose societies are noted for their very complex KINSHIP systems. Of considerable interest to researchers are the small HUNTING AND GATHERING group called the San, also known as the Bushmen. (See also Colonialism in Africa; Independence Movements; Maherero, Samuel; Southern Africa, History; Witbooi, Hendrik.)