Pre-colonial Namibia saw migrations of peoples from the south, central, and northeastern parts of Africa. At the time of the German conquest of Namibia in 1885, several groups of indigenous Africans were well-established throughout this vast land. Several important historical developments influenced modern Namibia:
Germany’s occupation of Namibia and indigenous resistance, notably by the Ovaherero and Nama;
League of Nations and United Nations mandates for the administration of Namibia after World Wars I and II and the United Nation’s subsequent role in rejecting Namibia’s incorporation into South Africa and promoting its full independence;
South Africa’s defiance of the mandates in administering Namibia as a province and imposing apartheid on it;
Organized resistance to South African rule (beginning in the early 1950s), including diplomatic initiatives abroad, internal political initiatives, and eventually an armed struggle, launched first from Zambia and later from Angola;
The U.N. General Assembly’s recognition of the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) as the legitimate representative of the Namibian people and the role of the U.N. and the Western Contact Group in working toward a peace settlement;
Angola’s achievement of independence from Portugal in 1975 and the Popular Liberation Movement of Angola’s assumption of power in Luanda, which enabled SWAPO to move its bases to southern Angola; and
Cuba’s military support of the MPLA government and subsequent alliances among Angolan, Namibian, and South African political parties.
The peace plan that was finally ratified in December 1988 paved the way for a cease-fire in April 1989, elections in November 1989, and independence on March 21, 1990. In the years since independence, Namibia has made social, political, and economic gains, promoting national unity, improving equitable access to social services, and maintaining an upward trend in economic growth. In 2005, Namibia held national elections that resulted in the democratic and orderly transfer of power to its current government of President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Namibia’s Constitution provides for fundamental freedoms, environmental protection, and a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution. It established the new nation as a multiparty democracy with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The bicameral legislature consists of a 72-member National Assembly and a 26-member National Council. Members of the National Assembly are elected for five-year terms on the basis of proportional representation. Members of the National Council are elected on a constituency basis, with two representatives from each of the country’s 13 regions elected for six-year terms by members of regional councils. The National Council reviews bills passed by the National Assembly and recommends legislation of regional concern. The independent judiciary is composed of a supreme court, a high court, and lower courts. The role of regional and municipal governments continues to grow, and the national government is working to decentralize many social services, giving responsibility for them to the regional councils.
Namibia’s economy is mixed, allowing for several forms of ownership of capital. Although Namibia’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $4,700 is high relative to that in much of sub-Saharan Africa, it is unequally distributed. Five percent of the population earns more than 70 percent of the national income. Those in the bottom 55 percent of income, overwhelmingly from the majority black population, are primarily rural and share 3 percent of the GDP, with per capita income of less than $100 per year. Namibia is one of the most unequal countries in the world.
Mining, agriculture, and fishing account for more than 25 percent of the GDP. Namibia’s mineral resources include diamonds, uranium, copper, lead, zinc, and a variety of semiprecious stones. These industries are very susceptible to external influences, however, and their contribution to the GDP fluctuates. The apartheid system of job allocation and education continues to influence employment in these sectors. The overall unemployment rate in Namibia is over 50 percent, and the highest unemployment rates are among the least educated and skilled.
People and Culture
Namibia’s people have a rich variety of linguistic and ethnic origins. The principal indigenous ethnic groups are the Aawambo, Vakavango, Caprivian, Ovaherero (including Ovahimba), Colored, Baster, Damara, Nama, San, and Tswana. The white population is of Afrikaans, English, and German descent.
The people who live in the Owambo, Kavango, and East Caprivi areas, occupying the relatively well-watered and wooded northeastern part of the country, are settled farmers and herders. Historically, they have shown little interest in the central and southern parts of Namibia, where conditions are unsuited to their traditional way of life. Until the early 1900s, these people had little contact with the Nama, Damara, and Ovaherero people, who roamed the central part of the country, vying for control of sparse pastureland. Urbanization, industrialization, and the demand for labor have led to peaceful interaction among these groups in recent decades.
Most Namibians converted to Christianity as a result of missionary activity beginning in the 1800s and comprise several denominations, including Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, and Dutch Reformed. Most Namibian Christians are Lutherans.
Namibia is located on the southwest coast of Africa. It borders Angola and Zambia in the north, Botswana in the east, South Africa in the southeast and south, and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The total land area is 317,500 square miles (about 825,000 square kilometers), almost twice the size of California.
Most of Namibia consists of a high plateau, a continuation of the main South African plateau. Its average altitude is 3,600 feet above sea level. The strip along the coast consists of the Namib Desert, extending from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north. About 60 miles wide, this area is mostly uninhabited. The eastern part of the country, which forms part of the Kalahari Desert, consists mainly of sandy stretches but provides some grazing ground. The Etosha Pan in the north is the focal point of an important national park and game reserve.
Namibia boasts clear skies for more than 300 days of the year, providing brilliant days and star-filled nights. The varied landscape provides opportunities for hiking, camping, bird watching, and game viewing.