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Namibia - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

INTRODUCTION OF NAMIBIA

Namibia

Namibia, formerly South-West Africa, republic in southwestern Africa, bounded on the north by Angola and Zambia, on the east by Botswana and South Africa, on the south by South Africa, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The area of Namibia is 824,269 sq km (318,252 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Windhoek.

LAND AND RESOURCES OF NAMIBIA

Namibia can be divided into three physical regions: a low-lying coastal belt, a central plateau, and the Kalahari Desert. The coastal belt consists of the Namib Desert. It extends along the entire Atlantic coast and ranges from 100 to 160 km (about 60 to 100 mi) in width. On the east, the central plateau rises abruptly at the Great Escarpment. The plateau averages about 1,100 m (about 3,600 ft) in elevation, but climbs to elevations of more than 1,800 m (5,900 ft) in several mountainous areas. Along the eastern border is the Kalahari Desert. It is a highland area containing vast sandy tracts. The only permanent rivers are the Orange, Cunene (Kunene), Okavango, and Zambezi, all of which form boundaries. The territory has virtually no other surface water. The climate is generally hot and dry. The average annual rainfall in the Namib Desert along the coast is about 50 mm (about 2 in). Inland, annual rainfall increases from 150 mm (6 in) in the south to about 560 mm (about 22 in) in the north. Average temperature extremes in Walvis Bay on the coast are 15° to 23°C (59° to 73°F) in January during the summer and 8° to 21°C (47° to 70°F) in July. What little rain occurs falls from February through May. In Windhoek, in the interior, average temperature extremes are 17° to 29°C (63° to 85°C) in January and 6° to 20°C (43° to 68°F) in July. Most precipitation occurs from October through April. Vegetation is sparse in both the Namib and Kalahari deserts. A woodland savanna is found in the central plateau. True forests are found only in the northeast. Wildlife is abundant and includes elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, giraffes, zebras, and hartebeests. Namibia is rich in mineral resources, among which are diamonds, uranium, copper, zinc, and lead.

Environmental Issues

Despite Namibia’s low population density, excessive farming pressure on a fragile ecology has resulted in environmental damage in the north. Much of the woodlands and perennial grasses have disappeared, leaving the soil degraded and subject to desertification. Game herds have suffered depletion from drought and intensive hunting.

Through the 1970s Namibia’s wildlife was vulnerable to high levels of poaching by the country’s rural inhabitants, who needed both the food that wild animals provided and the money from their skins. In the 1980s the government hit upon a creative solution for the problem. The administration began employing people from local communities to scout for and report poachers and, later, to act as guides for tourists—all within close range of their homes. In return for a few months of work each year, a rural person received a monthly food ration and a cash stipend. By making the preservation of wildlife a boon to the livelihood of rural people without significantly disrupting their traditional ways of life, this program made wildlife conservation more effective and directly beneficial to the country’s rural inhabitants. Wildlife populations have rebounded somewhat, and ecotourism has expanded.

Namibia has one of the highest ratios of protected land to population in the world, at 65.1 sq km (25.1 sq mi (1996)) per 1,000 people. About 14 percent (2007) of the country’s total land area is protected. The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to biodiversity, climate change, desertification, endangered species, hazardous wastes, law of the sea, ozone layer protection, and wetlands.

POPULATION OF NAMIBIA

The population of Namibia at the 1981 census was 1,033,196. The 2009 estimated population was 2,108,665, giving the country an overall population density of 3 persons per sq km (7 per sq mi). The only city of significant size is Windhoek (population, 2003 estimate, 237,000). Only 32 percent of the people were classified as urban residents in 2003. The population is estimated to be growing at 1 percent a year. Life expectancy at birth is 51 years.

Black Africans constitute about 86 percent of the population of Namibia; whites, about 6.6 percent; and people of mixed descent, about 7.4 percent. The principal nonwhite group is the Ovambo, an agricultural people who live primarily in the north and make up about one-half of the population. The Ovambo speak a Bantu language. Other nonwhite groups include the Kavango, the Herero, the Damara, the Khoikhoi, and the San. English is the official language, but Afrikaans and German are widely spoken. In addition, each African ethnic group has its own language. The white population and a majority of the black population are Christian; the remainder mostly adheres to traditional faiths.

Education is officially compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15. The government has initiated programs to improve adult literacy, which stands at only 88 percent. In 2007 some 409,500 students attended primary schools and 158,200 attended secondary schools.

ECONOMY OF NAMIBIA

The principal occupations are livestock raising (primarily cattle, Karakul sheep, and goats), and subsistence agriculture, which, because of scanty rainfall, is largely confined to the north. Gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 was $7 billion, or $3,372.50 per person. Industry, principally mining, contributes the largest portion of the GDP, 30 percent in 2007. Namibia has some of the richest diamond fields in the world. Nearly all diamonds extracted are of gem quality. Gem-quality diamond output in 2004 was 2 million carats. Other important mineral products include uranium, copper, tin, lead, silver, vanadium, tungsten, and salt. The waters off Namibia’s coast are rich in marine life, which thrives in the cold waters of the Benguela Current. Because of overfishing, the catch has dropped since the early 1970s; the catch in 2007 was 509,515 metric tons. Mackerel, pilchard, hakes, and anchovies were the principal species caught.

The official unit of currency was changed in 1993 from the South African rand to the Namibian dollar (N$7 equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). The new currency is linked to the rand on a one-to-one basis. Most of Namibia’s trade is with South Africa, with which Namibia is linked, along with Swaziland, Botswana, and Lesotho, in a customs union. Transportation is provided by a network of 42,237 km (26,245 mi) of roads and 2,382 km (1,480 mi) of railroads. Lüderitz and Walvis Bay are the only ports.

GOVERNMENT OF NAMIBIA

Before 1990, South Africa controlled Namibia’s defense and foreign affairs, and could veto its legislation. The constitution of 1990 established Namibia as an independent republic. According to the constitution, Namibia’s president is the executive and is elected by the voters. The president may serve a maximum of two terms of five years (although a constitutional amendment approved in 1998 granted an exception to the sitting president, Sam Nujoma, allowing him to run for and win a third term in 1999). Legislative authority is vested in the National Assembly, a body made up of 72 elected members and up to 6 appointed representatives. The National Council, made up of two representatives from each of Namibia’s 13 regional councils, acts as an advisory body.

During the period of South African rule, the security and apartheid (racial segregation) laws of South Africa were extended to Namibia, and black nationalist parties were barred from government participation. This barrier was removed as independence approached, and the black nationalist South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) won a majority of the votes in elections for a constituent assembly in November 1989. SWAPO won a majority again in the elections of 1994, 1999, and 2004. The most important minority parties are the multiracial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) and the Congress of Democrats (COD).

HISTORY OF NAMIBIA

Cave paintings that may be more than 25,000 years old attest to the presence of hunter-gatherer groups in the country during the late Pleistocene Period, but the earliest identifiable inhabitants are the San, who were here by the beginning of the 1st century AD. The Nama-speaking Khoikhoi arrived about AD 500. The Ovambo and the Herero migrated to the area much later.

European Presence

Between a landing by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488 and the creation of German South-West Africa in 1884, most of the few Europeans who visited the territory were explorers, missionaries, and hunters. The next three decades of German rule were marked by bloody suppression of the rebellious black Africans, notably the once dominant Herero, whose revolt in 1904 was not finally crushed until four years later at the cost of perhaps 60,000 lives.

In 1915, during World War I, the German colony was conquered by military forces of the Union (now Republic) of South Africa. Germany renounced sovereignty over the region in the Treaty of Versailles, and in 1920 the League of Nations granted South Africa mandate over the territory. In 1946 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly requested South Africa to submit a trusteeship agreement to the UN to replace the mandate of the defunct League of Nations; South Africa refused to do so. In 1949 a South African constitutional amendment extended parliamentary representation to South-West Africa. The International Court of Justice, however, ruled in 1950 that the status of the mandate could be changed only with the consent of the UN. South Africa agreed to discuss the trusteeship question with a special committee of the General Assembly, but the negotiations ended in failure in 1951. South Africa subsequently refused to accede to UN demands concerning a trusteeship arrangement, but it permitted a UN committee to enter Namibia in 1962 in order to investigate charges of atrocities committed against the native peoples. The committee found the charges against South Africa to be baseless.

South Africa’s Occupation

Aroused by steps that the government of South Africa was taking to establish apartheid in the mandated territory, Ethiopia and Liberia took the case to the International Court of Justice, but the court dismissed the complaint in 1966 on technical grounds. In October of that year the apartheid laws of South Africa were extended to the country. The UN continued to debate the question, and in June 1971 the International Court of Justice ruled that the South African presence in Namibia was illegal. South Africa, however, continued to govern the territory. As a result, the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), a black African nationalist movement led by Sam Nujoma, escalated its guerrilla campaign to oust the South Africans. The major Western powers, principally the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and West Germany (now part of the united Federal Republic of Germany), became deeply involved in the Namibian question in the late 1970s. South Africa continued to resist eviction until December 1988, when it agreed to allow Namibia to become independent in exchange for the removal of Cuban troops from neighboring Angola.

Independent Namibia

Open elections for a 72-member Constituent Assembly were held under UN supervision in November 1989, with SWAPO emerging as the majority party. In 1990 the Constituent Assembly approved a new constitution and became the National Assembly; Nujoma was elected to serve as the country’s first president; and Namibia attained independence. Until February 1994 an enclave containing the principal seaport, Walvis Bay, was administered by South Africa. In 1994 the first elections following Namibian independence were held. Nujoma was reelected, and SWAPO won 53 out of 72 seats in the National Assembly. The opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) of Namibia obtained 15 seats.

Nujoma’s administration fostered a healthy, growing economy over the course of the 1990s and promoted respect for human rights. Nujoma won a third presidential term in Namibia’s December 1999 elections, defeating former SWAPO member Ben Ulenga of the Congress of Democrats (COD). SWAPO dominated the 1999 and 2004 elections to the National Assembly. In November 2004 Namibians elected Hifikepunye Pohamba of SWAPO to succeed Nujoma and become the country’s second president.