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Namibia – Fast Facts and History

History of Namibia

namibia-san-paintingNamibia, officially recognized as the Republic of Namibia, formerly referred to as Southwest Africa borders the Atlantic ocean on the west and shares land with Zambia and Angola northward, Botswana and South Africa to the south and east, and borders the Zambezi River which separates it from Zimbabwe. Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, after the Namibian War of Independence, and their capital city is Windhoek which boasts a well know beer of the same name. An arid area, it has been inhabited by the San, Damara and Namaqua peoples since around the 14th century AD through the immigration of the Bantu people. It became a German Imperial protectorate in 1884 and remained a colony until the end of the first World War.

In 1920, the country was mandated to South Africa by the League of Nations which imposed laws and beginning in 1948, the apartheid policy. African leaders led uprisings and made demands of the United Nations to assume responsibility for the territory, and recognized the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) as the official representative for the Namibian people in 1973. It remained under South African administration during this time, where it was referred to as South-West Africa. With the rise in internal violence, South Africa instituted an interim administration in Namibia in 1985, until their independence in 1990.

Today, Namibia is home to over 2.1 million people, and operates as a multi-party parliamentary democracy. Their main exports are agricultural, herding animals, and they have large tourism and mining industries, which include mines for diamonds, uranium, gold, silver and other base metals. Due to the naturally arid climate from the Namib Desert, it is easily one of the least densely populated areas in the world. When considering a visit, it’s a great destination, with high political, economic and social stability. Their governmental site has listings for nearly anything and everything you might want to know before visiting.

Geography of Namibia

namibia-landscapeThough Namibia is not densely populated, it is the world’s 34th largest country at 825,615 km2, and sits between latitudes 17 and 29 degrees S, and longitudes 11 and 26 degrees E. Between both the Namib and the Kalahari Deserts, Namibia is the country that has the least rainfall annually in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 5 main geographical areas Namibia can be divided into, each with their own abiotic (sterile, devoid of animal life) characteristics, and vegetation. These areas are: The Central Plateau, the Namib Desert, the Great Escarpment, the Bushveld, and the Kalahari Desert.

The Central Plateau borders the famous Skeleton Coast to the northwest, the Namib desert to the southwest, the gorgeous Orange River to the south and Kalahari Desert to the east. This area is home to the highest point in Namibia, at Königstein, elevation 2,606 meters.

The Namib Desert is a massive expanse of extremely arid gravel plains and dunes that goes along Namibia’s entire coastline. Varying between 100 to hundreds of kilometers in width, the areas include the Skeleton Coast and the Kaokoveld in the north, and Namib Sand Sea along the central coast.

The Great Escarpment rises over 2,000 metres and temperatures increase as one gets further inland from the sea, and the fog begins to dissipate. The area is rocky and has poorly developed soil, but it remains far more productive than the Namib Desert. Moisture is gained through extraction from the summer winds carrying moist air from the sea.

The Bushveld in northeastern Namibia gets far better precipitation than the rest of the country, and averages around 400 mm annually. Flat and sandy, the soil has little ability to retain water.

The Kalahari Desert is the most famous of the areas, covered many times over by places like National Geographic and other travel moguls, and is another arid region shared with South Africa and Botswana. Though technically a desert, it does have some verdant and non-desert areas within its boundaries. One, the Succulent Karoo is even home to over 5,000 species of plants with almost half of them only found there in the world. Roughly 10% of the world’s succulents are found in the Karoo.

The Coastal Desert of Namibia is easily one of the oldest deserts in the world with sand dunes that are the highest in the world. Due to the location of the shoreline and strong onshore winds, there tends to be extremely dense fog. Namibia is rich in coastal and marine resources that are still largely unexplored. In terms of virgin areas, Namibia remains one of the best.

Namibian Climate

namibia-desertNamibia is part of the sub-Tropical High Pressure Belt, and labeling it as “mostly arid” is as accurate as it can get. It typically has clear skies, and gives over 300 days of sunshine every year. Winter from June to August is dry, and both rainy seasons occur in the summer. There is a small rainy season between September and November, and a very large one between February and April. Humidity levels are low, so the heat isn’t nearly as bothersome or pervasive as with other areas in Africa near the coast. Rainfall is extremely variable, and droughts are commonplace.

There is a cold current from the Atlantic Ocean called the Benguela current, which – when clashing with the heat from the ground results in the frequently dense fog along the coastal area. During winter, there can sometimes be sandstorms referred to as Oosweer (Afrikaans: East Weather) where a hot dry wind blows inland from the coast, picking up sand deposits as it goes along. Climates within the Central Plateau and Kalahari can range up to 30 degrees Celsius. The annual heavy flooding, referred to locally as ‘Efundja’ causes damage to infrastructure as well as losses of life. The worst of the floods in March 2011 displaced approximately 21,000 people.

As the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, Namibia relies mostly on groundwater instead of rainfall for their water sources. The largest rainfall area is the Caprivi area in the northeast, and it decreases as one moves southwest to 50 mm or less a year at the coast. Surface water is only available in the interior during the summer months after massive rainfall. There are a few storage dams for usage, but where people cannot use water from the perennial rivers or dams, they rely on groundwater for their livelihood. Groundwater supplies over 80% of the country despite the high costs associated with drilling the boreholes, construction and pumping and maintenance costs. Out of 100,000 boreholes that are drilled, a third come up dry and need to be re-drilled in other locations.

Economy of Namibia

A peaceful country with no enemies, Namibia’s economy is linked to South Africa’s with a long history of trade. The largest sectors contributing to their economy are manufacturing at 13.5% of the GDP, mining, at 10.4%, agriculture at 5% and the rest comes from tourism mainly. Namibia has four BoN (Banks of Namibia) authorised as commercial banks: Bank Windhoek, First National Bank, Nedbank and Standard Bank. These institutions offer things like online banking, cell phone notifications, apps and much more. The country holds a 27.4% unemployment rate, but as described by the Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Immanuel Ngatjizeko, the study for unemployment standards has been far superior in both scope and quality to discern those who are actively seeking full-time work and those who have given up searching altogether. In 2004, an act passed that protected people suffering from job discrimination based on things like pregnancy and HIV/AIDS status. In 2010, the board announced that 100% of all unskilled and semi-skilled labour must be sourced, without exception from within Namibia. 2013 saw Namibia named the top emerging market economy in Africa and 13th best in the world, out of only 4 African countries.

Namibia is classified as an Upper Middle income country by the World Bank, and ranks 87th out of 185 economies in the ease with which business is conducted. The cost of living is high due to the need for goods to be imported, with Windhoek rating highest for cost of living. Though much of the area is remote, Namibia has seaports, airports, highways and railways with important seaports acting as trade and transportation corridors which source 4/5 of the imports to Namibia.

Tourism within Namibia

cheetah-in-namibiaDespite what would seem like an ordinarily dry and lifeless area, particularly in places like the Kalahari Desert – you’d be surprised. Namibia is home to many plants and wildlife that can only be found here. Taking a holiday to Namibia suits every kind of traveler, whether you’re looking for adventure, camping, scenery, water sports, birding, to immerse yourself in culture, picnic, shop, walking trails or seeing wildlife, there is never a shortage of things to do in Namibia. Be sure you do plenty of research before booking your holiday to ensure you don’t miss out on some of the area’s most popular gems.

Agriculture and Mining in Namibia

Easily half the population is dependent on agriculture but still needs to import some of its food. Per capita its GDP is 5x the per capita GDP of Africa’s poorest countries, but the majority of the people live in rural areas and exist solely through subsistence farming. Namibia has been working on land reform processes to resettle landless black Namibians on the 1% of the available arable land, previously and currently held by white commercial farmers. Governments of both Germany and Britain have offered financial support to that end, and hopes that this will stimulate foreign investments.

Mining provides 25% of the revenue to Namibia and is the most important contributor to the economy. 4th largest in exports of non-fuel minerals in Africa, and 4th largest in the world for uranium, there has been a significant amount of investments made for uranium mining, and expected to be the largest exporter of uranium. Rich in alluvial diamond deposits, they’re a prime source for gem quality diamonds, but they also produce lead, tungsten, gold, tin, fluorspar, manganese, marble, copper and zinc.

Demographics in Namibia

namibian-localNamibia has the second lowest population density after Mongolia out of all the sovereign countries. Most are of Bantu speaking origin, from the Ovambo ethnicity, forming half the population. There are other ethnic groups like the Herero and Himba who speak a language similar to Bantu, and the Damara who speak the same language consisting of “clicks” of the tongue as the Nama peoples. There are large groups of Khosian (Nama and San) who are direct descendents of the original inhabitants of Southern Africa, and there are also people descended from refugees from Angola. There are also a large number of Chinese within Namibia as a minority, along with two smaller groups of people with mixed racial origins referred to as “Coloureds” and “Basters”.

Whites of mainly Afrikaner, German, British and Portuguese origin make up 7% of the population, though it is decreasing due to emigration. Most of the whites in Namibia speak Afrikaans and share much of the cultural and religious aspects as the coloured populations. Almost all of the Portuguese settlers came from the former Portuguese colony of Angola. Home to many religions, the primary religion is Christian. The official language is English and has been since 1991, even though only 3% of the population speak it as their home language. English language is taught as a compulsory subject in all state schools. Half of Namibians speak Oshiwambo as their first language, but the most widely understood and spoken language is Afrikaans, though English is growing rapidly in younger generations. The largest cities in terms of population are:

  1. Windhoek
  2. Walvis Bay
  3. Rundu
  4. Swakopmund
  5. Oshakati

The most popular sport in Namibia is association football, and in 2008 qualified for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations but hasn’t yet qualified for any World Cups. Their most successful sporting team is the Namibian rugby team who has competed in 4 separate World Cups. Cricket is also popular. Education is compulsory and free for ten years until age 16. Pupil to teacher ratio is around 32:1 and 8% of Namibia’s GDP is spent on education. Most schools are state run but there are a few private schools as well. There are 4 teacher training universities, three colleges of agriculture, a police training college, a National University and a Polytechnic school at university level.

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