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The Commonwealth



Did you know:

Frank Fredericks, born in Windhoek in October 1967, took the Commonwealth Games Men’s 200 Metres record at the 1994 Games in Victoria, Canada.

With population density of less than three per sq km, Namibia is the most sparsely populated country in the Commonwealth and in Africa; and it has some 1,570 km of coastline.

Namibia is one of the world’s major producers of uranium; it was fifth largest in 2012.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1990
Population: 2,303,000 (2013)
GDP: 2.1% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: World ranking 127
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT plus 1–2hr
Currency: Namibia dollar (N$)


Area: 824,269 sq km (including Walvis Bay 1,124 sq km).
Coastline: 1,570km
Capital city: Windhoek
Population density (per sq. km): 3

Namibia in south-west Africa is one of the driest and most sparsely populated countries on Earth. It is bounded by the South Atlantic Ocean on the west, Angola to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south. The Caprivi Strip, a narrow extension of land in the extreme north-east, connects it to Zambia.

Namibia comprises 13 regions (from south to north): Karas, Hardap, Khomas, Erongo, Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, Kunene, Oshikoto, Okavango, Omusati, Oshana, Caprivi and Ohangwena.

Main towns:

Windhoek (capital, Khomas region, pop. 325,858 in 2011), Rundu (Kavango East, 63,431), Walvis Bay (Erongo, 62,096), Swakopmund (Erongo, 44,725), Oshakati (Oshana, 36,451), Rehoboth (Hardap, 28,843), Katima Mulilo (Zambezi, 28,362), Otjiwarongo (Otjozondjupa, 28,249), Okahandja (Otjozondjupa, 22,639), Keetmanshoop (!Karas, 20,977), Tsumeb (Oshikoto, 19,257), Gobabis (Omaheke, 19,101), Grootfontein (Otjozondjupa, 16,632), Lüderitz (!Karas, 12,537) and Usakos (Erongo, 3,583).


There are 44,140 km of roads, 15 per cent paved. Two long-haul road projects were completed in the late 1990s: the Trans-Caprivi Highway and the Trans-Kalahari Highway through Botswana to South Africa. These arteries enable Namibia to provide landlocked central African countries with an outlet to the sea as well as greatly reducing the journey to Johannesburg.

The 2,400 km railway network was established under German colonial rule and much-needed upgrading was carried out from the mid-1990s. Walvis Bay, the only deep-water port, which incorporates an export processing zone, is the main outlet for exports. Use of Lüderitz, Namibia’s second port, has increased, due to a rise in fishing activities.

Air transport is important because of Namibia’s size. There are more than 350 aerodromes and airstrips, with licensed airports in the main towns and mining centres, including the international airport some 40 km from Windhoek.

International relations:

Namibia is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Non-Aligned Movement, Southern African Customs Union, Southern African Development Community, United Nations and World Trade Organization.

Namibia hosts the secretariat of the Southern African Customs Union; the SADC Tribunal; and the SADC Parliamentary Forum.


The country has three broad zones: the Namib Desert to the west; the Kalahari Desert to the east; and the Central Plateau. The plateau, made up of mountains, rocky outcrops, sand- filled valleys and undulating upland plains, covers over 50 per cent of the land area. It includes Windhoek, the capital, and slopes eastward to the Kalahari Basin and northward to the Etosha Pan, the largest of Namibia’s saline lakes. The Skeleton Coast, from Swakopmund to the northern border, is a waterless stretch of high sand dunes pounded by a high surf, much celebrated in tales of the sea. The Kaokoveld Mountains run parallel, covering 66,000 sq km. Shifting sand dunes of the Namib Desert spread inland for 80–130 km, covering 15 per cent of the land area.


Arid, semi-arid and sub-humid. Prolonged periods of drought are characteristic. There is little precipitation apart from rare thunderstorms in the arid zone of the Namib Desert coast, with rainfall rising to 600 mm or more in the sub-humid north- eastern border with Angola and the Caprivi Strip. Rain falls in summer (October to April). The cold Benguela current gives the Namib Desert thick coastal fog.


The most significant environmental issues are the scarcity of natural freshwater resources and desertification.


Much of the terrain is grassland, or plains dotted with scrub. Namibia supports at least 345 different grasses and 2,400 types of flowering plant. Characteristic native plants are acacias, balsam trees, omwandi trees, fig and date palms, makalani palms, mopane (shrubs or trees), monkey-bread trees, marula trees, yellow-blossomed omuparara trees, violet-blossomed apple-leaf trees and shrubs such as the raisin-bush, coffee bush and camphor bush. Aloes, mesembryanthemums and other succulents flower on the Southern Namib dunes after rainfall. White-flowering ana trees flourish in dry river beds. Forest covers nine per cent of the land area, having declined at 0.9 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises one per cent of the total land area.


Namibia’s wildlife is famous, particularly the exceptional range of bird species found in the wetlands. There are some 200 recorded species of birds, with 27 thought to be endangered (2014). The pans in game parks provide drinking water for most of the typical African wild mammal species. The Etosha National Park, the country’s most famous reserve and one of the largest in the world, contains lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and zebras. The government has a strong conservation policy, but game poaching in the reserves is diminishing stocks of many species. The Namibian seas are naturally rich in fish, and in seabirds which prey on fish.


The San (Bushmen), who are among the world’s oldest surviving hunter-gatherers, have lived in this territory for over 11,000 years.

In the 19th century, taking advantage of tribal conflicts, Europeans acquired land from chiefs in return for weapons. The British authorities in the Cape annexed the Penguin Islands in 1866 and Walvis Bay in 1878, in response to a request for protection from missionaries. Germany declared a protectorate in 1884 over a 20 km-wide belt of land from Lüderitz to the Orange river, and then gained control of the interior. The inhabitants were relegated to ‘native reserves’ from 1898 and a 1905 German decree expropriated all Herero land and prohibited Herero people from keeping cattle. This led to the Great Resistance War, 1904–08, during which a large proportion of the Herero and Nama population was massacred by the German military. Pass laws were introduced in 1907, as was the institutionalisation of migrant contract labour. Diamond and copper mining began in 1908–09.

During World War I, German South-West Africa was occupied by South Africa; after the war South Africa extended its control to the northern Namibian communities, helped by the Portuguese rulers of Angola. The Allied Powers refused to allow South Africa to annex the country, renamed South-West Africa (SWA). Instead, South Africa became the designated power under a League of Nations mandate.

Following the founding of the UN in 1945, South Africa refused to convert its mandate into a UN trusteeship. In 1949, 1955 and 1956, disputes between South Africa and the UN over SWA were taken to the International Court of Justice.

A series of petitions to the UN from black leaders in SWA sought to end South African rule. The first black nationalist movement, the South-West Africa National Union (SWANU), was set up in 1959 with the support of the Herero Chiefs Council. In 1960 the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) was founded, Ovambo migrant workers forming the base of its membership. SWAPO launched a guerrilla campaign inside Namibia, first clashing with South African police in August 1966. In October 1966, the UN terminated South Africa’s mandate and called for it to withdraw from the country, formally named Namibia in 1968. The International Court of Justice ruled in 1971 that South Africa’s administration was illegal.

In 1977 a UN contact group comprising the five Western members of the Security Council – the UK, France, the US, Canada and West Germany – began to negotiate plans for Namibia’s independence directly with South Africa and SWAPO. In 1978 South Africa announced its acceptance of the contact group’s settlement proposal. However, in May that year, South African forces attacked SWAPO’s refugee transit camp at Cassinga in southern Angola, leaving 600 dead.

Independence discussions continued for ten years, in the course of which South Africa made several further attacks on SWAPO bases in Angola. In 1981 South Africa demanded that Cuban troops (which were in Angola assisting the Angolan government in a civil war against UNITA rebels) should withdraw from Angola, and made this a condition of its agreement to the UN plan.

At the same time, South Africa began to ease its grip on Namibia, allowing a ‘transitional government of national unity’ (a coalition of six parties) control over internal affairs from June 1985.

In December 1988, two agreements were signed: one between South Africa, Angola and Cuba, creating the conditions for implementation of the UN plan, the second between Angola and Cuba, setting out a timetable for withdrawal of Cuban troops. A formal ceasefire came into effect in April 1989; this was followed by clashes in northern Namibia between SWAPO and South African forces, resulting in the deaths of some 300 SWAPO fighters.

Nonetheless, progress towards independence continued through 1989. The interim government was dissolved and by September 43,000 exiled Namibians had returned home. Many SWAPO members had been in exile for 27 years. Namibia achieved independence on 21 March 1990 and became the Commonwealth’s 50th member.

In 1977 South Africa had annexed Walvis Bay, Namibia’s only deep-water port, together with a surrounding 1,124 sq km enclave and the 12 offshore Penguin Islands. Walvis Bay remained a subject of dispute until March 1994, when it and the islands were returned to Namibia.

Independent state

UN-supervised elections were held in November 1989. Ten political parties stood, including SWAPO, which gained 57 per cent of the votes and 41 of 72 seats in the Constituent Assembly. In February 1990 Dr Sam Nujoma was elected by the Constituent Assembly to be the first President of an independent Namibia. Nujoma (76 per cent of the popular vote in the first presidential election) and SWAPO (73 per cent in the National Assembly elections) were returned to power in the December 1994 elections.

In late November 1998, parliament passed a constitutional amendment to allow Nujoma to serve more than two terms. Namibia’s High Commissioner to the UK, Ben Ulenga, resigned in protest against both the amendment and Namibia’s military involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ulenga later formed a new political grouping which was registered as the Congress of Democrats.

History Of Namibia

Namibia: Africa's Last Colony

Learn more about Namidia on The Commonwealth site
Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Namidia 1979: Another Angola
By David Malcolm/Stone (pdf)

The Autobiography of Sam Nujoma
First President of Namidia (pdf)

Namibia Vacation Travel Video Guide

Tourism Destination Namibia

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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