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