For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Republic of Namibia
Area: 823,145 sq. km. (320,827 sq. mi.); the size of Texas and Louisiana combined.
Cities: Capital--Windhoek (2001 census) pop. 233,529. Other cities--Grootfontein, Katima Mulilo, Keetmanshoop, Luderitz, Ondangwa, Oranjemund, Oshakati, Otjiwarongo, Swakopmund, Tsumeb, Walvis Bay.
Terrain: Varies from coastal desert to semiarid mountains and plateau.
Climate: Semidesert and high plateau.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Namibian(s).
Population (2002 est.): 1.8 million.
Annual growth rate (2002 est.): 1.5%. The population growth rate is depressed by an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate estimated to be 22.3%.
Ethnic groups: Black 87%; white 6%; mixed race 7%. About 50% of the population belong to Ovambo ethnic group, and 9% to the Kavango ethnic group. Other ethnic groups are: Herero 7%, Damara 7%, Nama 5%, Caprivian 4%, San 3%, Baster 2%, and Tswana 0.5%.
Religions: Predominantly Christian; also indigenous beliefs.
Languages: English (official); Afrikaans, German, Oshivambo, Herero, Nama/Damara, other indigenous languages.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 16. Attendance (2001)--82%. Literacy (adults, 2001)--81%.
Work force (2002 est.): 200,000.
Independence: March 21, 1990.
Branches: Executive--president (elected for 5-year term), prime minister. Legislative--bicameral Parliament: National Assembly and National Council. Judicial--Supreme Court, the High Court, and lower courts.
Subdivisions: 13 administrative regions.
Major political parties: South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), United Democratic Front of Namibia (UDF), Congress of Democrats (COD), Monitor Action Group (MAG).
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GDP (2003): $4.7 billion.
Annual growth rate (2003): 3.7%.
Per capita GNI (2003): $1,870.
Inflation rate (2003): 7.3%.
Natural resources: Diamonds, copper, gold, uranium, lead, tin, zinc, salt, vanadium, fisheries, and wildlife.
Agriculture (9.6% of GDP, 2003): Products--beef and meat products, fish and fish products, grapes, wool.
Mining (6.8% of GDP, 2003): Gem-quality diamonds, zinc, copper, other.
Trade: Exports (2002)--$1.3 billion: diamonds, copper, lead, uranium, beef, cattle, fish, karakul pelts. Imports (2002)--$1.7 billion: foodstuffs, construction material, manufactured goods. Major partners--South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Germany, U.K., U.S.
Namibians are of diverse ethnic origins. The principal groups are the Ovambo, Kavango, Herero/Himba, Damara, mixed race ("colored" and Rehoboth Baster), white (Afrikaner, German, and Portuguese), Nama, Caprivian, San, and Tswana.
The Ovambo make up about half of Namibia's people. The Ovambo, Kavango, and East Caprivian peoples, who occupy the relatively well-watered and wooded northern part of the country, are settled farmers and herders. Historically, these groups had little contact with the Nama, Damara, and Herero, who roamed the central part of the country vying for control of sparse pastureland. German colonial rule destroyed the war-making ability of the tribes but did not erase their identities or traditional organization. People from the more populous north have settled throughout the country in recent decades as a result of urbanization, industrialization, and the demand for labor.
Missionary work during the 1800s drew many Namibians to Christianity. While most Namibian Christians are Lutheran, there also are Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, African Methodist Episcopal, and Dutch Reformed Christians represented.
Education and services have been extended in varying degrees to most rural areas in recent years. The estimated adult literacy rate of Namibians was relatively high at 81% as of 2001. However, although the national literacy rate is estimated to be 81%, it is important to note that the number of Namibians who are functionally literate and have the skills that the labor market needs is significantly fewer.
The San are generally assumed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region. Later inhabitants include the Nama and the Damara or Berg Dama. The Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero migrated from the north in about the 14th century A.D.
The inhospitable Namib Desert constituted a formidable barrier to European exploration until the late 18th century, when successions of travelers, traders, hunters, and missionaries explored the area. In 1878, the United Kingdom annexed Walvis Bay on behalf of Cape Colony, and the area was incorporated into the Cape of Good Hope in 1884. In 1883, a German trader, Adolf Luderitz, claimed the rest of the coastal region after negotiations with a local chief. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Germany resulted in Germany's annexation of the coastal region, excluding Walvis Bay. The following year, the United Kingdom recognized the hinterland up to 20 degrees east longitude as a German sphere of influence. A region later known as the Caprivi Strip became a part of South West Africa after an agreement on July 1, 1890, between the United Kingdom and Germany. The British recognized that the strip would fall under German administration to provide access to the Zambezi River and German colonies in East Africa. In exchange, the British received the islands of Zanzibar and Heligoland.
German colonial power was consolidated, and prime grazing land passed to white control as a result of the Herero and Nama wars of 1904-08. German administration ended during World War I following South African occupation in 1915.
On December 17, 1920, South Africa undertook administration of South West Africa under the terms of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations and a mandate agreement by the League Council. The mandate agreement gave South Africa full power of administration and legislation over the territory. It required that South Africa promote the material and moral well-being and social progress of the people.
When the League of Nations was dissolved in 1946, the newly formed United Nations inherited its supervisory authority for the territory. South Africa refused UN requests to place the territory under a trusteeship agreement. During the 1960s, as the European powers granted independence to their colonies and trust territories in Africa, pressure mounted on South Africa to do so in Namibia, which was then known as South West Africa. In 1966, the UN General Assembly revoked South Africa's mandate.
Also in 1966, the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) began its armed struggle to liberate Namibia, in part from bases abroad. After Angola became independent in 1975, SWAPO established bases in the southern part of that country. Hostilities intensified over the years, particularly in the north.
In a 1971 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice upheld UN authority over Namibia, determining that the South African presence in Namibia was illegal and that South Africa therefore was obligated to withdraw its administration from Namibia immediately. The Court also advised UN member states to refrain from implying legal recognition or assistance to the South African presence.
International Pressure for Independence
In 1977, Western members of the UN Security Council, including Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States (known as the Western Contact Group), launched a joint diplomatic effort to bring an internationally acceptable transition to independence for Namibia. Their efforts led to the presentation in April 1978 of Security Council Resolution 435 for settling the Namibian problem. The proposal, known as the UN Plan, was worked out after lengthy consultations with South Africa, the front-line states (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), SWAPO, UN officials, and the Western Contact Group. It called for the holding of elections in Namibia under UN supervision and control, the cessation of all hostile acts by all parties, and restrictions on the activities of South African and Namibian military, paramilitary, and police.
South Africa agreed to cooperate in achieving the implementation of Resolution 435. Nonetheless, in December 1978, in defiance of the UN proposal, it unilaterally held elections in Namibia which were boycotted by SWAPO and a few other political parties. South Africa continued to administer Namibia through its installed multiracial coalitions. Negotiations after 1978 focused on issues such as supervision of elections connected with the implementation of the UN Plan.
Negotiations and Transition
Intense discussions between the concerned parties continued during the 1978-88 period, with the UN Secretary General's Special Representative, Martti Ahtisaari, playing a key role. The 1982 Constitutional Principles, agreed upon by the front-line states, SWAPO, and the Western Contact Group created the framework for Namibia's democratic constitution.
In May 1988, a U.S. mediation team, headed by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester A. Crocker, brought negotiators from Angola, Cuba, and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union together in London. Intense diplomatic maneuvering characterized the next 7 months, as the parties worked out agreements to bring peace to the region and make implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435 possible. On December 13, Cuba, South Africa, and the People's Republic of Angola agreed to a total Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. The protocol also established a Joint Commission, consisting of the parties with the United States and the Soviet Union as observers, to oversee implementation of the accords. A bilateral agreement between Cuba and the People's Republic of Angola was signed in New York on December 22, 1988. On the same day a tripartite agreement, in which the parties recommended initiation of the UN Plan on April 1 and the Republic of South Africa agreed to withdraw its troops, was signed. Implementation of Resolution 435 officially began on April 1, 1989, when South African-appointed Administrator Gen. Louis Pienaar officially began administrating the territory's transition to independence. Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari arrived in Windhoek to begin performing his duties as head of the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG).
The transition got off to a shaky start on April 1 because, in contravention to SWAPO President Sam Nujoma's written assurances to the UN Secretary General to abide by a cease-fire and repatriate only unarmed insurgents, about 2,000 armed members of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), SWAPO's military wing, crossed the border from Angola in an apparent attempt to establish a military presence in northern Namibia. The Special Representative authorized a limited contingent of South African troops to aid the South West African police in restoring order. A period of intense fighting followed, during which 375 PLAN fighters were killed. At Mt. Etjo, a game park outside Windhoek, in a special meeting of the Joint Commission on April 9, a plan was put in place to confine the South African forces to base and return PLAN elements to Angola. While the problem was solved, minor disturbances in the north continued throughout the transition period. In October, under order of the UN Security Council, Pretoria demobilized members of the disbanded counterinsurgency unit, Koevoet (Afrikaans for "crowbar"), who had been incorporated into the South West African police.
The 11-month transition period went relatively smoothly. Political prisoners were granted amnesty, discriminatory legislation was repealed, South Africa withdrew all its forces from Namibia, and some 42,000 refugees returned safely and voluntarily under the auspices of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Almost 98% of registered voters turned out to elect members of the Constituent Assembly. The elections were held in November 1989 and were certified as free and fair by the Special Representative, with SWAPO taking 57% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds necessary to have a free hand in drafting the constitution. The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, the opposition party, received 29% of the vote. The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting on November 21 and its first act unanimously resolved to use the 1982 Constitutional Principles as the framework for Namibia's new constitution.
By February 9, 1990, the Constituent Assembly had drafted and adopted a constitution. March 21, independence day, was attended by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who represented President George H.W. Bush. On that same day, he inaugurated the U.S. Embassy in Windhoek in recognition of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
On March 1, 1994, the coastal enclave of Walvis Bay and 12 offshore islands were transferred to Namibia by South Africa. This followed 3 years of bilateral negotiations between the two governments and the establishment of a transitional Joint Administrative Authority (JAA) in November 1992 to administer the 300-square mile territory. The peaceful resolution of this territorial dispute, which dated back to 1878, was praised by the United States and the international community, as it fulfilled the provisions of UN Security Council 432 (1978) which declared Walvis Bay to be an integral part of Namibia.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Namibia is a multiparty, multiracial democracy, with a president who is elected for 5-year term. The constitution establishes a bicameral Parliament and provides for general elections every 5 years and regional elections every 6 years. Members of the 72-seat National Assembly are elected on a party list system on a proportional basis. Members of the 26-seat National Council are elected from within popularly elected Regional Councils. The three branches of government are subject to checks and balances, and provision is made for judicial review. The judicial structure in Namibia largely parallels that of South Africa and comprises a Supreme Court, the High Court, and lower courts. Roman-Dutch law has been the common law of the territory since 1919. Namibia's unitary government is currently in the process of decentralization.
The constitution provides for the private ownership of property and for human rights protections, and states that Namibia should have a mixed economy and encourage foreign investment.
President Sam Nujoma, leader of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), has been President since Namibia's independence in 1990. In November 2004, citizens elected Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Hifikepunye Pohamba to be the next President. Pohamba will be inaugurated in March 2005 in conjunction with celebrations marking the country's 15th anniversary. International and domestic observers agreed the 2004 elections were generally free and well administered despite some irregularities. Pohamba was elected President with 76.4% of the vote. SWAPO won 55 of the 72 elected seats in the National Assembly. Six opposition parties won a total of 17 seats, including the Congress of Democrats party, which won the largest number of opposition votes; the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance; the National Unity Democratic Organization; the United Democratic Front; the Republican Party; and the Monitor Action Group.
Principal Government Officials (until March 2005)
Prime Minister--Theo-Ben Gurirab
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Marco Hausiku
Ambassador to UN--Martin Andjaba
Ambassador to U.S.--vacant
Namibia maintains an embassy in the United States at 1605 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington DC 20009 (tel: (202) 986-0540; fax: (202) 986-0443).
The Namibian economy has a modern market sector, which produces most of the country's wealth, and a traditional subsistence sector. Namibia's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is relatively high among developing countries but obscures one of the most unequal income distributions on the African continent. Although the majority of the population engages in subsistence agriculture and herding, Namibia has more than 200,000 skilled workers, as well as a small, well-trained professional and managerial class.
The country's sophisticated formal economy is based on capital-intensive industry and farming. However, Namibia's economy is heavily dependent on the earnings generated from primary commodity exports in a few vital sectors, including minerals, livestock, and fish. Furthermore, the Namibian economy remains integrated with the economy of South Africa, as the bulk of Namibia's imports originate there.
Since independence, the Namibian Government has pursued free-market economic principles designed to promote commercial development and job creation to bring disadvantaged Namibians into the economic mainstream. To facilitate this goal, the government has actively courted donor assistance and foreign investment. The liberal Foreign Investment Act of 1990 provides for freedom from nationalization, freedom to remit capital and profits, currency convertibility, and a process for settling disputes equitably.
Namibia is part of the Common Monetary Area (CMA) comprising Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa. Both the South African rand and the Namibian dollar are legal tender in Namibia, but the Namibian dollar is not accepted in South Africa. As a result of the CMA agreement, the scope for independent monetary policy in Namibia is limited. The Bank of Namibia regularly follows actions taken by the South African central bank.
Given its small domestic market but favorable location and a superb transport and communications base, Namibia is a leading advocate of regional economic integration. In addition to its membership in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Namibia presently belongs to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) with South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Within SACU, no tariffs exist on goods produced in and moving among the member states. SACU is currently negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the United States--the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa. The SACU Secretariat is located in Windhoek.
Over 80% of Namibia's imports originate in South Africa, and many Namibian exports are destined for the South African market or transit that country. Outside of South Africa, the EU (primarily the U.K.) is the chief market for Namibian exports. Namibia's exports consist mainly of diamonds and other minerals, fish products, beef and meat products, grapes and light manufactures. Under the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), apparel exports are rapidly growing.
Namibia is seeking to diversify its trading relationships away from its heavy dependence on South African goods and services. Europe has become a leading market for Namibian fish and meat, while mining concerns in Namibia have purchased heavy equipment and machinery from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. The Government of Namibia is actively taking advantage of AGOA, which will provide preferential access to U.S. markets for a long list of products. Since early 2002 several apparel manufacturers have invested in assembly facilities, generating thousands of jobs. At full production, these apparel plants are expected to export on an annual basis over $100 million worth of apparel products to the United States.
In 1993, Namibia became a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) signatory, and the Minister of Trade and Industry represented Namibia at the Marrakech signing of the Uruguay Round Agreement in April 1994. Namibia has been a member of the World Trade Organization since its creation in 1995 and is a strong proponent of the Doha Development Agenda announced at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001. Namibia also is a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and participates in the European Union's Cotonou Agreement.
Mining and Energy
Mining contributed approximately 7% of GDP in 2003. Diamond mining activities alone represented more than 5%. Diamond production totaled 1.5 million carats in 2002, generating over $500 million in export earnings. Other important mineral resources are uranium, copper, lead, and zinc. Anglo American's $454 million Skorpion zinc mine, which opened in 2003, is projected to produce 12,500 tons of pure zinc per month. The country also is a source of gold, silver, tin, vanadium, semiprecious gemstones, tantalite, phosphate, sulfur, and salt.
During the pre-independence period, large areas of Namibia, including offshore, were leased for oil prospecting. Natural gas was discovered in 1974 in the Kudu Field off the mouth of the Orange River. The field is thought to contain reserves of over 1.3 trillion cubic feet. A decision to develop the field or not is expected in 2005. Plans have been put forward to build the country's first combined cycle power station near Oranjemund. Government officials have warned that in the absence of new domestic sources of energy, Namibia will face power shortages as early as 2007.
Although Namibian agriculture contributes less than 10% of Namibia's GDP, about 70% of the Namibian population depends on agricultural activities for livelihood, mostly in the subsistence sector. In 2001, agricultural exports constituted roughly 3.3% of total Namibian exports.
In the largely white-dominated commercial sector, agriculture consists primarily of livestock ranching. Cattle raising is predominant in the central and northern regions, while karakul sheep, goat, and ostrich farming are concentrated in the more arid southern regions. Subsistence farming is confined to the "communal lands" of the country's populous north, where roaming cattle herds are prevalent and the main crops are millet, sorghum, corn, and peanuts. Table grapes, grown mostly along the Orange River in the country's arid south, are becoming an increasingly important commercial crop and a significant employer of seasonal labor.
The government introduced its long-awaited agricultural land reform legislation in September 1994, and a companion bill dealing with the communal areas will be presented later. The government remains committed to a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach to land reform and to providing just compensation as directed by the Namibian constitution. As the government addresses the vital land and range management questions, water use issues and availability are considered.
The clean, cold South Atlantic waters off the coast of Namibia are home to some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, with the potential for sustainable yields of up to 1.5 million metric tons per year. Commercial fishing and fish processing is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Namibian economy in terms of employment, export earnings, and contribution to GDP.
The main species found in abundance off Namibia are pilchards (sardines), anchovy, hake, and horse mackerel. There also are smaller but significant quantities of sole, squid, deep-sea crab, rock lobster, and tuna. However, at the time of independence, fish stocks had fallen to dangerously low levels due to the lack of protection and conservation of the fisheries and the overexploitation of these resources. This trend appears to have been halted and reversed since independence, as the Namibian Government is now pursuing a conservative resource management policy along with an aggressive fisheries enforcement campaign.
Manufacturing and Infrastructure
In 2004, Namibia's manufacturing sector contributed about 11% of GDP. Namibian manufacturing has historically been inhibited by a small domestic market, dependence on imported goods, limited supply of local capital, widely dispersed population, small skilled labor force and high relative wage rates, and subsidized competition from South Africa. As of early 2004, AGOA had brought close to $300 million in investment and over 9,000 jobs in the textile industry.
Walvis Bay has a well-developed, deepwater port, considered by many the best in Western Africa, and Namibia's fishing infrastructure is most heavily concentrated there. The Namibian Government expects Walvis Bay to become an important commercial gateway to the Southern African region.
Namibia also boasts modern civil aviation facilities and an extensive, well-maintained land transportation network. Construction continues to expand two major arteries--the Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kalahari Highways--which will further open up the region's access to Walvis Bay.
Tourism is a rapidly growing sector of the Namibian economy and a significant generator of employment. It is the third-largest source of foreign exchange after mining and fisheries. Although the majority of Namibia's international visitors originate in the region, other international travelers are increasingly attracted by the country's unique mix of political stability, cultural diversity, and geographic beauty. Tourism in Namibia has had a positive impact on resource conservation and rural development. Some 29 communal conservancies have been established across the country, resulting in enhanced land management while providing tens of thousands of rural Namibians with much needed income.
While most Namibians are economically active in one form or another, the bulk of this activity is in the informal sector, primarily subsistence agriculture. In the formal economy, official estimates of unemployment range from 30% to 40% of the work force. A large number of Namibians seeking jobs in the formal sector are held back due to a lack of necessary skills or training. The government is aggressively pursuing education reform to address this problem.
Namibia's largest labor federation, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) represents workers organized into seven affiliated trade unions. NUNW maintains a close affiliation with the ruling SWAPO party.
In late 2004, Namibia passed a new "Labour Act" to replace legislation dating back to 1992. The new law will be stricter with respect to discrimination in the workplace and will establish new protections for pregnant workers as well as employees infected with HIV/AIDS.
The constitution defines the role of the military as "defending the territory and national interests." Following independence, Namibia formed the National Defense Force (NDF), comprised of former enemies in a 23-year bush war, the PLAN and South West African territorial force. The British formulated the force integration plan and began training the NDF, which consists of five battalions and a small headquarters element. The UNTAG Kenyan infantry battalion remained in Namibia for 3 months after independence to assist in training the NDF and stabilize the north. According to the Namibian Defense Ministry, enlistments of both men and women will number no more than 7,500. The NDF has a modest air wing and a maritime wing. Namibia has contributed 900 troops to UN peacekeeping efforts in Liberia.
Namibia has had defense cooperation at various levels with several countries, including the United States. The U.S. does not have an Article 98 agreement with Namibia.
Namibia follows a largely independent foreign policy, with lingering affiliations with states that aided the independence struggle, including Libya and Cuba.
Namibia is developing trade and strengthening economic and political ties within the Southern African region. A dynamic member of the Southern African Development Community and the Southern African Customs Union, Namibia is a vocal advocate for greater regional integration.
Namibia became the 160th member of the United Nations on April 23, 1990, and the 50th member of the British Commonwealth upon independence.
U.S.-Namibian relations are good and continue to improve. Characterized by shared democratic values, commitment to rule of law, and respect for human rights, the bilateral relationship has been strengthened through trade ties and U.S. assistance programs. Namibia has seized opportunities created by AGOA and is currently involved in negotiating a Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Namibia has been included in President Bush's International Mother and Child HIV Initiative and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) bilateral presence in Namibia has been extended until 2010. In addition to the Embassy, the Centers for Disease Control, Peace Corps, and the Defense Departments have offices in Windhoek.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Joyce A. Barr
Deputy Chief of Mission--Jonathan Moore
Public Affairs Officer--Stanley Harsha
Political Officer--Darragh Jones
Economic/Commercial Officer--David McCawley
Consular Officer--Kent C. Healy
USAID Director--Gary Newton
Defense Attache--LTC Donna Kennedy
Peace Corps Country Director--Howard Williams
The U.S. Embassy in Namibia is located at 14 Lossen Street, Windhoek (tel. 22-1601).