Namibia, previously named South West Africa, was a German protectorate from 1884. It was invaded by South Africa during WW1. South Africa held onto power and ruled it up until 1990, firstly with a UN mandate, and then after WWII, as an annexed territory. In 1966, the Marxist South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) was founded as a guerrilla movement protesting against South Africa’s imperial presence and its colonial policies, including Apartheid.
SWAPO was officially recognised by the UN, as the representative party of the Namibian people in 1973 but they didn’t take power until 1990, when South Africa finally withdrew, under increased pressure from the United Nations. The transfer of power in Namibia formed a central facet of the United States’ policy of ‘Constructive Engagement’ in Southern Africa, the story of which is told in detail in Chester Crocker’s account High Noon in Southern Africa. SWAPO has been in power ever since. Sam Nujoma was the country’s first independence leader, and ruled for 14 years. He was beaten by Hifikepunye Pohamba in elections in 2004. SWAPO won 75.1% of popular votes and 55 out of 78 seats in the parliamentary election.
Namibia has huge reserves of natural resources including copper, uranium, gold, silver, lead, tin, lithium, cadmium, tungsten, zinc, salt, hydropower and fish. Its stretch of coastal desert is one of the richest sources of diamonds on earth. Mining accounts for 8% of the country’s GDP and over 50% of its foreign exchange earnings. Despite its relatively high GDP, Namibia’s wealth is distributed very unevenly, with 35-40% of the population relying on subsistence agriculture and therefore being at the mercy of the climate for their survival. 55.8% of the population live below the poverty line and over 50% do not have employment in either the formal or informal sectors.
Namibia has the second smallest population density in the world, (second only to Mongolia), and is made up, predominantly, of Bantu ethnic groups, of which the Ovambo tribe account for 50% of the population. There are also significant numbers of Khoisan people, who were the original inhabitants of Southern Africa, before the Bantu migration from central Africa over 200 years ago. Namibia also has the second highest proportional white European population after South Africa; 7% of the population have Portuguese, French, German, British or Dutch ancestry.
Namibia’s varying ‘veldt’ types make it a popular destination for eco-tourists. Namibia is one of the only countries in the world to have a commitment to conservation and the maintenance of ecosystems, embedded in its constitution.
Namibia, like its neighbours, South Africa and Botswana, has a growing HIV/AIDS problem, with 15% of the adult population, reportedly carrying the disease.