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Namibia at a Glance

Namibia is a country of compelling beauty, abundant sunshine, and a feeling of unconfined space. With its unspoilt landscapes and large variety of game, Namibia is one of the larger countries in Africa, and draws an increasing number of visitors from various parts of the globe. A sense of freedom is generated by the wide horizons, the clear unpolluted skies and a population density which is among the lowest in the world. This feeling of tranquillity and stillness combines with a landscape which is singular in its colours, full of contrasts of light and shade. In addition, the diversity of its people creates a rich blend of cultures and traditions. The population is composed of several different ethnic groups, including the San, the Khoi-Khoi, the Herero, and the Ovambo as well as the small European population, largely Germans and Afrikaners. It gets quite hot between December to February, but because of its high altitude, humidity is low and nights are pleasantly cooled by a light breeze. It does rain quite heavily in summer but the evaporation rate is extremely high so it does not stay damp for long. Winters can get very cold at night with some frost in low lying areas, but the days are warm, sunny and cloudless. Namibia is the first country in the world to include protection of the environment and sustainable utilisation of wildlife in its constitution. About 15,5% of the country has been set aside as National Parks. In these areas, rare and endangered species of animals, birds and plant life are preserved and protected. Most of the African game species are well represented in Namibia, with the largest concentration in the Etosha National Park. Wilderness and modern amenities co-exist happily in this land of vivid contrasts.


The earliest inhabitants of Namibia were San hunters and gatherers, who lived there as early as 2,000 years ago. By c.AD 500, Nama herders had entered the region; they have left early records of their activities in the form of cave paintings. The Herero people settled in the western and northern areas of Namibia around 1600. The Ovambo migrated into Namibia after about 1800. Diogo Cam and Bartolomeu Dias, both Portuguese navigators, landed on the coast in the early 15th cent. Portuguese and Dutch expeditions explored the coastal regions, and in the late 18th cent. Dutch and British captains laid claim to parts of the coast. These claims, however, were disallowed by their governments. In the 18th cent., English missionaries arrived, and they were followed by German missionaries in the 1840s. Britain annexed Walvis Bay in 1878. The Bremen trading firm of F. A. E. Lüderitz gained a cession of land at Angra Pequeña (now Lüderitz) in 1883, and in 1884 the German government under Otto von Bismarck proclaimed a protectorate over this area, to which the rest of South West Africa (Ger. Süd-West Afrika) was soon added.

Conflicts between the indigenous population and the Europeans, mainly over control of land, led to outbreaks of violence in the 1890s, which worsened in the 1900s. In 1903 the Nama began a revolt, joined by the Herero in 1904. The Germans pursued an uncompromising military campaign that by 1908 had resulted in the death of about 54,000 Herero (out of a total Herero population of about 70,000), many of whom were driven into the Kalahari Desert, where they perished; 30,000 others also died in the revolt. In 1908 diamonds were discovered near Lüderitz, and a large influx of Europeans began. During World War I the country was occupied (1915) by South African forces and after the war South Africa began (1920) to administer it as a C-type mandate under the League of Nations. In 1921-22 the Bondelzwarts, a small Nama group, revolted against South African rule, but they were crushed by South African forces employing airpower. After the founding of the United Nations in 1945, South Africa, unlike the other League of Nations mandatories, refused to surrender its mandate and place South West Africa under the UN trusteeship system.

After the German capitulation in 1915, martial law prevailed until 1919, when South West Africa became a mandate under the supervision of the Union of South Africa. In 1966 the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) launched the war for liberation for the area soon-named Namibia. In 1971, the Republic of South Africa rejected an International Court of Justice ruling that the UN could cancel the mandate. The struggle for independence intensified and continued until South Africa agreed in 1988 to end its Apartheid administration in accordance with UN Resolution 435. After democratic elections were held in 1989, Namibia became an independent state on 21 March 1990. The Walvis Bay enclave was returned to Namibia and reintegrated on 1 March 1994. To date, Namibia boasts a proud record of uninterrupted peace and stability.


Namibia has four primary geographic regions, all of which are of great interest to the adventure traveller. In the north lies the Etosha Pan, an enormous alluvial basin that has long since lost the lake that it once held. Although water supplies are now limited for most of the year to the perimeter of the pan, the area remains sufficiently fertile to support great herds of antelope species (including gemsbok, impala, and springbok), zebra, and--most famously--elephants. Many other species of wildlife abound as well, and the Etosha Pan is now the center of one of the finest game parks on the African continent.

Along the Namibian coast lies the Namib Desert, a spectacularly barren, brilliant red sand landscape that is divided into the Skeleton Coast (in the north) and the Diamond Coast (in the south). There are a number of features of this coastal desert that make it quite unlike any spot on earth. First, and most famously, it is the richest source of diamonds on the planet, and Namibia is as a result the world's largest diamond producer. Second, the dry and hot Namibian shoreline is situated right at the point where the icy waters of the Atlantic hit the continent--Antarctic water meets African desert, and the result is often unbelievable fog. This highly mysterious coast is now the site of the 19,000 sq. mile (49,000 sq. km) Namib-Naukluft National Park.

In the northeast, Namibian territory extends between Angola and Botswana along the slender corridor of the Caprivi Strip. Unlike most of the rest of Namibia, the Caprivi Strip is a wooded and fertile region, and it is crossed by a number of rivers. Two of these, the Zambezi and the Okavango, rank among the great rivers of Africa. The strip is also the site of several game parks, which while not offering such an abundance of wildlife certainly provide spectacular scenery and relative solitude. Namibia's center is occupied by a high escarpment plain. Windhoek, the capital and the only city of any size, is located smack dab in the middle of the country. In the northern part of the central plain is the Waterberg Plateau, a 150 sq. mi. (400 sq. km) shelf that rises 150 metres straight from the surrounding plain. The plateau is well-watered and lush, and is home to several rare and endangered species. At Namibia's southern tip is yet another geological wonder--the immense Fish River Canyon. Second only to the Grand Canyon in size, Fish River Canyon offers magnificent vistas and great--though strenuous--hiking.

People And Land

The country has four main geographical regions: the arid and barren Namib Desert, which runs along the entire Atlantic coast with widths of from 50 to 80 mi (80-130 km); an extensive central plateau that averages c.3,600 ft (1,100 m) in elevation; the western fringes of the Kalahari Desert in the east; and an alluvial plain in the north that includes the Etosha Pan, a large salt marsh. The highest point is Brandberg Mt. (8,402 ft/2,561 m), situated in the western part of the central plateau. In addition to the capital, other towns include Keetmanshoop , Tsumeb , Lüderitz, Gobabis, and Otjiwarongo. Namibia has an ethnically diverse population that includes the Bantu-speaking Ovambo (about 50% of the population), Kavango, and Herero ; various Nama (see Khoikhoi ) groups; the Damara; San (Bushmen); and whites of South African, German, and British descent. English is the official language, but most of the population speaks Afrikaans. About 80% of the population is Christian, and the rest follow traditional beliefs.


Because of inadequate rainfall, crops are not widely raised and pastoralism forms the backbone of the agricultural sector. Goats and sheep are raised mainly in the south, and cattle are herded chiefly in the north. About half the people make their living by agriculture, mainly from Karakul pelts, livestock, and dairy goods. Millet, peanuts, sorghum, and grapes are grown. Unemployment is high, and much of the land remains in the hands of several thousand white farmers; this has led to pressure for increased land redistribution. The country's few manufactures are made up mostly of processed food. There is an extensive mining industry, run principally by foreign-owned companies. Namibia is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds, the country's principal export; the most significant diamond deposits are offshore. Other important minerals are uranium, lead, zinc, tin, silver, tungsten, and copper. Fishing fleets operate in the Atlantic. Unrestricted fishing by commercial companies severely depleted the country's supply of certain types of fish, but stocks are being replenished. The central part of the country is served by roads and rail lines that are linked with those of South Africa, its largest trading partner. Foodstuffs, petroleum products, machinery and equipment, and chemicals are imported.

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