New Internationalist

Namibia

Issue 221

new internationalist
issue 221 - July 1991

COUNTRY PROFILE

Where is Namibia? In the West, until recently, little was heard of newly-independent Namibia, a country which occupies a vast slice of south-west Africa. There is still a Germanic flavour to Namibia, most notably in the towns where the frequent sound of spoken German is a reminder of an era that technically ended in 1914, when South Africa assumed control.

The country has at last entered a period of relative calm. Decades of controversy regarding its future, with a prolonged and bloody war spearheaded by SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organisation) against South African rule, culminated in a transitional period when UNTAG (United Nations Transitional Assistance Group) forces, distinctive in their white vehicles, were placed here to oversee elections.

SWAPO obtained a majority in the post-independence elections, but not the two-thirds required to write the new constitution alone. It faces major challenges now that the euphoria of independence has subsided. Some 40,000 refugees need to be settled, and the nation is expecting tangible evidence of a change of government, while an expanding population with a youthful base means that demands for jobs, housing, health, education, and other services are ever-growing. That is all apart from a need to boost levels of literacy and health care owing to the relative neglect of social services for much of the population in the past.

It is not going to be easy. Little economic growth is forecast for 1991, after negative growth in the 1980s. The country also needs to expand its already small skill base and attract new investment. At present over 50 per cent of the population are engaged in subsistence agriculture, with over 70 per cent depending in some way on agriculture for their livelihood. Namibia is not land-scarce, but 40 per cent is covered by the Namib desert and Kalahari semi-desert; there has been increasing pressure on land in many rural areas leading to an influx into the towns exacerbating already high unemployment. Namibia has been urbanizing very quickly; town residents doubled between 1970 and 1985.

The outlook is not all gloomy though; the mining, agricultural and fishing sectors are considered to have some growth potential. Unlike many African countries, Namibia came to independence with a working physical, financial and administrative infrastructure. To date the Government has been emphasizing flexibility in its economic policies, talking of a mixed economy as opposed to public ownership and control. Pragmatism best typifies the outlook of Africa's newest 'baby', already 'adopted' by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - Fairy Godmothers, or Ugly Sisters?

Gwenda Brophy

LEADER: President Sam Nujoma

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $930 (US$19,840)
Monetary unit: Rand
Main exports: Uranium concentrate, diamonds, other minerals and metals (copper, lead, tin and zinc), cattle, karakul (animal) pelts. Namibia's fishing grounds are among the best in the world but are almost entirely fished by foreign boats. There is a small tourism industry.
Main imports: Food (50% of food needs), petroleum products and fuel, machinery and transport equipment.

PEOPLE: 1.8 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 97 per 1,000 live births (US 10 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Ovambos make up about half the popu- lation; there are other sizeable groups such as the Hereros, and much smaller ones such as the Khoisan (Bushmen) and the Tswana. The white population makes up 6.6% of the population. Languages English, Afrikaans, German, a range of African languages.

Sources: State of World Population 1991; Population Reference Data Sheet, 1990; Population Reference Bureau; 001 Briefing Paper on Namibia; State of the World's Children 1991.

Previously profiled in April 1983

 

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Should get better, but slowly.

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Range of export minerals helps buffer price swings.

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Government aims to enhance women 's role.

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1983



Pragmatic socialism.

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Great challenge; illiteracy 60% in some areas.

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Government appears to be aiming for reconciliation.

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Improving, 59 years (US 76 years)

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