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Namibia is a relatively small southern African country of two million inhabitants, but has a rich and diverse cultural and environmental landscape. Formerly known as South West Africa, present day Namibia has four major population groups: the Khoisan (including Bushmen), who are the original inhabitants of southern Africa; the Ovambo, Bantuspeakers largely concentrated in the northern part; the white settlers, mostly of Dutch and German origins; and the Coloreds or Basters, the people of mixed race. These diverse groups were brought together under a single nation state by the colonial boundary-drawing exercise known as the “scramble for Africa” and South West Africa came under German control.
After the end of World War I, the defeated Germans had to cede their colonies to the League of Nations, which passed on the responsibility for administration of South West Africa as a mandate to South Africa. The white minority-ruled state in South Africa decided to rule it as part of its own territory, even after the United Nations rejected South Africa’s plea to formally annex South West Africa. Due to years of internal resistance led by the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) and external pressure, South Africa finally ended its occupation in 1990 and the independent nation of Namibia came into being.
Namibia is unevenly endowed with natural resources. A large part of the country is desert, and only about one percent of the land is arable. However, the country has huge reserves of nonfuel minerals like diamonds, uranium, lead, zinc, and tin. Mining is a large part of the economy, accounting for more than 20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Though its per capita GDP makes it a medium income country, income distribution is highly unequal. From its Gini coefficient, Namibia has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the world-the richest 10 percent of the country’s population account for 65 percent of its wealth.
During colonial times, and especially during apartheid, which was extended to Namibia by South Africa, the local population’s access to land was extremely limited. Arable land is already scarce and largely restricted to northern Namibia, where the dense Ovambo population is dependent on agriculture. These factors have led to extreme pressure on land in the north, which has made land degradation a serious issue.
The Namibian state has taken environmental issues seriously and in 1992 developed a Green Plan to tackle these problems. The plan seeks to ameliorate problems such as desertification, land degradation, pollution, and biodiversity loss. One of the major programs has been the National Program to Combat Desertification (NAPCOD), which has been operational since 1997 in the entire north-central region of Namibia.
Namibia is the world’s first country to include the protection of the environment in its constitution, and more than 14 percent of the country’s land is protected. However, not everyone is happy with the current state of affairs. Conflicts have emerged between the state and communities such as the seminomadic Himba, who have been displaced as a result of a large hydroelectric project on the river Cecene.
- R. Cliffe et al., Food Security & Environmental Effects of War and Drought in The Horn and Southern Africa: A Comparative Study of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mozambique and Namibia (Routledge, 1998);
- Human Development Report (UNDP, 2005);
- Saul and C. Leys, Namibia’s Liberation Struggle: The Two-Edged Sword (Ohio University Press, 1995).