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Atlas Namibia

Country (long form)
Republic of Namibia
Total Area
318,695.67 sq mi
825,418.00 sq km
1,771,327 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
English 7% (official), Afrikaans common language of most of the population and about 60% of the white population, German 32%, indigenous languages: Oshivambo, Herero, Nama
38.0% total, 45.0% male, 31% female (1960 est.)
Christian 80% to 90% (Lutheran 50% at least), indigenous beliefs 10% to 20%
Life Expectancy
44.33 male, 40.53 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Namibian dollar (N$) = 100 cents
GDP (per capita)
$4,300 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 47%, industry 25%, services 28% (1999 est.)
meat packing, fish processing, dairy products; mining (diamond, lead, zinc, tin, silver, tungsten, uranium, copper)
millet, sorghum, peanuts; livestock; fish
Arable Land
diamonds, copper, gold, zinc, lead, uranium; cattle, processed fish, karakul skins
foodstuffs; petroleum products and fuel, machinery and equipment, chemicals
Natural Resources
diamonds, copper, uranium, gold, lead, tin, lithium, cadmium, zinc, salt, vanadium, natural gas, hydropower, fish
Current Environmental Issues
very limited natural fresh water resources; desertification
Telephones (main lines in use)
100,848 (1997)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
20,000 (1998)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
4 (1999)

Southern Africa's earliest inhabitants were the San, a nomadic people organised in extended family groups who could adapt to even the severest terrain. San communities later came under pressure from Khoi-Khoi groups. The Khoi-Khoi were a tribal people who raised livestock rather than hunted, and who were among the first pottery makers in the archaeological record books. They came from the south, gradually displacing the San, and remained in control of Namibia until around 1500 AD. Descendants of the Khoi-Khoi and San people still live in the country, but few have retained their original lifestyles. Between 2300 and 2400 years ago, the first Bantus appeared on the plateaus of south-central Namibia. Their arrival marked the first tribal structures in Southern African societies. Other tribes either retreated to the desert or the swamps of the Okavango Delta or were enslaved into Bantu society.

Because Namibia has one of the world's most barren and inhospitable coastlines, it was largely ignored by European explorers. The first European visitors were Portuguese mariners seeking a way to the Indies in the late 15th century, but they confined their activities in Namibia to erecting stone crosses at certain points along the coast as navigational guides. It wasn't until the last-minute scramble for colonies towards the end of the 19th century that Namibia was annexed by Germany, except for the enclave of Walvis Bay, which was taken in 1878 by the British for the Cape Colony.

In 1904, the Herero people, who were Bantu-speaking cattle herders, launched a rebellion, but it was brutally put down. Meanwhile, in the south, diamonds had been discovered east of Lüderitz by a South African labourer. In the blink of an eye, the German authorities branded the entire area between Lüderitz and the Orange River a sperrgebiet, or 'forbidden area'. German rule came to an end during WWI when German forces surrendered to a South African expeditionary army fighting for the Allies.

At the end of WWI, South Africa was given a mandate to rule the territory (then known as South West Africa) by the League of Nations. The mandate was renewed by the United Nations following WWII but the organisation refused to sanction the outright annexation of the country by South Africa. Undeterred, the South African government tightened its grip on the territory and, in 1949, granted parliamentary representation to the white population. The bulk of Namibia's viable farmland was parcelled into 6000 farms owned by white settlers, while black workers and their families were confined by law to 'reserves'.

Forced labour had been the lot of most Namibians since the German annexation, and was one of the main factors which led to mass demonstrations and the development of nationalism in the late 1950s. Around this time, a number of political parties were formed and strikes organised. By 1960 most of these parties had merged to form the South West Africa People's Organisation (Swapo), which took the heated issue of South African occupation to the International Court of Justice.

The court's outcome was inconclusive but in 1966 the UN General Assembly voted to terminate South Africa's mandate and set up the Council for South West Africa to administer the territory. Swapo adopted guerrilla tactics at the same time, but the organisation's failure to establish an internal government in Namibia made it easy for South Africa to assert control. South Africa refused to negotiate on a UN-supervised program for Namibian independence unless an estimated 19,000 Cuban troops were removed from neighbouring Angola. In response, Swapo intensified its guerrilla activities, severely restricting movement in the north of the country.

The Namibian population grew tired of the war and the economy suffered badly. By 1985, South Africa was also feeling the pinch and was distracted by internal problems of its own. A UN-sponsored deal ensured Cuban troops left Angola if South African troops exited Namibia. UN-monitored elections were held in November 1989 and Swapo won a clear majority of the votes. A constitution was adopted in February 1990 and independence granted the following month under the presidency of Swapo leader Sam Nujoma.

Nujoma was re-elected in 1994 and embarked on a reconstruction program for the country based on the retention of a mixed economy and partnership with the private sector. Nujoma tied Namibia's currency to the South African rand in March 1998. Towards the end of 1999, as part of a mutual defence pact, Namibia agreed to let Angola attack UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels from its land. It was a move that thrust Namibia into one of the most enduring civil wars in Africa, and led to ongoing instability along the country's northern border.

The government's reputation took something of a beating in 2001. The President declared homosexuals to be immoral and unwanted, and the Prime Minister asserted it was time black Africans accepted that whites were a part of the continent, and it was revealed high-ranking members of the armed forces owned interests in diamond mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Namibian forces were fighting rebel forces.