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Namibia Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia, is a country located in southern Africa with Windhoek, its largest city as the capital. The country is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east, and South Africa to the south. Namibia is considered the driest region in Sub-Saharan Africa. Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world with a population of just 2.6 million people. The name Namibia was derived from the Namib desert which is the oldest desert in the world. English is the official language, but many vernacular languages are spoken in the country which include Afrikaans, German, Otjiherero, Khoekhoegowab, Oshiwambo, RuKwangali, Setswana, and SiLozi.

Most of the Namibians are of Bantu-speaking origin with the Ovambo group who reside in the northern area of the country forming half of the population. The Khoisan people of Nama and San ethnic groups are the second largest group. The Herero, Damara and Himba are also among prominent ethnic groups in the country. There are also smaller groups of mixed races in Namibia such as the Basters. The Europeans of the colonial era are also another recognized group in the country.

Early History of Namibia

Archeological evidence suggest that the earliest inhabitants of modern-day Namibia settled in the area about 100,000 years ago. The hunter-gather San peoples also known as the Bushmen were the earliest inhabitants of central and southern Africa and their arrival to the area dates back as far as 500,000 years ago. One of the oldest cultures on earth, DNA studies have shown that they have the most divergent DNA structures, meaning they are probably the oldest humans on earth.

Bantu Expansion

The Bantu expansion refers to the migrations of the original Bantu speaking group of migrants roughly about 3,500 years ago, from West Africa into Sub-Saharan Africa. In the process the Bantu speaking settlers displaced or absorbed the inhabitants of Central Africa. The primary evidence of expansion lies in the linguistic core of the Bantu languages, which comprises of languages originating from Cameroon and Nigeria, West Africa.

The expansion is believed to have taken place between 3,000 and 2,000 years ago into two main waves, the first proceeding directly east towards East-Africa, and the second and largest went south along the African coast towards Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and as far south as South Africa.

In the 1st century BC, the Nama people, whose chief occupation was livestock, arrived and settled in the Namaqualand in Southern Namibia. The Ovambo and Kavango groups who belong to the Bantu lived in the northern area of Namibia. During the 17th century, a nomadic group of cattle herders from East Africa, known as the Herero, migrated into Namibia. They first settled in Kaokoland in the northwest but would later spread further south into the area occupied by the Damara people. Some tribes of the Herero group called the Himba people stayed back in Kaokoland. One-third of the population was later wiped out in a genocide that occurred between 1904 and 1908 and spearheaded by the Germans.

The Afrikaner group which consist of some ethnic groups that speak Afrikaans language and the Basters were the last indigenous groups to arrive Namibia. Basters were off springs of white men and Namibian women. They speak Afrikaans and consider themselves culturally white.

Arrival of Europeans in Namibia

Portuguese explorers were the first to set foot on the region around the Namib desert, as early as 1485 while attempting to reach the Cape of Good Hope. The hostile climate of the desert would not let the explorers advance further inland and so they remained in the coastal area. Walvis Bay is presently the most populated city in Namibia. The Bay was later seized in the early 1800’s by the United Kingdom.

However, neither the British nor the Dutch explorers could penetrate further into the country and colonial settlements in the region was limited. In 1805, the London Missionary Society started working in Namibia and moved in from the Cape Colony. A Few years later they founded Bethanie, a town in Southern Namibia, and built the oldest church in the country. The German Rhenish Mission came into the Colony in 1840’s and started working alongside the London Missionary Society. This was the state of things until the later part of the 19th century, when during the Scramble for Africa the Europeans and German were battling for the Namibian territory.

Colonization of Namibia

Britain laid claim on Walvis Bay, and subsequently annexed it to the Cape Colony in a bid to frustrate the colonization efforts of Germany in the area. With the annexation of Walvis Bay, the British got control of the deep-water harbor that leads to the Cape Colony and other British colonies.

Meanwhile, in 1883 a local chief from the Nama area sold Angra Pequena, a bay in the coast of Namibia, to a German trader called Adolf Luderitz for 10,000 marks and 260 guns. Luderitz renamed the bay after himself and became apprehensive that the British might declare the area a protectorate, he got the German authorities to lay claim on Angra Pequena. In 1884 Germany established the area as its colony, the German Southwest Africa Colony.

Another region of Namibia, the Caprivi strip, would become part of German South West Africa in 1890 following the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty between Germany and the United Kingdom. Through the Caprivi strip the Germans had free access to the Zambezi River and from there would establish German colonies in Eastern Africa.

German South West Colony

After declaring Luderitz a German protectorate, Germany deployed troops into the region to fight tribes that began to resist the forceful grabbing of their land. Notable among the Uprising against the German occupation was the fierce resistance put up by the Namaqua led by Chief Hendrik Witbooi.

Between the latter end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of Germans had settled in Namibia as the country was considered the only German colony suitable for white settlement. In 1908, following the discovery of diamonds in Namibia, German influx in the region multiplied tremendously. The colonialists seized lands from the natives and forced them to work without pay, a situation that would further fuel the enmity between the German settlers and the natives. Fed up with the oppressions of the colonial administration, a rebellion among the Herero, under the leadership of Chief Samuel Herero, attacked farms belonging to the Germans and killed about 150 Germans. The Namaqua group led by Chief Witbooi also joined in the dissension.

Germany replaced the governor with a notorious General and deployed 14,000 German troops to Namibia. The German soldiers shot on sight any Herero male and went ahead to deny them all rights of Citizenship. This led to the tragic incident known as the Herero and Namaqua genocide, and resulted in the deaths of almost 75,000 natives and the wiping out of almost 70% of the Herero population and 50% of the Nama population. Those who escaped the military campaign died of starvation and thirst in the Kalahari Desert.

British South African Rule

During World War I, a military campaign was launched by British South Africa against Namibia and they took control of the German colony of South West Africa. Between 1915 and 1917 South Africa established a strong influence on the colony. In 1920, under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate, South Africa took possession of the administration of South West Africa from Germany.

In 1946 when the Mandate was superseded and replaced by the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement, South Africa refused to adopt the new trusteeship agreement and was reluctant to allow closer monitoring of the territory's administration by the United Nations. The territory was administered by the Apartheid government of South Africa, and in 1959 the authorities sought to eject all black residents out of the town of Windhoek. A major protest gave birth to the formation of the United Black Opposition to the white South African rule.

Independence of Namibia

In 1966 the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) started launching guerilla attacks on South Africa's forces, from their bases in neighboring countries. International bodies continued to mount pressure on South Africa to liberate Namibia.

In the period between 1982 and 1987 the United Nations appointed four UN commissioners for Namibia. Following the tripartite Accord between Cuba, Angola, and South Africa in 1988, South Africa finally withdrew from Namibia and handed control to the United Nations. An election for members of the constituent assembly was held in November of 1989 with PLAN garnering over 57% of the votes. On March 21, 1990 Namibia was officially conferred formal independence and Sam Njuoma was sworn in as its first president.

Post-independence Namibia

Although Namibia runs a multiparty democracy and has other political parties, Njuoma won every election and ruled as president for 15 years until 2005. In 1999 an internal conflict called the Caprivi conflict was initiated by the rebel group, Caprivi Liberation Army, who were seeking to secede the Caprivi strip and form an independent entity.

Economy of Namibia

The predominance of the mining industry constitutes a large part of its Namibia’s 15 billion-dollar GDP; diamond, gold uranium, silver and base metals are heavily mined in the country. The rich soils of the country's industrial sector account for 29% of GDP and employs 19% of the workforce. Diamond mining alone accounts for 70% of Namibia’s exports. Namibia is also one of the world’s largest producers of uranium accounting for 10% of global output.

The services sector which accounts for 58% of GDP and employs 60% of the workforce thrives off secondary markets related to mining, banking, and trading. The tourism industry which by itself accounts for almost 14% of GDP is a large portion of the services industry.

The agriculture industry which represents 7% of GDP and employs about 10% of the population mostly thrives on livestock and fishery as the countries arid conditions makes it almost impossible to farm.

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