Namibia , officially the Republic of Namibia, is a country in southern Africa. Its western border is the Atlantic Ocean; it shares land borders with Zambia and Angola to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. Although it does not border Zimbabwe, less than 200 metres of the Zambezi River separates the two countries. Namibia gained independence from South Africa on 21 March 1990, following the Namibian War of Independence. Its capital and largest city is Windhoek, and it is a member state of the United Nations (UN), the Southern African Development Community(SADC), the African Union (AU), and the Commonwealth of Nations.
Namibia, the driest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, was inhabited since early times by the San, Damara and Nama people. Around the 14th century, immigrating Bantu peoples arrived as part of the Bantu expansion. Since then, the Bantu groups, the largest being the Aawambo, have dominated the population of the country; since the late 19th century, they have constituted a majority.
In 1878, the Cape of Good Hope, then a British colony, annexed the port of Walvis Bay and the offshore Penguin Islands; these became an integral part of the new Union of South Africa at its creation in 1910. In 1884 the German Empire established rule over most of the territory, forming a colony known as German South West Africa. It developed farming and infrastructure. Between 1904 and 1908 it perpetrated a genocide against the Herero and Nama people. German rule ended in 1915 with a defeat by South African forces. In 1920, after the end of World War I, the League of Nations mandated the administration of the colony to South Africa. It imposed its laws, including racial classifications and rules. From 1948, with the National Party elected to power, South Africa applied apartheid also to what was then known as South West Africa.
In the later 20th century, uprisings and demands for political representation by native African political activists seeking independence resulted in the UN assuming direct responsibility over the territory in 1966, but South Africa maintained de facto rule. In 1973 the UN recognised the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) as the official representative of the Namibian people; the party is dominated by the Aawambo, who are a large plurality in the territory. Following continued guerrilla warfare, South Africa installed an interim administration in Namibia in 1985. Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa in 1990. However, Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands remained under South African control until 1994.
Namibia has a population of 2.6 million people and a stable multi-party parliamentary democracy. Agriculture, herding, tourism and the mining industry – including mining for gem diamonds, uranium, gold, silver, and base metals – form the basis of its economy. The large, arid Namib Desert has resulted in Namibia being overall one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
The dry lands of Namibia have been inhabited since early times by San, Damara, and Nama. Around the 14th century, immigrating Bantu people began to arrive during the Bantu expansion from central Africa.
From the late 18th century onward, Oorlam people from Cape Colony crossed the Orange River and moved into the area that today is southern Namibia. Their encounters with the nomadic Nama tribes were largely peaceful. They received the missionaries accompanying the Oorlam very well, granting them the right to use waterholes and grazing against an annual payment. On their way further north, however, the Oorlam encountered clans of the OvaHerero at Windhoek, Gobabis, and Okahandja, who resisted their encroachment. The Nama-Herero War broke out in 1880, with hostilities ebbing only after the German Empire deployed troops to the contested places and cemented the status quo among the Nama, Oorlam, and Herero.
The first Europeans to disembark and explore the region were the Portuguese navigators Diogo Cão in 1485 and Bartolomeu Dias in 1486, but the Portuguese did not try to claim the area. Like most of interior Sub-Saharan Africa, Namibia was not extensively explored by Europeans until the 19th century. At that time traders and settlers came principally from Germany and Sweden. In the late 19th century, Dorsland Trekkers crossed the area on their way from the Transvaal to Angola. Some of them settled in Namibia instead of continuing their journey.
Namibia became a German colony in 1884 under Otto von Bismarck to forestall perceived British encroachment and was known as German South West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika). The Palgrave Commission by the British governor in Cape Town determined that only the natural deep-water harbor of Walvis Bay was worth occupying and thus annexed it to the Cape province of British South Africa.
From 1904 to 1907, the Herero and the Namaqua took up arms against brutal German colonialism. In calculated punitive action by the German occupiers, government officials ordered extinction of the natives in the OvaHerero and Namaqua genocide. In what has been called the “first genocide of the 20th century”, the Germans systematically killed 10,000 Nama (half the population) and approximately 65,000 Herero (about 80% of the population). The survivors, when finally released from detention, were subjected to a policy of dispossession, deportation, forced labor, racial segregation, and discrimination in a system that in many ways anticipated the apartheid established by South Africa in 1948.
Most Africans were confined to so-called native territories, which under South African rule after 1949 were turned into “homelands” (Bantustans). Some historians have speculated that the German genocide in Namibia was a model for the Nazis in the Holocaust. The memory of genocide remains relevant to ethnic identity in independent Namibia and to relations with Germany. The German government formally apologized for the Namibian genocide in 2004.
South African mandate
During World War I, South African troops under General Louis Botha occupied the territory and deposed the German colonial administration. The end of the war and the Treaty of Versailles left South Africa in possession of South West Africa as a League of Nations mandate.The mandate system was formed as a compromise between those who advocated for an Allied annexation of former German and Turkish territories and a proposition put forward by those who wished to grant them to an international trusteeship until they could govern themselves. It permitted the South African government to administer South West Africa until that territory’s inhabitants were prepared for political self-determination. South Africa interpreted the mandate as a veiled annexation and made no attempt to prepare South West Africa for future autonomy.
As a result of the Conference on International Organization in 1945, the League of Nations was formally superseded by the United Nations (UN) and former League mandates by a trusteeship system. Article 77 of the United Nations Charter stated that UN trusteeship “shall apply…to territories now held under mandate”; furthermore, it would “be a matter of subsequent agreement as to which territories in the foregoing territories will be brought under the trusteeship system and under what terms”. The UN requested all former League of Nations mandates be surrendered to its Trusteeship Council in anticipation of their independence. South Africa declined to do so and instead requested permission from the UN to formally annex South West Africa, for which it received considerable criticism. When the UN General Assembly rejected this proposal, South Africa dismissed its opinion and began solidifying control of the territory. The UN responded by deferring to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which held a number of discussions on the legality of South African rule between 1949 and 1966.
South Africa began imposing apartheid, its codified system of racial segregation and discrimination, on South West Africa during the late 1940s. Black South West Africans were subject to pass laws, curfews, and a host of draconian residential regulations that heavily restricted their movement. Development was concentrated in the region of the country immediately adjacent to South Africa, formally called the “Police Zone”, where most of the German colonial era settlements and mines were. Outside the Police Zone, indigenous peoples were restricted to theoretically self-governing tribal homelands.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, pressure for global decolonisation and national self-determination began mounting on the African continent; these factors had a radical impact on South West African nationalism. Early nationalist organisations such as the South West African National Union (SWANU) and South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) made determined attempts to establish indigenous political structures for an independent South West Africa. In 1966, following the ICJ’s controversial ruling that it had no legal standing to consider the question of South African rule, SWAPO launched an armed insurgency that escalated into part of a wider regional conflict known as the South African Border War.
As SWAPO’s insurgency intensified, South Africa’s case for annexation in the international community continued to decline. The UN declared that South Africa had failed in its obligations to ensure the moral and material well-being of South West Africa’s indigenous inhabitants and had thus disavowed its own mandate. On 12 June 1968, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming that, in accordance with the desires of its people, South West Africa be renamed Namibia. United Nations Security Council Resolution 269, adopted in August 1969, declared South Africa’s continued occupation of Namibia illegal. In recognition of this landmark decision, SWAPO’s armed wing was renamed the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
Namibia became one of several flashpoints for Cold War proxy conflicts in southern Africa during the latter years of the PLAN insurgency. The insurgents sought out weapons and sent recruits to the Soviet Union for military training. SWAPO’s political leadership, dependent on military aid from the Soviets, Cuba, and Angola, positioned the movement within the socialist bloc by 1975. This practical alliance reinforced the prevailing perspective of SWAPO as a Soviet proxy, which dominated Cold War ideology in South Africa and the United States. For its part, the Soviet Union supported SWAPO partly because it viewed South Africa as a regional Western ally.
Growing war weariness and the reduction of tensions between the superpowers compelled South Africa, Angola, and Cuba to accede to the Tripartite Accord, under pressure from both the Soviet Union and the United States. South Africa accepted Namibian independence in exchange for Cuban military withdrawal from the region and an Angolan commitment to cease all aid to PLAN. PLAN and South Africa adopted an informal ceasefire in August 1988, and a United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) was formed to monitor the Namibian peace process and supervise the return of refugees. The ceasefire was broken after PLAN made a final incursion into the territory, possibly as a result of misunderstanding UNTAG’s directives, in March 1989. A new ceasefire was later imposed with the condition that the insurgents were to be confined to their external bases in Angola until they could be disarmed and demobilised by UNTAG.
By the end of the 11-month transition period, the last South African troops had been withdrawn from Namibia, all political prisoners granted amnesty, racially discriminatory legislation repealed, and 42,000 Namibian refugees returned to their homes. Just over 97% of eligible voters participated in the country’s first parliamentary elections held under a universal franchise.The United Nations plan included oversight by foreign election observers in an effort to ensure a free and fair election. SWAPO won a plurality of seats in the Constituent Assembly with 57% of the popular vote. This gave the party 41 seats, but not a two-thirds majority, which would have enabled it to draft the constitution on its own.
The Namibian Constitution was adopted in February 1990. It incorporated protection for human rights and compensation for state expropriations of private property, and established an independent judiciary, legislature, and an executive presidency (the constituent assembly became the national assembly). The country officially became independent on 21 March 1990. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia at a ceremony attended by Nelson Mandela of South Africa (who had been released from prison the previous month) and representatives from 147 countries, including 20 heads of state. Upon the end of Apartheidin South Africa in 1994, the nation ceded Walvis Bay to Namibia.
Since independence Namibia has completed the transition from white minority apartheid rule to parliamentary democracy. Multiparty democracy was introduced and has been maintained, with local, regional and national elections held regularly. Several registered political parties are active and represented in the National Assembly, although the SWAPO has won every election since independence. The transition from the 15-year rule of President Nujoma to his successor Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2005 went smoothly.
Since independence, the Namibian government has promoted a policy of national reconciliation. It issued an amnesty for those who fought on either side during the liberation war. The civil war in Angola spilled over and adversely affected Namibians living in the north of the country. In 1998, Namibia Defence Force (NDF) troops were sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) contingent.
In 1999, the national government quashed a secessionist attempt in the northeastern Caprivi Strip. The Caprivi conflict was initiated by the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), a rebel group led by Mishake Muyongo. It wanted the Caprivi Strip to secede and form its own society.
Location of Namibia (dark orange)
in the African Union (light orange)
and largest city
|Recognised national languages|
|Recognised regional languages|
• Vice President
• Prime Minister
• Deputy Prime Minister
• Upper house
• Lower house
|Independence from South Africa|
|09 February 1990|
|21 March 1990|
|825,615 km2(318,772 sq mi) (34th)|
• Water (%)
• 2017 estimate
|3.2/km2 (8.3/sq mi) (235th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2018 estimate|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2018 estimate|
• Per capita
|HDI (2017)|| 0.647|
medium · 129th
|Currency||Namibian dollar |
South African rand(ZAR)
|Time zone||UTC+2 (CAST)|
|ISO 3166 code||NA|