Background Notes: Namibia

Namibia Official Info

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Details of Background Notes: Namibia, Namibia Official Info
Details for Background Notes: Namibia

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Africans are of diverse ethnic origins. The principal groups are the Ovambo, Kavango, Herero/Himba, Damara, mixed race ("Colored" and Rehoboth Baster), white (Afrikaner, German, and Portuguese), Nama, Caprivian (Lozi), Bushman, and Tswana.

The Ovambo make up about half of Namibia's people. The Ovambo, Kavango, and East Caprivian peoples, who occupy the relatively well- watered and wooded northern part of the country, are settled farmers and herders. Historically, they have shown little interest in the central and southern parts of Namibia, where conditions do not suit their traditional way of life.

Until the early 1900s, these tribes had little contact with the Nama, Damara, and Herero, who roamed the central part of the country vying for control of sparse pastureland. German colonial rule destroyed the war-making ability of the tribes but did not erase their identities or traditional organization. People from the more populous north have settled throughout the country in recent decades as a result of urbanization, industrialization, and the demand for labor.

The modern mining, farming, and industrial sectors of the economy, controlled by the white minority, have affected traditional African society without transforming it. Urban and migratory workers have adopted Western ways, but in rural areas, traditional society remains intact.

Missionary work during the 1800s drew many Namibians to Christianity. While most Namibian Christians are Lutheran, there are also Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, African Methodist Episcopal, and Dutch Reformed Christians represented.

Modern education and medical care have been extended in varying degrees to most rural areas in recent years. The literacy rate of Africans is generally low except in sections where missionary and government education efforts have been concentrated, such as Ovamboland. The Africans speak various indigenous languages.

The minority white population is primarily of South African, British, and German descent. About 60% of the whites speak Afrikaans (a variation of Dutch); 30% speak German; and 10% speak English.



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Bushmen (or San) are generally assumed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region. Later inhabitants include the Nama and the Damara or Berg Dama. The Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero migrated from the north in about the 14th century A.D.

The inhospitable Namib Desert constituted a formidable barrier to European exploration until the late 18th century, when successions of travelers, traders, hunters, and missionaries explored the area. The 1878, the United Kingdom annexed Walvis Bay on behalf of Cape Colony, and the area was incorporated into the Cape of Good Hope in 1884. In 1883, a German trader, Adolf Luderitz, claimed the rest of the coastal region after negotiations with a local chief. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Germany resulted in Germany's annexation of the coastal region, excluding Walvis Bay. The following year, the United Kingdom recognized the hinterland up to 20o east longitude as a German sphere of influence. A region, Caprivi Strip, became a part of South West Africa after an agreement on July 1, 1890, between the United Kingdom and Germany. The British recognized that the strip would fall under German administration to provide access to the Zambezi River and German colonies in East Africa. In exchange, the British received the islands of Zanzibar and Heligoland.

German colonial power was consolidated, and prime grazing land passed to white control as a result of the Herero and Nama wars of 1904-08. German administration ended during World War I following South African occupation in 1915.

On December 17, 1920, South Africa undertook administration of South West Africa under the terms of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations and a mandate agreement by the League Council. The mandate agreement gave South Africa full power of administration and legislation over the territory. It required that South Africa promote the material and moral well being and social progress of the people.

When the League of Nations was dissolved in 1946, the newly formed United Nations inherited its supervisory authority for the territory. South Africa refused UN requests place the territory under a trusteeship agreement. During the 1960s, as the European powers granted independence to their colonies and trust territories in Africa, pressure mounted on South Africa to do so in Namibia, which was then South West Africa. In 1966, the UN General Assembly revoked South Africa's mandate.

Also in 1966, the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) began guerrilla attacks on Namibia, infiltrating the territory from bases in Zambia. After Angola became independent in 1975, SWAPO established bases in the southern part of the country. Hostilities intensified over the years, especially in Ovamboland.

In a 1971 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice upheld UN authority over Namibia, determining that the South African presence in Namibia was illegal and that South Africa therefore was obligated to withdraw its administration from Namibia immediately. The Court also advised UN member states to refrain from implying legal recognition or assistance to the South African presence.

International Pressure for Independence

In 1977, Western members of the UN Security Council, including Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States (known as the Western Contact Group), launched a joint diplomatic effort to bring an internationally acceptable transition to independence for Namibia. Their efforts led to the presentation in April 1978 of Security Council Resolution 435 for settling the Namibian problem. The proposal, known as the UN Plan, was worked out after lengthy consultations with South Africa, the front-line states (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), SWAPO, UN officials, and the Western Contact Group. It called for the holding of elections in Namibia under UN supervision and control, the cessation of all hostile acts by all parties, and restrictions on the activities of South African and Namibian military, paramilitary, and police.

South Africa agreed to cooperate in achieving the implementation of Resolution 435. Nonetheless, in December 1978, in defiance of the UN proposal, it unilaterally held elections in Namibia which were boycotted by SWAPO and a few other political parties. South Africa continued to administer Namibia through its installed multi-racial coalitions. Negotiations after 1978 focused on issues such as supervision of elections connected with the implementation of the UN Plan.

Negotiations and Transition

Intense discussions between the concerned parties continued during the 1978-88 period, with the UN Secretary General's Special Representative, Martti Ahtisaari, playing a key role. The 1982 Constitutional Principles, agreed upon by the front-line states, SWAPO, and the Western Contact Group created the framework for Namibia's democratic constitution. The U.S. Government's role as mediator was critical throughout the period, one example being the intense efforts in 1984 to obtain withdrawal of South African defense forces from Southern Angola.

In May 1988, a U.S. mediation team, headed by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester A. Crocker, brought negotiators from Angola, Cuba, and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union together in London. Intense diplomatic maneuvering characterized the next 7 months, as the parties worked out agreements to bring peace to the region and make implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435 possible. On December 13, Cuba, South Africa, and the People's Republic of Angola agreed to a total Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. The protocol also established a Joint Commission, consisting of the parties with the United States and the Soviet Union as observers, to oversee implementation of the accords. A bilateral agreement between Cuba and the People's Republic of Angola was signed in New York on December 22, 1988. On the same day a tripartite agreement, in which the parties recommended initiation of the UN Plan on April 1 and the Republic of South Africa agreed to withdraw its troops, was signed. Implementation of Resolution 435 officially began on April 1, 1989, when South African-appointed Administrator General Louis Pienaar officially began administrating the territory's transition to independence. Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari arrived in Windhoek to begin performing his duties as head of the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG).

The transition got off to a shaky start on April 1 because, in contravention to SWAPO President Sam Nujoma's written assurances to the UN Secretary General to abide by a cease-fire and repatriate only unarmed insurgents, approximately 2,000 armed members of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), SWAPO's military wing, crossed the border from Angola in an apparent attempt to establish a military presence in northern Namibia. The special representative authorized a limited contingent of South African troops to aid the South West African police in restoring order. A period of intense fighting followed, during which 375 PLAN fighters were killed. At Mt. Etjo, a game park outside Windhoek, in a special meeting of the Joint Commission on April 9, a plan was put in place to confine the South African forces to base and return PLAN elements to Angola. While the problem was solved, minor disturbances in the north continued throughout the transition period. In October, under order of the UN Security Council, Pretoria demobilized members of the disbanded counterinsurgency unit, Koevoet (Afrikaans for crowbar), who had been incorporated into the South West African police.

The 11-month transition period went relatively smoothly. Political prisoners were granted amnesty, discriminatory legislation was repealed, South Africa withdrew all its forces from Namibia, and some 42,000 refugees returned safely and voluntarily under the auspices of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Almost 98% of registered voters turned out to elect members of the constituent assembly. The elections were held in November 1989 and were certified as free and fair by the special representative, with SWAPO taking 57% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds necessary to have a free hand in drafting the constitution. The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, the opposition party, received 29% of the vote. The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting on November 21 and its first act unanimously resolved to use the 1982 Constitutional Principles as the framework for Namibia's new constitution.

By February 9, 1990, the Constituent Assembly had drafted and adopted a constitution. March 21, independence day, was attended by Secretary of State James A. Baker III to represent President Bush. On that same day, he inaugurated the U.S. Embassy in Windhoek in recognition of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

On March 1, 1994, the coastal enclave of Walvis Bay and 12 offshore islands were transferred to Namibia by South Africa. This followed three years of bilateral negotiations between the two governments and the establishment of a transitional Joint Administrative Authority (JAA) in November 1992 to administer the 300 square mile territory. The peaceful resolution of this territorial dispute, which dated back to 1878, was praised by the U.S. and the international community, as it fulfilled the provisions of U.N. Security Council 432 (1978) which declared Walvis Bay to be an integral part of Namibia.

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After 80 days, the Constituent Assembly produced a constitution which established a multi-party system and a bill of rights. It also limited the executive president to two five-year terms and provided for the private ownership of property. The three branches of government are subject to checks and balances, and a provision is made for judicial review. The constitution also states that Namibia should have a mixed economy, and foreign investment should be encouraged.

While the ethnic-based three-tier South African-imposed governing authorities have been dissolved, the current government pledged for the sake of national reconciliation to retain civil servants employed during the colonial period. The government is still organizing itself both on a national and regional level.

The Constituent Assembly converted itself into the National Assembly on February 16, 1990, retaining all the members elected on a straight party ticket.

The judicial structure in Namibia parallels that of South Africa. In 1919, Roman-Dutch law was declared the common law of the territory and remains so to the present.

Elections were held in 1992, to elect members of 13 newly established Regional Councils, as well as new municipal officials. Two members from each Regional Council serve simultaneously as members of the National Council, the country's second house of Parliament. Nineteen of its members are from the ruling SWAPO party, and seven are from the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA). In December 1994, elections were held for the President and the National Assembly.

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President--Sam S. Nujoma Prime Minister--Hage Geingob Minister of Foreign Affairs--Theo-Ben Gurirab Ambassador to UN--Dr. Tunguru Huaraka Ambassador to U.S.--Tuliameni Kalomoh

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Namibia has about 40 political groups, ranging from modern political parties to traditional groups based on tribal authority. Some represent single tribes or ethnic groups while others encompass several. Most participate in political alliances, some of which are multi-racial, with frequently shifting membership.

SWAPO is the ruling party, and all but one of the new government's first cabinet posts went to SWAPO members. Two deputy ministers are from other parties. Formerly a Marxist oriented movement, SWAPO now espouses the principles of multiparty democracy and a mixed economy. SWAPO has been a legal political party since its formation and was cautiously active in Namibia, although before implementation of the UN Plan, it was forbidden to hold meetings of more than 20 people, and its leadership was subject to frequent detention. SWAPO draws its strength principally, but not exclusively, from within the Ovambo tribe. In December 1976, the UN General Assembly recognized SWAPO as "the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people," a characterization other internal parties did not accept.

The principal opposition party is the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), a coalition of several ethnically based parties, tribal chiefs, and former SWAPO members. The DTA, which governed Namibia under Pretoria's supervision for 10 years, holds 21 seats in the National Assembly. Some of the smaller parties in the National Assembly also are ethnically based. The United Democratic Front (4 seats), led by Justus Garoeb of the Damara group, is comprised of ethnically based parties and former SWAPO members allegedly tortured in SWAPO camps in Angola. The Monitor Action Group (3 seats) is a conservative party with support from the white community; it favors legislation to protect minority rights, which comprises around 50% of Namibia's population.

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The Namibian economy has a modern market sector, which produces most of the country's wealth, and a traditional subsistence sector. Namibia's average GDP per capita is relatively high among developing countries but obscures one of the most unequal income distributions on the African continent. Although the majority of the population engages in subsistence agriculture and herding, Namibia has more than 200,000 skilled workers, as well as a small, well-trained professional and managerial class.

The country's sophisticated formal economy is based on capital- intensive industry and farming. However, Namibia's economy is heavily dependent on the earnings generated from primary commodity exports in a few vital sectors, including minerals, livestock, and fish. Furthermore, the Namibian economy remains integrated with the economy of South Africa, as the bulk of Namibia's imports originate there.

Since independence, the Namibian government has pursued free market economic principles designed to promote commercial development and job creation to bring disadvantaged Namibians into the economic mainstream. To facilitate this goal, the government has actively courted donor assistance and foreign investment. The liberal Foreign Investment Act of 1990 provides for freedom from nationalization, freedom to remit capital and profits, currency convertibility, and a process for settling disputes equitably. Namibia is also addressing the sensitive issue of agrarian land reform in a pragmatic manner.

In September 1993, Namibia introduced its own currency, the Namibia dollar, which will remain linked to the South African Rand. There has been widespread acceptance of the Namibia dollar throughout the country and, while Namibia remains a part of the Southern African Common Monetary Area, it now enjoys much greater flexibility in monetary policy.

Given its small domestic market but favorable location and a superb transport and communications base, Namibia is a leading advocate of regional economic integration. In addition to its membership in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Namibia presently belongs to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) with South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Within SACU, no tariffs exist on goods produced in and moving among the member.

Ninety percent of Namibia's imports originate in South Africa, and many Namibian exports are destined for the South African market or transit that country. Namibia's exports consist mainly of diamonds and other minerals, fish products, beef and meat products, karakul sheep pelts, and light manufactures. In recent years, Namibia has accounted for about 5% of total SACU exports, and a slightly higher percentage of imports.

Namibia is seeking to diversify its trading relationships away from its heavy dependence on South African goods and services. Europe has become a leading market for Namibian fish and meat, while mining concerns in Namibia have purchased heavy equipment and machinery from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. However, most imports from outside the customs union are subject to tariff rates which are usually quite restrictive. Recently, some of the smaller SACU members have called for reform of the customs union, which is viewed by many as a protectionist vestige of South Africa's apartheid past. Also, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is putting pressure on SACU to reduce its prohibitive tariffs and other barriers to trade, which have tended to inhibit true competition within the region.

In 1993, Namibia itself became a GATT signatory, and the Minister of Trade and Industry represented Namibia at the Marrakech signing of the Uruguay Round Agreement in April 1994. Namibia is also a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and has acceded to the European Community/Union's Lome Convention.

Mining and Energy

Although beset in recent years by increasing global competition, slack demand, and falling prices, mining remains Namibia's most important economic sector. In 1993, mining contributed about 18% of GDP and 54% of exports.

High value, gem-quality diamonds remain Namibia's leading generator of export earnings. Other important mineral resources are uranium, copper, lead, and zinc. The country is also a source of gold, silver, tin, vanadium, semi-precious gemstones, tantalite, phosphate, sulfur, and salt.

During the pre-independence period, large areas of Namibia (including offshore) were leased for oil prospecting. Some natural gas was discovered in 1974 in the Kudu Field off the mouth of the Orange River, but the extent of this find is not fully known. The Namibian government has invited foreign firms to explore for hydrocarbons in Namibia, with a view to lessening its dependence on South Africa for its energy supply.

Early in 1993, the government awarded the first round of licenses to several foreign consortia (including Chevron) to undertake offshore exploration for oil. One of the concessionaires, Norsk Hydro, sank its first exploratory well in late 1993, but the company has yet to reveal whether this initial effort was successful. The government is conducting a second petroleum licensing round, from October 1, 1994, to July 31, 1995, during which all available offshore and onshore blocks will be open for international bidding.

In November 1993, the Minister of Mines and Energy announced his government's intention to proceed with the feasibility study of the major Epupa Falls hydropower project on the Kunene River border with Angola.

Agriculture

Namibian agriculture contributes only 8% of Namibia's GDP, but approximately 70% of the Namibian population depends on agricultural activities for livelihood, mostly in the subsistence sector. In 1993, agriculture products constituted roughly 7% of total Namibian exports.

In the largely white-dominated commercial sector, agriculture consists primarily of livestock ranching. Cattle raising is predominant in the central and northern regions, while karakul sheep, goat, and ostrich farming are concentrated in the more arid southern regions. Subsistence farming is confined to the "communal lands" of the country's populous north, where roaming cattle herds are prevalent and the main crops are mahango (millet), sorghum, corn, and peanuts.

The government introduced its long-awaited agricultural land reform legislation in September 1994, and a companion bill dealing with the communal areas will be presented later. As the government addresses the vital land and range management questions, water use issues and availability considered.

Fishing

The clean, cold South Atlantic waters off the coast of Namibia are home to some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, with the potential for sustainable yields of up to 1.5 million metric tons per year. Commercial fishing and fish processing is becoming the fastest- growing sector of the Namibian economy in terms of employment, export earnings, and contribution to GDP.

The main species found in abundance off Namibia are pilchards (sardines), anchovy, hake, and horse mackerel. There are also smaller but significant quantities of sole, squid, deepsea crab, rock lobster, and tuna. However, due to the lack of protection and conservation of the fisheries and the overexploitation of these resources in the pre- independence era, fish stocks have fallen to dangerously low levels. This trend appears to have been halted and reversed since independence, as the Namibian government is now pursuing a conservative resource management policy along with an aggressive fisheries enforcement campaign.

Manufacturing and Infrastructure

In 1993, Namibia's manufacturing sector contributed approximately 9% of GDP. Namibian manufacturing is inhibited by a small domestic market, dependence on imported goods, limited supply of local capital, widely dispersed population, small skilled labor force and high relative wage rates, and subsidized competition from South Africa.

Since the March 1994 return of Walvis Bay from South Africa, there has been interest in developing a free trade zone or export processing zone in the harbor town. Walvis Bay is a well-developed, deep-water port, and Namibia's fishing infrastructure is most heavily concentrated there. The Namibian government expects Walvis Bay to become an important commercial gateway to the Southern African region.

Namibia also boasts world-class civil aviation facilities and an extensive, well-maintained land transportation network. Construction is underway on two new arteries -- the Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kalahari Highways -- which will open up the region's access to Walvis Bay. Furthermore, Telecom Namibia is in the process of procuring state-of- the-art technology to modernize its already impressive communications infrastructure, including the erection of three new satellite earth stations which will link Namibia with the world.

Labor

While most Namibians are economically active in one form or another, the bulk of this activity is in the informal sector, primarily subsistence agriculture. In the formal economy, official estimates of unemployment range from 25% to 35% the workforce. A large number of Namibians seeking jobs in the formal sector are held back due to a lack of necessary skills or training. The government is aggressively pursuing education reform to overcome this problem.

Namibia's largest labor federation, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) represents workers organized into seven affiliated trade unions. At its September 1993 Congress, the rank-and-file agreed to maintain the NUNW's close affiliation with the ruling SWAPO party, despite the objections of some members.

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Namibia follows a non-aligned foreign policy. Former SWAPO offices abroad began performing some diplomatic functions after Namibia's independence, and the government established 11 overseas embassies in the first year of independence.

With a small army and a fragile economy, the Namibian government's principal foreign policy concern is getting along with its powerful neighbors. As its economy is closely tied to South Africa, Namibia's relations with its former colonial metropole have been pragmatic. Namibia's warm relations with Zambia and Angola, and other black- ruled neighboring countries, are the result of those countries' support of SWAPO during its 23-year war with South Africa. Relations with Botswana are excellent; Namibia has looked to Botswana's democratic institutions and market-based economy as models.

Namibia became the 160th member of the United Nations on April 23, 1990, and the 50th member of the British Commonwealth upon independence.

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U.S.-Namibian relations are characterized by shared democratic values and the active role the United States played in helping Namibia reach independence. Namibian independence had been a major U.S. foreign policy goal for more than 10 years.

In keeping with its support of UN resolutions and International Court of Justice advisory opinions regarding Namibia, the U.S. government believed that the South African government should end its administration of Namibia. The United States advocated a resolution of the Namibian problem by peaceful means and supported practical efforts to enable the people of Namibia to exercise their right to self- determination and independence on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 435.

In the ensuing years, the United States played the principal role in negotiations to achieve Namibian independence, a process that enjoyed virtually unanimous international support. In 1988, U.S. diplomats mediated a set of interlocking agreements that allowed implementation of Resolution 435. Those agreements constituted a "peace without losers," in which all parties achieved their security objectives in southwestern Africa. The United States contributed over $100 million toward UNTAG.

From May 1970 until Namibia's independence, the U.S. government discouraged American investment in Namibia. It announced that investment rights acquired through the South African government following termination of the mandate of 1966 would not be protected against the claims of a future, lawful government in the territory. In 1986, Comprehensive Anti Apartheid Act sanctions were applied against Namibia because it was a territory administered by South Africa. All sanctions were lifted when Namibia reached independence.

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Ambassador--Marshall F. McCallie Deputy Chief of Mission--Katherine H. Peterson Public Affairs Officer--Helen Picard Political Officer--Carl Troy Economic/Commercial Officer--Philip Drouin Consular Officer--Robert Bruton

USAID Officer--Edward Spriggs Defense Attache--LTC Gary Walker Peace Corps Country Director--Colden Murchison

The U.S. Embassy in Namibia is located at 14 Lossen Street, Windhoek, (tel. 22-1601).



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