In this week’s first episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Namibia, a large African nation, sharing its southern border with South Africa and with an Atlantic coastline of almost 1,000 miles, known as the ‘Skeleton Coast’. Major features include the Namib Desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world and the famous Fish River Canyon. The country is roughly similar in size to Pakistan bigger than France or Germany and one of the driest places on earth. Its history includes colonisation by Germany and South Africa, with independence coming in the 1990s. Today it is a stable and developing young democracy. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Music by Thomas O’Boyle)
Namibia’s history spans over many many centuries and is defined by the movement of, and conflict between, various ethnic, national and colonial groups, starting with the San (bushmen), Khoikhoi pastoral groups such as the Nama, the Herero and Owambo and later the Oorlam – who were descended from Dutch settlers, Africans, and Malaysians among others.
Namibia became a German colony (German South West Africa) during the “Scramble for Africa” periodof European colonisation in the 1800s and was the location of what became known as the first genocide of the 20th century with up to 80% of the Nama and Herero people dying through violence, being driven to starvation in the desert or death in concentration camps over a short period. This put an end to the uprising led by Samuel Maharero and Hendrik Witbooi.
“My hunting grounds have become like a waterless land since he who settled here treats me in such an arrogant manner. And now where may we live – we shall go forth and search”
-Folk song, commenting on German treatment of the native population
During World War 1, South Africa occupied Namibia and consequently annexed the territory, ruling it essentially as a province despite international op
position and demands for self-determination; as a result Namibia experiences the discriminatory features of the apartheid system. Groups including SWAPO led miliary opposition to South Africa from the mid 1950s, eventually leading to independence in 1990.
In comparison to other countries in the region, with similar history of a small population of colonial descendants owning the majority of the property, Namibia has managed the transition to majority rule largely peacefully, pursuing incremental change in land ownership and is widely considered a very stable country nowadays. Compared to neighbouring countries, Namibia has a large degree of media freedom, for instance; over the past years, the country usually ranked in the upper quarter of the Press Freedom Index being on par with Canada and the best-positioned African country. Recent president Pohamba was awarded the Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Prize for his behaviour in office and willingness to leave power at the end of his constitutionally mandated term:
“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights.”
The country also has the only constitution in the world that explicitly protects the environment and Namibia is very committed to conservationism, with 42% of the land area under some form of conservation control.
Some sources we consulted and recommend:
- Colonialism: a case study- Namibia – documentary film by Journal Films Inc. and published by the United Nations in 1975
- Namibian memories- the Garda Síochána’s first UN Mission: an article on the Irish Police History website about their involvement in UN peacekeeping activities in 1989
- Endless Horizons – the YouTube account of the Namibian tourist board has various videos giving a real sense of the diversity of the landscape
- In Namibia, Conservation and Tourism Intersect – NewYork Times article by Remy Scalza on Conservancies and Environmental Tourism in Namibia
- Outro music clip: No Hard Feelings by Mr Rhee.
Some things that you might want to read further about:
- “Apollo 11” Cave in the ||Karas region, where some of the oldest examples of portable prehistoric art have been discovered
- The Herero and Namaqua genocide, labelled the “first genocide of the 20th century” was a harrowing period in Namibian history, resulting in the death of huge proportions of these peoples at the hands of German forces under Lothar von Trotha
- Bondelswarts Affair – 1917 – a controversial incident in the period when South African was given the League of Nations mandate for the former German colony. An uprising occurred in opposition to a tax on dogs, as a result, hundreds of Khoi-khoi people were killed
- Trailer for The Gods Must be Crazy, starring Namibian San actor N!xau ǂToma