Experts see Africa′s youngest nation, Namibia, on the rise | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 23.03.2010
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Experts see Africa's youngest nation, Namibia, on the rise

Over the weekend, Namibia - a former German colony - marked 20 years of independence. Since then the country has made good progress, but what will the next two decades bring? Experts say the outlook is positive.

Namibia's capital Windhoek

Namibia's capital Windhoek was partying on Sunday

It was perhaps somewhat symbolic that Namibia's celebrations on Sunday, March 21, coincided with the swearing-in of its reelected President Hifikepunye Pohamba. For 20 years, the southern African nation has been one of the most stable democracies on the continent.

Unlike other African countries, perhaps most notably nearby Zimbabwe, politics is not a main problem for Namibia. The challenges, say experts, lie elsewhere.

"The problems are the same ones as 20 years ago - providing work, food and places to live for the country's two to three million inhabitants," says publisher Michael Iwanowski, who wrote the first-ever German travel guide to Namibia and led a number of official German delegations through the country.

"There's no industry, and most people live from mining, tourism and subsistence farming. But the elections were free and fair, and the government works well with the people."

Namibian desert

Namibia is a country of stark, and often uninhabited, beauty

Namibia is the second-least densely populated country in the world, and has a nominal per capita GDP of only 3,178 euros ($ 4,278) annually.

"The reason so few people live there is that there's so little water," says Andre Suren, a journalist for DW-TV, who was born in Namibia and recently returned from filming a report there.

"Provision of water is one problem, as are unemployment and poverty, which the government has made its top priority. There also needs to be further reconciliation between tribes and between blacks and whites. But the country has found its form of democracy."

These are the sorts of issues that many African countries face. But Namibia is anything but a typical African nation in either its population or its history.

German South-West Africa

Plaque commemorating Namibian victims of German colonial rule

This plaque commemorates Namibian victims of German colonial rule

In the waning decades of the 19th century, Namibia was one of the few places that Germany, a belated colonial starter, was able to gain a foothold. The territory officially became a colony in 1884 and was known as German South-West Africa.

But Germany's rule there was hardly happy. From 1904 to 1907, the Herero and Nama tribes rebelled against their colonial master, and in the resultant fighting some 65,000 Hereros, about 80 percent of the population, were killed.

In the course of World War I, South Africa, which was controlled by Britain, occupied Namibia thanks to a League of Nations mandate. In 1946, South Africa refused to surrender that mandate even though it had been superseded by a United Nations trusteeship agreement.

In 1966, the South-West Africa People's Organization, SWAPO, led a fight for independence, with heavy participation from the Owambo tribe, which today makes up the majority of Namibia's population. But it took until 1988 for South Africa to agree to give up control over the country.

Namibia officially gained sovereignty in 1990, making it Africa's youngest country.

Uranium and tourists

Residents of a Namibian township

Conditions in Namibian townships are simple, but not inhuman

Namibia may be young and sparsely populated, but experts say those attributes help make its future prospects bright.

"Namibia could profit from natural resources like copper and uranium, as those commodities get scarcer," Iwanowski told Deutsche Welle.

"But the big industry is tourism. At least one third of the country is a nature reservation with deserts, savannahs and national parks, and most parts of the country are virtually uninhabited. Tourism has grown by 15 to 18 percent annually, and though those numbers are down a bit due to the global financial crisis, it's still booming."

Probably among Namibia's most famous attractions are the Namib and Kalahari Deserts, and the country needs to be careful about preserving its natural beauty.

"Tourism accounts for some 70 percent of Namibia's economy," says Suren. "That's because the country is quite safe and easy to get to and get around in. But Namibians need to watch out for crime and environmental destruction."

Uranium mines have often been blamed for contaminating surrounding areas and putting aboriginal peoples at risk. Namibia's natural resources have attracted the attention of a number of the world's larger countries, who may put profits ahead of building up Namibia's own economy or preserving its environment.

China, which is very active throughout Africa, has come under particular criticism for exploiting Namibia's natural wealth while polluting the land and failing to give back anything to the Namibian people.

Coming to terms

Rostock sign on a Namibian farm

Evidence of Germany's presence in Namibia crops up everywhere

And what about Germany, the country which, in light of the colonial past, has one of the closest connections to Namibia?

The experts say that Namibia is a main focus of German foreign developmental aid, but that Berlin could perhaps do more in other areas.

"There needs to be a coming to terms with colonial history," Suren says. "That would help reconciliation between tribes like the Owambos and the Hereros and also between blacks and whites. Germany should also support Namibian political parties, increase the exchange possibilities for politicians and do more to help the Namibian media."

And there's more connecting Germany and Namibia than just history.

"Germans make up two-thirds of all tourists to Namibia, and German developmental aid is very significant," Iwanowki says. "Berlin is partner city to the Namibian capital, Windhoek, and there are many parallels. Just as Namibia gained independence 20 years ago, it was 20 years ago since the Berlin Wall fell."

Nothing is certain in the world's poorest continent. But if these experts are correct, Africa's youngest nation has a comparatively bright future.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Mudge

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