Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia (Afrikaans: Republiek van Namibië, German: Republik Namibia), is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March 1990, following the Namibian War of Independence. Its capital and largest city is Windhoek. Namibia is a member state of the United Nations (UN), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), and the Commonwealth of Nations.
The dry lands of Namibia were inhabited since early times by Bushmen, Damara, and Namaqua, and since about the 14th century AD by immigrating Bantu who came with the Bantu expansion. It became a German Imperial protectorate in 1884 and remained a German colony until the end of World War I. In 1920, the League of Nations mandated the country to South Africa, which imposed its laws and, from 1948, its apartheid policy.
In 1966, uprisings and demands by African leaders led the United Nations to assume direct responsibility over the territory. It recognized the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) as the official representative of the Namibian people in 1973. Namibia, however, remained under South African administration during this time. Following internal violence, South Africa installed an interim administration in Namibia in 1985. Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa in 1990, with the exception of Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands, which remained under South African control until 1994.
Namibia has a population of 2.1 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 backbone of Namibia's economy. After Mongolia it is the second least densely populated country in the world.
Namibia became a German colony in 1884 to forestall British encroachment and was known as German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika). However, the Palgrave mission by the British governor in Cape Town had determined that only the natural deep-water harbour of Walvis Bay (Walfisch in German, Walvis in Afrikaans, Whale in English) was worth occupying — and this was annexed to the Cape province of British South Africa. From 1904 to 1907, the Herero and the Namaqua took up arms against the Germans and in the subsequent Herero and Namaqua genocide, 10,000 Nama (half the population) and approximately 65,000 Hereros (about 80% of the population) were killed.
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 apartheid. Most Africans were confined to so-called native territories, which later under South African rule post-1949 were turned into "homelands" (Bantustans).
The Central Plateau runs from north to south, bordered by the Skeleton Coast to the northwest, the Namib Desert and its coastal plains to the southwest, the Orange River to the south, and the Kalahari Desert to the east. The Central Plateau is home to the highest point in Namibia at Königstein elevation 2,606 meters (8,550 ft).
Within the wide, flat Central Plateau is the majority of Namibia’s population and economic activity. Windhoek, the nation’s capital, is located here, as well as most of the arable land. Although arable land accounts for only 1% of Namibia, nearly half of the population is employed in agriculture. The abiotic conditions here are similar to those found along the Escarpment; however the topographic complexity is reduced. Summer temperatures in the area can reach 40 °C (104 °F), and frosts are common in the winter.
The Namib Desert is a broad expanse of hyper-arid gravel plains and dunes that stretches along Namibia's entire coastline. It varies between 100 to many hundreds of kilometres in width. Areas within the Namib include the Skeleton Coast and the Kaokoveld in the north and the extensive Namib Sand Sea along the central coast. The sands that make up the sand sea result from processes of erosion that take place in the Orange River valley and areas further to the south. As sand-laden waters drop their suspended loads into the Atlantic, onshore currents deposit them along the shore. The prevailing south west winds then pick up and redeposit the sand in the form of massive dunes in the widespread sand sea, forming the largest sand dunes in the world. In areas where the supply of sand is reduced because of the inability of the sand to cross riverbeds, the winds also scour the land to form large gravel plains. In many areas of the Namib Desert there is little vegetation aside from lichens found in the gravel plains and in dry river beds where plants can access subterranean water.
The Great Escarpment swiftly rises to over 2,000 meters (6,562 ft). Average temperatures and temperature ranges increase further inland from the cold Atlantic waters, while the lingering coastal fogs slowly diminish. Although the area is rocky with poorly developed soils, it is nonetheless significantly more productive than the Namib Desert. As summer winds are forced over the Escarpment, moisture is extracted as precipitation. The water, along with rapidly changing topography, is responsible for the creation of microhabitats which offer a wide range of organisms, many of them endemic. Vegetation along the escarpment varies in both form and density, with community structure ranging from dense woodlands to more shrubby areas with scattered trees. A number of Acacia species are found here, as well as grasses and other shrubby vegetation.
The Bushveld is found in north eastern Namibia along the Angolan border and in the Caprivi Strip which is the vestige of a narrow corridor demarcated for the German Empire to access the Zambezi River. The area receives a significantly greater amount of precipitation than the rest of the country, averaging around 400 mm (15.7 in) per year. Temperatures are also cooler and more moderate, with approximate seasonal variations of between 10 and 30 °C (50 and 86 °F). The area is generally flat and the soils sandy, limiting their ability to retain water. Located adjacent to the Bushveld in north-central Namibia is one of nature’s most spectacular features: the Etosha Pan. For most of the year it is a dry, saline wasteland, but during the wet season, it forms a shallow lake covering more than 6,000 square kilometres (2,317 sq mi). The area is ecologically important and vital to the huge numbers of birds and animals from the surrounding savannah that gather in the region as summer drought forces them to the scattered waterholes that ring the pan. The Bushveld area has been demarcated by the World Wildlife Fund as part of the Angolan Mopane woodlands ecoregion, which extends north across the Cunene River into neighbouring Angola.
The Kalahari Desert is perhaps Namibia’s best known geographical feature. Shared with South Africa and Botswana, it has a variety of localized environments ranging from hyper-arid sandy desert, to areas that seem to defy the common definition of desert. One of these areas, known as the Succulent Karoo, is home to over 5,000 species of plants, nearly half of them endemic; fully one third of the world’s succulents are found in the Karoo. The reason behind this high productivity and endemism may be the relatively stable nature of precipitation. The Karoo apparently does not experience drought on a regular basis, so even though the area is technically desert, regular winter rains provide enough moisture to support the region’s interesting plant community. Another feature of the Kalahari, indeed many parts of Namibia, are inselbergs, isolated mountains that create microclimates and habitat for organisms not adapted to life in the surrounding desert matrix.
Namibia’s Coastal Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world. Its sand dunes, created by the strong onshore winds, are the highest in the world. The Namib Desert and the Namib-Naukluft National Park are located here. The Namibian coastal deserts are one of the richest sources of diamonds on earth. The area is divided into the northern Skeleton Coast and the southern Diamond Coast. Because of the location of the shoreline— at the point where the Atlantic's cold water reach Africa— there is often extremely dense fog. Sandy beach comprises 54% of the shoreline, and mixed sand and rock form another 28%. Only 16% of the total length is rocky shoreline. The coastal plains are "dune fields", gravel plains covered with lichen and some scattered salt pans. Near the coast there are areas where the dunes are vegetated with hammocks. Namibia has rich coastal and marine resources that remain largely unexplored.
Weather and Climate
Namibia has more than 300 days of sunshine per year. It is situated at the southern edge of the tropics; the Tropic of Capricorn cuts the country about in half. The winter (June - August) is generally dry, both rainy seasons occur in summer, the small rainy season between September and November, the big one between February and April.
Humidity is low, and average rainfall varies from almost zero in the coastal desert to more than 600 mm in the Caprivi Strip. Rainfall is however highly variable, and droughts are common. The last bad rainy season with rainfall far below the annual average occurred in summer 2006/07. Weather and climate in the coastal area are dominated by the cold, north-flowing Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean which accounts for very low precipitation (50 mm per year or less), frequent dense fog, and overall lower temperatures than in the rest of the country.
In Winter, occasionally a condition known as Bergwind or Oosweer (Afrikaans: East weather) occurs, a hot dry wind blowing from the inland to the coast. As the area behind the coast is a desert, these winds can develop into sand storms with sand deposits in the Atlantic Ocean visible on satellite images. The Central Plateau and Kalahari areas have wide diurnal temperature ranges of up to 30C.