Namibia is about 1,000 miles from north to south and 500 miles from east to west meaning that it has had an influx of people’s from different directions over the centuries. The Ovambo make up the largest part of the population (nearly 50%) and were early settlers in the north of the country. The San, or Bushmen, were hunter gatherers across much of the more hospitable parts of the country whilst the Namaqua, Khoikhoi and Hottentots settled around the Orange River in the south of the country.
The first recorded European to visit the region was the Portuguese explorer, Diogo Cão, in 1485. He travelled down the coast from the Equator to what is now Walvis Bay and found nothing but the Namib Desert or Skeleton Coast as it has become known.
Bartolomeu Dias was another Portuguese explorer who also travelled to Walvis Bay, the site of today’s deep-water harbour in Namibia, in 1487.
The Namib Desert running the length of Namibia’s coastline was a serious impediment to exploration and it was only the attraction of Walvis Bay that saw the Dutch establish a presence in the area in 1793. Their tenure was short lived and when the British took control of the Cape Colony in 1797 they also took control of Walvis Bay.
The rush to take control of large parts of Africa by European powers was in full swing and the land grab saw the Germans enter the scene in 1883 when a trader called Adolf Lüderitz founded the coastal town in the south of the country which was named after him. It was Lüderitz who encouraged the German Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, to claim the area which was then named German South West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika).
By 1890 the Germans had also acquired the Caprivi Strip. Look at a map of modern day Namibia and you will see the Strip in the north-east running above Botswana to Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Caprivi Strip allowed Germany to link up with its territories in East Africa and was negotiated as part of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1890 with the United Kingdom.
The new territory acquired by Germany started to give them problems almost immediately. There were a series of uprisings by the various local communities, but all this was worthwhile following the discovery of diamonds in 1908. Germany, however, didn’t emerge with any glory in the region and an uprising by the Herero and Namaqua in 1904 led to events in which more than 25,000 of their population died of thirst, poisoning and starvation in the western Kalahari. It became known as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide.
In 1915, whilst Germany was busy fighting the First World War, South Africa occupied German South West Africa and in 1920, after the war, the South Africans took over the administration of the territory.
The South Africans would hold on to the territory despite being told to surrender the mandate in 1946. In 1960 the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) was formed and in 1966 the military wing of SWAPO, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) began guerrilla attacks on South African forces. The so called Namibian War of Independence would last until 1990 when Namibia gained independence.
Negotiations through the United Nations started in earnest in the 1970s. But it was only after the United Nations intervened with the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) peacekeeping force in 1989 and the work of five UN Commissioners for Namibia that a final deal was reached.
An eleven month transition period led to elections for a Constituent Assembly in November 1989 which saw the Marxist SWAPO win 41 of the 72 seats. The only other party to reach double figures was the centre-right Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) which won 41 seats. Turnout was around 97%.
By February 1990 the Constituent Assembly had agreed a constitution and on 21st March 1990 Namibia celebrated Independence Day.
The new constitution allowed for an executive President and in the next elections in 1994 Sam Nujoma of SWAPO was elected President with 76.43% of the vote. He went on to serve two further terms. In the same year SWAPO tightened its grip on what was now the National Assembly and took 53 of the 72 seats leaving the DTA with 15 seats.
SWAPO went on to win the 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections. Hifikepunye Pohamba of SWAPO was elected President in 2004 and re-elected in 2009. Although there are other parties in parliament, SWAPO continues to dominate the political scene in Namibia.
For the 2014 election SWAPO has chosen Hage Geingob, the Prime Minister, to be their candidate. SWAPO itself has changed over the years and has taken a more pragmatic line, shedding its Marxist roots and adopting a centre-left and social democratic mantle.
The President is elected for a five-year term and is allowed to stand for a second term.
The bicameral Parliament consists of the upper-house or National Council with 26 members. Two members are chosen from each regional council to serve six-year terms. The lower house or National Assembly has 96 members (increased from 72) who are elected to serve five-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Namibia at 53rd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 52 (where 100 is least corrupt).