|The Courier N° 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)|
|Namibia: Meeting challenge of nationhood|
A land with a small and scattered population, where the sun beats down on sparsely vegetated mountains, on endless desert dunes and rocky plains that resemble Martian landscapes. A country with a singularly desolate coastline, river beds where water seldom flows, bizarre plants... What can one find alluring in such a place?
With these opening words, a Namibian tourist brochure seeks to capture the imagination of the potential visitor. The allure, of course, is that of wide open spaces for the crowded city dweller, of vistas unpolluted by petrol fumes and of genuine wilderness where raw nature rather than mankinds imprint overwhelms the senses.
There is, however, a great deal more to Namibia than stark and beautiful landscapes. A nation is elevated from the status of mere geographical entity by its people, whether widely scattered or densely packed. It is they who supply the definition for the concept of nationhood, and who must collectively meet its challenges.
For the people of Namibia, March 21 1990 was the day when long-overdue nationhood became a reality. On that day, after decades of colonial occupation, the territory which was formerly South West Africa joined the international community of nations. The transition to independence was by no means painless. It was preceded by years of fighting in the north of the country between members of the South West Africa Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) and the South African military - a war which brought misery and destruction to many northern communities and threatened to leave a legacy of division and mistrust. During the years of South-African occupation, Namibia had also had an apartheid system with no fewer than 11 separate racial categories, each confined to its own designated area. Alongside this, there were enormous disparities in wealth with the white community controlling most of the resources. The majority black population, by contrast, was marginalised in the economic system and excluded altogether from the exercise of political power.
Despite the fact that a number of reforms preceded full independence (many elements of the apartheid system had already gone), the new Namibian Government was clearly facing major challenges. In this Country Report, which also marks Namibias accession to the Lomonvention as the 69th member of the ACP group, we look at some of these challenges and assess how they are being tackled. Namibia has just celebrated its first birthday and while a year is too short a time to draw definite conclusions, it is an opportune moment to assess the current state of progress.
In order to understand the issues which face Namibia today, it is necessary to look, albeit briefly, at the factors which have led to its present economic and demographic structure. The geography of the country is clearly of prime importance and human settlement has long been conditioned by the availability of water. Namibia has three principal types of terrain - desert, semi-desert and dry savanna. The Namib desert stretches the full length of the coast to a distance of 80130 km inland, gradually giving way to semi-desert conditions where the limited vegetation allows for some sheep and goat breeding. In the south east of the country, the Kalahari desert straddles the frontier with Botswana. Wedged between them two arid zones, the whole of the southern central region qualifies as semidesert, while further north, there is dry savanna which is suitable for cattle. One notable feature in the north is the Etosha Pan, a salty, sterile plain the size of the Netherlands, which was once a lake. In the north eastern corner of the country, a narrow tongue of land called the Caprivi Strip stretches for hundreds of kilometres into the heart of Africa, giving Namibia a common boundary with Zambia. This geographical curiosity owes its existence to the colonial days, when Germany sought and gained access to the Zambesi River. Caprivi has a noticeably wetter climate than the rest of the country.
Despite the unpromising conditions, agriculture has been and will almost certainly continue to be vital to Namibias economy. Irrigation has allowed for more intensive cultivation and stock breeding to be developed in a number of locations.
Animal and plant life may face a struggle on land in Namibia, but the coastal waters present an astonishing contrast. Thanks to the benevolent influence of the cold Benguela current, they are rich with nutrients and have the potential to be among the best fishing grounds in the world. Sadly, it is only potential at the moment because of the depredations of man. Even the best-stocked seas can be trawled to extinction and this is what almost happened before Namibian independence. Exploiting the international legal uncertainty over the status of Namibias waters during the South African occupation, various fleets of foreign vessels effectively declared open house in the region and although Namibia imposed a moratorium as soon as it could, it will take many years for the fish stocks to recover.
It is a curious irony that the Benguela current, with its immense maritime riches, is also responsible for the formation of the Namib desert. The cold waters which have lapped the coast over many centuries, are resistant to evaporation and capture any rains formed in mid-ocean, before they can reach the shore. Deprived of moisture, the coastal zone is one of the most barren areas on earth. Despite the absence of vegetation, the Namib desert has considerable mineral-wealth - notably diamonds and uranium, which are major contributors to the countrys economy.
North of the coastal resort of Swakopmund, is the infamous Skeleton Coast - so-called because it is littered with the remains of innumerable shipwrecks.
The geography of Namibia has clearly influenced the distribution of its population and this, in turn has had a major impact on the countrys history. In precolonial times, there were settled crop-growing communities in the north while the central and southern regions were inhabited respectively by herders of cattle and of smaller livestock (sheep and goats). The Namib and Kalahari desert areas were largely uninhabited.
Like so many African nations, modern Namibias boundaries stem from the colonial period. Colonialism came late to the territory thanks to the inhospitable coastline but incursions by the Germans and the British nevertheless took place during the nineteenth century. The British annexed the only suitable site for a deep water port on the coast (Walvis Bay) while the Germans seized the only other harbour of any significance (Luderitz). Meanwhile, the local inhabitants living in the hinterland saw increasing numbers of missionaries and traders from the Cape Province. Namibias current boundaries were fixed at the 1884 Congress of Berlin which confirmed the German Protectorate of South West Africa and left Walvis Bay in the hands of the British. For modern Namibia, this division of territorial spoils by the European powers more than a century ago continues to cast a shadow in the form of South Africas continuing occupation of the only deep water port on the coast.
The Herero War
As German colonists moved in to the already settled southern and central areas, often dispossessing the local inhabitants of both land and cattle, tensions between the settlers and indigenous inhabitants increased. This culminated in 1904, in a revolt by the Herero - - joined shortly afterwards by the Nama people in the south - against the Germans. The Herero War was a brutal affair, in which the colonial power used its superior weaponry to devastating effect. Civilian inhabitants were not spared and although the Nama continued to fight, using guerilla tactics, for two years, the Germans finally prevailed. In the course of the war, the local population of the region was reduced by more than half, prompting some writers to describe it as genocide. Thereafter the Herero and Nama people lost their lands and their societies were all but destroyed. Many were forced into working for the colonists by a combination of legislation and economic necessity while others fled to Botswana to resume their traditional cattle breeding. In contrast to the position in the centre and south of Namibia, the more populated north was not conquered and the independent African kingdoms of that region remained largely in control of their domains.
The next important phase in Namibias turbulent history came with the First World War. While most of the combatants efforts were directed towards the ever-elusive breakthrough in the trenches of Flanders and France, the conflict was acted out, on a smaller scale in those parts of Africa where German colonies bordered British or French ones. In 1915, South Africa (as part of the British Empire) invaded German South West Africa and quickly defeated the small defending garrison. At the conclusion of the war, the League of Nations mandate system was established and responsibility for Namibia was vested in the British Crown. The Union of South Africa was given the sacred trust of administering the territory for, among other things, the well-being and development of the indigenous population. Thus began the era of South African domination.
South African mandate
From the outset, it was clear that the South Africa Government regarded its mandate as a territorial gain - a bonus for being on the winning side in the war - rather than a sacred trust. As racial segregation became increasingly institutionalised in South Africa, the same system was extended to Namibia. Large numbers of white (mainly Afrikaans speaking) South Africans settled in the territory, acquiring the best farmland and the local inhabitants were forced to move to less fertile reserves where little economic development took place. In the towns, the African populations were obliged to live in specially designated areas in the outskirts (the first townships).
After the Second World War, the South African Government sought the full incorporation of Namibia into its territory. In this, it was supported by the all-white legislature of South West Africa which had been established in the meantime. The United Nations General Assembly refused to sanction this, asserting that the original League of Nations mandate still applied. Relations between South Africa and the UN deteriorated in the post war period, as the former persisted in ignoring the terms of the mandate and as the world increasingly objected to the racial policies pursued by the Pretoria Government.
In 1964, South Africa legislated for the establishment of a full apartheid system in Namibia, based on 11 population groups and the creation of 10 separate homelands. The white community retained control of most of the land, including the most fertile areas and strict rules were enforced to ensure racial segregation in housing, education and social services.
For the non-white population of Namibia, the 1950s saw the initial flowering of organised opposition to the South African occupation. The Ovamboland Peoples Organisation was established during that decade and in 1960, it formed the basis for the new South West Africa Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) which was committed to an independent and non-racial Namibia. In the international arena, an attempt by Liberia and Ethiopia to obtain a judgment at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the South African occupation was unlawful, foundered on the procedural issue of locus standi. With South Africa refusing to budge, and an apparent impasse on the world stage, SWAPO announced that it was taking up the struggle with arms, and so began the long war.
In fact, events at the United Nations soon moved in favour of an independent Namibia. In 1966, the General Assembly voted, under powers inherited from the defunct League of Nations, to terminate South Africas mandate in South West Africa, on the grounds that the former had failed to comply with its obligations under the mandate. Following the procedural failure of the first ICJ hearing, a second action was brought which sidestepped the problem of legal standing. This took the form of a request for an advisory opinion on the status of Namibia which resulted in a legally authoritative statement declaring that South Africas continuing occupation of the territory was unlawful and that it was under an obligation to withdraw. However, by this time, South Africa was largely isolated from international fore and its Government professed indifference to the forces of international public opinion. Accordingly, no steps were taken to comply with the judgment and it was not possible to enforce it in practice. The war continued.
Although South Africa had significant military superiority, they were faced with the classic difficulties of an occupying power. Their opponents waged guerilla warfare, and sustained by their commitment to the cause of liberation, they presented South Africa with the prospect of interminable conflict, albeit waged intermittently. In addition, political pressures at home, where young whites were being conscripted to fight in Namibia, began to build up. It became increasingly clear that while the occupiers were probably too strong to lose the war, they could not win it either.
South Africa also had to face up to the reality of its own position. Apartheid was, by now, universally reviled and in an interdependent world, it is not possible to ignore indefinitely, the opprobrium of others, particularly when they are important trading partners. In 1978, the so-called Western Contact Group drew up a plan for the independence of Namibia, which was subsequently backed by the United Nations. South Africa, recognising the increasing untenability of its position, accepted the plan in principle.
Withdrawal, however, was to be delayed for more than a decade. This was due, ostensibly, to the continuing presence of Cuban troops in neighbouring Angola. The South African army, operating from northern Namibia, had become embroiled in Angolas civil war, in support of the UNITA forces who were fighting the Luanda Government. South Africa stipulated that their own withdrawal from Namibia depended on Cuban withdrawal from Angola and this was only finally achieved when the thaw in East-West relations made agreement possible.
Although the ten-year delay was a frustration for supporters of Namibian independence, arguably, the time was not entirely wasted. Various elements of the apartheid system were dismantled and South Africa moved to establish a form of internal self-government. There were even elections held. SWAPO refund to participate in this process, and persuaded large numbers of potential voters to boycott the poll, arguing that it was designed to undermine the UN proposals for elections under international supervision. If this was indeed the intention, then it clearly failed, but seen in retrospect, the delay may have helped to ease the transition from occupation and an undiluted apartheid system to independence and full legal equality.
The final events in the run up to independence took place in 1989 when Resolution 435 was implemented. After a period to draw up electoral lists, a multiparty election - supervised by a United Nations peacekeeping force - was held in November. Contesting the election for the first time as a legal political party, SWAPO emerged victorious with 57% of the votes as against the 29% polled by the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA - the former government). Before the Namibian nag could be raised, however, the new Constituent Assembly had to agree on a constitution for the country. A two thirds majority was required and given the electoral arithmetic - a system of proportional representation had guaranteed a fair distribution of seats - the parties were obliged to work together to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement. The result, which was achieved in a remarkably short space of time, was a liberal constitution which enshrines the principles of free association, free speech and pluralism. On February IX, Sam Nujoma, the long-standing leader of SWAPO was unanimously elected President of Namibia. Thirty-three days later, the South African flag was lowered in Windhoek for the last time and independent Namibia was born.
It was clearly not a painless birth. Given the long years of conflict which preceded independence, and the fact that the majority of the population had been subjected to the indignities of apartheid until very recently, one might well have expected a legacy of bitterness. White Namibians had fought with the South Africans and much of the apparatus of the new state was in the hands of people associated with the ancien regime. While the constitution guaranteed equality before the law, there were still enormous disparities of wealth. At the same time, any precipitate action aimed at wealth redistribution could have led to a flight of expertise and capital from the country. It is a tribute to the Government and to other participants in the Namibian political system that reconciliation rather than retribution, was chosen as the watchword. In the interests of stability, the Government of President Nujoma guaranteed the jobs of all existing civil servants and adopted a liberal economic policy designed to attract investment from abroad, and to reassure economic operators at home.
Although applauded by western commentators, the policy is not without risk. The Governments supporters are, to a large extent, the less well-off members of Namibian society who are impatient to benefit from the fruits of independence. The failure of socialist systems elsewhere gives the Government a powerful argument for not embarking on that particular road, but wealth creation using the free enterprise model takes time and does not necessarily help the most needy. The Namibian authorities must, therefore, strike a balance which alleviates the difficulties of its poorest citizens without stifling the enterprise which is necessary for future prosperity. This, of course, is the central issue facing most free enterprise democracies, but it is particularly acute for a country with such extremes of poverty and wealth, and with the wounds of recent history to heal.
The population structure of Namibia reflects the countrys chequered history. It is a multi-racial society with people of African, European and mixed origin. The largest single group, representing some 50% of the population, are the Ovambo who live mainly in the north of the country. The other African groups, none of which constitute more than 10% of the population are the Kavango, Herero. Damara, Nama, Caprivian, Bushman and Tswana. The white population, represents 6-8% of the overall total There is also a sizeable coloured community as well as a distinct group, of mixed race origin, based on the town of Rehoboth. Estimates of the total population vary considerably, but it is generally thought to be in the region of 1.5 million.
Linguistically, the picture is equally varied. The majority of the African population speak Oshivango languages but there are numerous other tribal languages reflecting the diversity noted above. White Namibians fall into two categories, the German-speakers who are descended from the original colonists and those of South African origin, most of whom speak Afrikaans. The latter is also the language of the coloured population and indeed, is the effective lingua franca of Namibia.
Shortly after independence, the Government decided to adopt English as the sole official language of the country. This is a policy which is likely to have both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it is a major international medium of communication which should facilitate Namibia in its relations with other states. Additionally, and somewhat ironically, it does not suffer from being associated with colonialism. There is considerable enthusiasm among Namibians for learning English and because it is virtually nobodys native language, it could have a useful unifying influence. Herein lies its major flaw, however. As the native tongue of so few Namibians, it must be developed from a relatively low base and this will inevitably impose an economic cost in the short term. It remains to be seen whether the education system, in particular, can maintain or enhance the standards which are vital for the countrys future economic development, if the original plans for a rapid changeover to English instruction are carried through.
Reference has already been made to the economic inequalities which still characterise Namibian society. In a recently published booklet, the country was described as having a dualistic economic system with 70% of the people living in a third world economy, 25% in transition between the third and first and only 5% enjoying full first world economic conditions. The 70% are primarily the rural populations while the 25% are those who have moved to urban areas. The fact that Namibias GDP per head, at $1273 in 1988, is the second highest in sub-Saharan Africa must be seen in this context. The average in this case clearly gives a false impression of the countrys development needs and this is something which has been recognised by Namibias cooperating partners, including the European Community.
On the positive side, it is generally agreed that Namibia has significant potential for economic development. The economy, at independence was portrayed as a coiled spring which, once released from the restraints of the colonial system, would quickly expand. A year later, this assessment appears a little optimistic - there has been no immediate burgeoning of economic activity and some existing sectors may indeed contract, but there are also growth areas. With a favourable investment climate, continuing political stability and a suitable development strategy, the Government can realistically aim at bridging the gap between rich and poor through economic growth without having to resort to measures such as punitive taxation.
Reliance on trade
In 1989 approximately half of Namibias economic activity was in the tertiary sector (see pie chart). On the production side, the economy is very heavily oriented towards raw materials. Namibia exports large quantities of primary products - notably uranium, diamonds, copper and beef. At the same time, it has to import most of its essential needs for manufactured or processed items (food, consumer durables, mechanical and electronic equipment etc). This means that the country is highly dependent on trade, and in particular on the state of the market for the relatively few raw materials which constitute the bulk of its exports. Given this vulnerability, the Government is keen to diversify the economy and it is strongly committed to increasing value-added production, through the establishment of new industries. With such a small population, Namibia cannot be expected to supply all of its consumer needs from domestic manufacturing but there is clearly scope for some import substitution.
Namibia has chosen in the meantime to remain part of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) but, as an independent state, it obviously has the right to withdraw from this arrangement should it so choose. (It also uses the South African rend but this is soon to be replaced by a new currency - the Namibian dollar which will initially be fixed at par with the rend).
GDP by major sectors in 1989
In cash terms, the most important sector in the Namibian economy is mining, the country having been blessed with a wide range of mineral deposits. There are some forty mines in operation and these produce uranium, diamonds, copper, gold, arsenic, lead, zinc, cadmium, antimony, lithium, tin, silver, fluorspar and sulphur. Admittedly, some of the production is on a very small scale - only eight of the mines employ more than 200 people - but the first two products listed are very important indeed to the Namibian economy (see article on mining later in this Report).
GDP by kind of economic activity in 1989
The mining industry is experiencing some difficulties at present, with uranium production at the giant Rossing Mine being scaled down, and a decline in the extraction of both diamonds and other base metals. In the longer term, however, the prospects are less discouraging and there is considerable scope for newer exploration. Although mining is the largest sectoral contributor to Namibias economy, in employment terms, agriculture continues to be the most important economic activity. It is also in this sector that the dualism mentioned previously is most pronounced. On the one hand, there is a relatively small number of prosperous commercial farmers who breed mainly cattle and karakul sheep for the export market. On the other, there is a very large rural population, particularly in the north, engaged in subsistence farming, who depend on the land for their livelihood. This division is, to a certain extent, geographical, with the veterinary control fence (the so-called red-line) which separates the north from the rest of the country determining whether the product can have access to a wider market.
At present, although some 70% of the population depend directly or indirectly on agriculture, the sector contributes less than 10% to Namibias total GDP. In addition to beef and cattle, Namibia produces sheep for mutton, goats and a very limited range of crops. There is potential for considerable expansion of crop-growing in the Caprivi and Kavango regions.
Prospects for fishing
Fishing is the industry which would appear to offer the best prospects for expansion in the medium term.
Namibias fishing industry is based mainly in Walvis Bay and clearly, a favourable resolution of the territorial dispute with South Africa would provide a boost to the economy as a whole. The Government is also keen to see more fish being landed in the countrys ports for processing, thus adding value to the Namibian the Namibian end, and stimulating local employment. (For a more detailed assessment of the position in the agriculture and fisheries sectors, see the series of articles later in this Report).
Other economic sectors which the Namibian Government hopes to see expanded include industry and tourism. Very little manufacturing takes place in the country at the moment and there are clearly limits to what is feasible, given the small local market and the transport costs associated with exporting of manufactured goods. The main focus here will be to develop the processing of existing primary production in order that the benefit of the added value can accrue to Namibia itself. Tourism offers real possibilities. Already, the attractions of the country - the climate, geography, wildlife etc - are being marketed in Europe and although Namibia is unlikely ever to develop mass tourism (mercifully!) it can offer a quality product at the appropriate price for a specialised tourist market.
In the quest for economic development, Namibia is fortunate in having a good infrastructure already in place, in comparison with many other developing countries. The road network, in particular, is of a high standard with good tarred roads linking all the major towns, and secondary gravel roads which are in a reasonable condition. Even here, there is something of a north/south divide, however, with poorer road conditions in the north (particularly secondary routes) hindering the prospects for economic growth.
For a large African country with a small population, Namibia also has a surprisingly extensive railway network although the only international link is with South Africa. Various schemes for linking with other neighbouring countries have been mooted, including the possibility of a connection with Zambia and the Central African network, which would bring economic benefits to the Caprivi Strip. The railways are mainly used for transporting goods but there should be considerable potential for expanding both freight and passenger usage. Given that the main line runs from the port of Walvis Bay through Windhoek to the border with South Africa, it represents a major transport artery which could have an important part to play in the process of economic development. The main problem for the railways al present, is the lack of suitable maintenance facilities. Heavy repairs have to be carried out in South Africa, at considerable cost. It is also worth noting that most of the populated north is not connected to the railway system which is a further disadvantage in terms of mobility and access to markets.
As one would expect, air transport plays a significant role in providing connections between the widely spaced population centres. Most towns have airstrips and there are regular domestic flights. The hub of this system is the domestic airport in Windhoek. There is also an international airport some 50 km from the capital with scheduled flights various cities in Southern Africa. The national airline flies direct to Frankfurt and recent new services introduced include a direct link between Windhoek and Paris.
South Africas continued occupation of Walvis Bay which is the only deep water port on the coast, means that Namibia is dependent on its southern neighbour for the bulk of its maritime trade. Luderitz handles some cargo but it is too shallow for the larger draught ships, and is too distant from the centres where freight either originates or is destined to be sent. Although the United Nations recognises Namibian sovereignty over the enclave of Walvis Bay, and there is no geographical logic in the current arrangement, South Africa has not explicitly indicated that it is prepared to relinquish the territory. However, the two sides are talking, and there seems to be a feeling in Namibia that the matter will be solved in their favour sooner rather than later. It remains to be seen whether this confidence is justified. (South Africa also occupies a number of tiny offshore islands, which is an even greater absurdity, but the effect is to cause some uncertainty about fishing rights which hinders Namibias efforts to implement a sustainable fisheries policy).
In the centre and south of the country, public utilities such as the electricity and water supplies, and the telephone system, are of a high standard. The countrys electricity needs are met during the rain) season by the output of the Ruacana hydro-electric scheme (Namibia even exports power to South Africa at this time). In the dry periods, power also comes from a coalfired plant in Windhoek, a diesel plant in Walvis Bay and from South Africa. The Namibian Government has concluded that the countrys present generating capacity is insufficient for its development needs and it is looking at the possibility of a new hydro-electric scheme at Epupa on the Cunene River in the north. Large areas of the north do not yet have mains electricity or access to the other utility networks and remedying this is another of the Governments development priorities.
Health and education infrastructures in Namibia vary enormously, the north/ south divide again being prominent. In Windhoek and other southern or central towns, there are some very well equipped schools and hospitals. In the north, however, the position is very different with a lack of buildings, facilities, teachers and medical personnel. The Government has recognised that major investment is needed to close the gap, and considerable development assistance from overseas is likely to be directed towards this goal.
It would be surprising if a nation in the first flush of independence did not look to the future with optimism. When Namibia took to the international stage in March 1990, expectations within the country were high and confident predictions were made about a surge in economic growth and greater prosperity, particularly for the poorest members of society. A year later, the view is perhaps more sanguine but still decidedly positive. Nor is it a euphoric or inchoate sentiment unrelated to objective reality. The current optimism of the Namibians is based rather on a sober and realistic assessment of the countrys potential. The Government, in opting for reconciliation and a mixed economy, has made clear its intention of following a pragmatic line. A great deal has been done to sell Namibia to the potential foreign investor (including a liberal Foreign Investment Act and a recent and highly successful investors conference). Foreign assistance has been sought for essential development projects but the Government has made clear its determination to avoid the so-called dependency culture and within the severe limitations of the budget, Government borrowing has been minimised. The democratic system appears to be working well, supported by Government and opposition alike. All of this is good news for Namibian businesses and for the entrepreneur who can bring investment and employment to the country.
The most fundamental requirement for sustained economic success, however, is stability and it is here that the Governments social policies will be crucial. With their background, the SWAPO ministers clearly have a philosophical commitment to alleviate the widespread poverty which exists in Namibia. They also know that a stable and democratic system is less firmly rooted if there is a large and dispossessed underclass. With these factors in mind, they have embarked on a series of reforms and programmes designed to reduce the enormous inequalities which exist.
The problem as stated earlier, lies in finding the right balance between economic and social policies in a way which both maximises growth and enhances social cohesion. The fruits of development can be frustratingly slow in making themselves felt, and human expectations tend to be more immediate. After little more than a year, it is too early to say whether Namibia has found the right balance. One cannot but admire, however, the positive way in which the Namibians have drawn a line under the past, and in their quest for unity and prosperity, they certainly deserve to succeed.