The name of the country is derived from
the Namib Desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world. Before its
independence in 1990, the area was known first as German South-West Africa
(Deutsch-Südwestafrika), then as South-West Africa, reflecting the colonial
occupation by the Germans and the British.
The dry lands of Namibia were inhabited since early times by Bushmen, Damara, Namaqua, and since about the 14th century AD, by immigrating Bantu who came with the Bantu expansion. The first Europeans to disembark and explore the region were the Portuguese navigators Diogo Cão in 1485 and Bartolomeu Dias in 1486, still the region was not claimed by the Portuguese crown.
In the late 19th century Dorsland trekkers (also known as Junker Boers) crossed the area on their way from the Transvaal to Angola. However, like most of Sub-Saharan Africa, Namibia was not extensively explored by Europeans until the 19th century, when traders and settlers arrived, principally from Germany and Sweden.
Namibia became a German colony in 1884 to forestall British encroachment and was known as German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika)—apart from Walvis Bay, which was under British control. 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 subject to a policy of dispossession, deportation, forced labor, and racial segregation and discrimination in a system that in many ways anticipated apartheid. Indeed, some historians have speculated the German genocide in Namibia was a model used by Nazis in the Holocaust, but most scholars say that episode was not especially influential for Nazis, who were children at the time. The memory of genocide remains relevant to ethnic identity in independent Namibia and to relations with Germany.
South African rule and the struggle for independence
South Africa occupied the colony during World War I and administered it as a League of Nations mandate territory. Although the South African government desired to incorporate 'South-West Africa' into its territory, it never officially did so, although it was administered as the de facto 'fifth province', with the white minority having representation in the whites-only Parliament of South Africa.
Following the League's supersession by the United Nations in 1946, South Africa refused to surrender its earlier mandate to be replaced by a United Nations Trusteeship agreement, requiring closer international monitoring of the territory's administration. During the 1960s, when European powers granted independence to their colonies and trust territories in Africa, pressure mounted on South Africa to do so in Namibia. In 1966 the International Court of Justice dismissed a complaint brought by Ethiopia and Liberia against South Africa's continued presence in the territory, but the U.N. General Assembly subsequently revoked South Africa's mandate.
Soon thereafter the South-West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) military wing, People's Liberation Army of Namibia, a guerrilla group began their armed struggle for independence, but it was not until 1988 that South Africa agreed to end its occupation of Namibia, in accordance with a United Nations peace plan for the entire region. During the South African occupation of Namibia, white commercial farmers, most of whom came as settlers from South Africa and represented 0.2% of the national population, owned 74% of arable land.The country was divided into bantustans, as South Africa did in her own country. Transition for independence started in 1989 and on 21 March 1990 the country officially claimed full independence. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia watched by Nelson Mandela (who had been released from prison shortly beforehand) and representatives from 147 countries, including 20 heads of state. Walvis Bay was ceded to Namibia in 1994 upon the end of Apartheid in South Africa.
Since independence Namibia has successfully completed the transition from white minority apartheid rule to parliamentary democracy. Multiparty democracy was introduced and has been maintained, with local, regional and national elections held regularly. Several registered political parties are active and represented in the National Assembly, although Swapo Party has won every election since independence. The transition from the 15-year rule of President Sam Nujoma to his successor, Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2005 went smoothly.
Namibian government has promoted a policy of national reconciliation and issued an amnesty for those who had fought on either side during the liberation war. The civil war in Angola had a limited impact on Namibians living in the north of the country. In 1998, Namibia Defence Force (NDF) troops were sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) contingent. In August 1999, a secessionist attempt in the northeastern Caprivi region was successfully quashed.
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