Little-known Namibia, one of Africa’s most sparsely populated nations, is also one of the continent’s most stable. In late March 2010, Namibia’s ambassador, Patrick Nandago, held a reception in Washington to celebrate “20 years of independence, freedom, democracy and the rule of law in our beautiful country.”
Several hundred people gathered at the Omni Shoreham to help Nandago mark the occasion – singing both “Namibia, Land of the Brave” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” as colour photos depicting the country’s flora and fauna flashed on large screens.
Among the guests Nandago singled out for special recognition were Susan Page, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs at the time, and Chester Crocker, who served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1981 to 1989.
“In the heat of the armed liberation struggle in Namibia, and the civil war in Angola,” said the ambassador, “Dr Crocker was the man who developed the strategy that produced the treaties signed by Angola, Cuba and South Africa which culminated in the ceasefire between South Africa’s UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels and SWAPO (the South- West Africa People’s Organisation), leading to the first democratic elections in Namibia.”
South Africa’s former colony finally obtained independence on March 21st 1990, after 106 years of foreign occupation.
“Since then, Namibia has held free, fair and peaceful elections every five years, with the most recent one held in November 2009,” he said. “Over the years, we have witnessed successful transfers of power, and our country is known to be one of the most democratic on the African continent. Our economic and political stability makes it an attractive location for investors.”
Turning the evening into a sales pitch for his country, Nandago explained that the four pillars of Namibia’s economy are agriculture, mining, fishing and tourism. With only just over two-million people in a country whose land covers 825,418 sq km, Namibia should be quite wealthy. And in fact, its exports of diamonds, uranium, copper, gold and zinc are legendary.
“Namibia is faced with many challenges, including the availability of portable water, access to quality healthcare, housing and education, and the challenges of unemployment, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,” said Nandago. “Namibia did not escape the brunt of climate change, and for the last four years, the country has witnessed severe drought and devastating floods”.
Nor, he said, did the global economic crisis spare Namibia. “But we remain hopeful that things will turn around.”
As part of its strategy, the government has set up the Namibia Investment Centre and has signed agreements with neighbouring Botswana and Zimbabwe to acquire dry-port facilities in Walvis Bay, Namibia’s deep-water port on the Atlantic Ocean. Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are negotiating for similar arrangements.
Page, speaking on behalf of her superior Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Namibia had a lot to celebrate on its 20th anniversary.
“Since its separation from apartheid South Africa in 1990, Namibia has pursued a path of democracy and free-market economy. It has distinguished itself from other African states by having held 10 national, regional and local elections,” she said, noting that Namibia is one of the 15 “focus countries” under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). That entitles it to more than US$100-million annually to help Namibia “mitigate the suffering of HIV-AIDS patients.”
In September 2009, the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corp. signed a US$304.5-million compact with Namibia aimed,
among other things, at boosting the quality of education and rectifying the country’s unequal distribution of income.
“Now that President Hifkepunye Pohamba has been sworn in for a second term, we hope he will continue to take a strong stand against corruption and genderbased violence,” Page told the assembled guests. “The United States is seeking to build mutual trust in addressing the many challenges Namibia faces, including the fight against HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis, and the need to create jobs and reduce poverty.”