Introduction to Namibia

Namibia is a surprisingly diverse nation with at least 11 major ethnic groups, having gained its independence from South Africa in 1990. Its northern border is with Angola, while Botswana is to the east and South Africa to the south and east. Its western border is on the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s the driest area in sub-Saharan Africa and the Namib and the Kalahari deserts are two of its five primary geographical areas, the others being the Central Plateau, the Great Escarpment, and the Bushveld. Its lack of rain makes for clear skies, as Namibia enjoys over 300 days of sunshine annually.

A geographically large but sparsely populated country, 18 percent of its surface area is dedicated to game parks and nature reserves. It is one of the few nations whose constitution directly addresses the protection of natural resources and ecosystems.

Etosha National Park in northern Namibia is considered one of the premier wildlife areas in all of Africa, a rugged landscape whose name means Great White Place. A quarter of its area was, 12 million years ago, a lake and its dried out bed is now the Etosha Pan. The park is rich with waterholes that dot its dusty plain, where vast herds of gazelle, antelope, elephants, giraffe, many species of birds, and predators such as cheetahs and lions all gather.

In western Namibia is Namib Naukluft National Park, which is one of the largest protected areas in the country. The Namib Desert is believed to be one of the oldest in the world and the park contains only a portion of it. The highest sand dunes in the world can be found here, some over 300 meters in height. The park is also home to the Naukluft Mountains, Sandwich Harbour (home to thousands of birds, including flamingos, cormorants, and pelicans), and Sesriem Canyon.

Large portions of the Kalahari have been protected, including Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Central Kalahari, and the Okavango Delta. It is a semi-desert, receiving over 100 millimeters of rain (desert area receive less than 50 millimeters), but the thick sand of the Kalahari does not allow ground water to accumulate. The long dry period, which lasts 8 to 10 months, has led to vegetation and wildlife that is highly adapted to this unusual ecosystem. The area boasts African wild dogs, lions, leopards, and cheetahs, along with giraffes and antelope. The Okavango Delta is known for its raptors and ostriches.

Namibia is not just about its landscapes though. Modern Namibia is considered a thriving emerging market in Africa, including its very active banking sector. Its capital, Windhoek, is considered one of the best-designed cities in the world.

It was colonized by Germany in the late 19th century and the discovery of diamonds in 1908 brought an influx of Europeans, many of whose ancestors still live here, making up about 8 percent of the population. Other ethnic groups include the Ovambo, Kavango, Herero/Himba, Damara, Nama, Caprivian (Lozi), San, Tswana, and mixed race (Coloured and Rehoboth Baster).

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