Only 1% of the land is arable. The main industries in Namibia are mining, fishing, cattle raising, agriculture, and tourism. They can not grow fast enough to support the growing population, and prices for raw materials are unstable and often decrease.
Namibia is heavily in debt to Western financial institutions. Its debt is a quarter of its GNP. The problem is compounded by double-digit inflation.
Namibia is an arid, semi-desert country. Its rainfalls average less than 500 mm per year in most areas and vary greatly from year to year, leaving poor rural people at the mercy of the elements. Since 1980 there have been an unusual number of droughts in southern Africa, possibly a result of global warming. Windhoek, the capital city, has a crisis whenever there is drought and must resort to water rationing and piping water from hundreds of kilometres away across the country.
The forests in northern Namibia, especially the more dense tropical forests in the Caprivi region, are rapidly being cut down for firewood and housing. The Ondangwa area, once a forest, is now nearly treeless. Too many cattle are grazing the Owambo area.
Namibia's population is almost two million and is growing at a high rate of about 3% per year. Namibian women have an average of five children. This puts an extremely heavy burden on the limited agricultural resources of the land and leads to desertification, overcrowding in schools, unemployment, and a decrease in the standard of living. Cities like Windhoek, Ondangwa and Oshakati and the most densely populated rural regions such as the Ohangwena region are growing especially fast. Refugees continue to come from Angola.
Nearly half of the population is unemployed or underemployed. Many people rely on the informal sector, but this sector is either ignored or discouraged in favour of the modern sector.
Education is the most important item in the national budget. Over half of Namibia's population is still illiterate. There is a serious shortage of qualified teachers, classrooms are overcrowded, and facilities are inadequate.
AIDS is Namibia's number one killer. Over 10% of the population is HIV positive, and the figure is rapidly increasing. The numbers are highest in the northeast, but it affects all regions and peoples. AIDS awareness and education needs much improvement.
The country has a large alcohol problem, which may also contribute to growing crime.
The country is still recovering from war in the 1970's and 1980's. Land mines are being removed from the Angolan border. Ex-combatants are demanding employment and compensation for their efforts.
In the past, resources were unequally distributed between the white minority and black majority, and despite legal equality, the economic and educational inequalities are still evident. The income of the white population averages $14000 per year, but the national average is only $1300. Five percent of the population controls 75% of the wealth. About seven percent of the population is white. In addition, women have equal rights under the constitution but do more of the manual labour and have less of the education and income than men. The majority of people are Owambo, and other ethnic groups feel they are not getting fair and equal treatment by a majority government.
Reasons for Hope
The constitution is exemplary for its balance of power, human rights, democracy and free speech. This will help enable the underprivileged majority to reduce the inequalities of the past. So far, corruption has been low.
The SWAPO party has noted the bad results in other countries of taking revenge for the injustices of the past. To prevent the country's economic and human destruction, it has instead adopted a policy of reconciliation with the hopes of benefiting the underprivileged in the long term.
Political Stability and Economic Growth
Since independence, the country has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity and promises to continue to do so under majority rule. The informal employment sector is strong, and if encouraged could lead to more industrialisation and employment. The country is attracting foreign aid, investment and tourism from Scandinavia, Germany, France and the US. It has good infrastructure (roads, phone lines, electricity and water systems), and industries continue to grow. New natural resources such as oil and natural gas may be uncovered.