Namibia - People
Namibia is a country with a relatively small population of 2.1 million, according to the 2011 National Housing and Population Census, spread across a surface area of 824,290 square kilometers. Although the country is sparsely populated, the regions in the northern part of the country are more densely populated. The urban population has grown quite significantly over the past years, from 28 percent in 1991 to 43 percent in 2011. Life expectancy for men was 59 years in 1991 and has gone down to 53 years in 2011; for women, life expectancy has experienced a more modest reduction from 63 years in 1991 to 61 years in 2011. The country has a strong economy, and it is classified as an upper middle income country by the World Bank. However, Namibia is characterized by an unequal distribution of resources as shown by its Gini Coefficient of 0.597.
Namibians are of diverse ethnic origins. The principal groups are the Ovambo, Kavango, Herero/Himba, Damara, Colored (including Rehoboth Baster), White (Afrikaner, German, English, and Portuguese), Nama, Caprivian, San, and Tswana.
The Ovambo make up about half of Namibia's people. The Ovambo, Kavango, and East Caprivian peoples, who occupy the relatively well-watered and wooded northern part of the country, are settled farmers and herders. Historically, these groups had little contact with the Nama, Damara, and Herero, who roamed the central part of the country vying for control of sparse pastureland. German colonial rule destroyed the war-making ability of the tribes but did not erase their identities or traditional organization. People from the more populous north have settled throughout the country in recent decades as a result of urbanization, industrialization, and the demand for labor.
Missionary work during the 1800s drew many Namibians to Christianity. While most Namibian Christians are Lutheran, there also are Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Jewish, African Methodist Episcopal, and Dutch Reformed Christians represented.
Education and services have been extended in varying degrees to most rural areas in recent years. Although the national literacy rate is quite high (estimated to be 88%), it is important to note that the number of Namibians that are functionally literate and have the skills that the labor market needs is significantly lower.
Other ethnic groups have historically exploited the San, the country’s earliest known inhabitants. By law all indigenous groups participate without discrimination in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocation of natural resources. The San and other indigenous citizens such as the Ovahimba and Ovatue, however, were unable to exercise these rights fully because of minimal access to education, limited economic opportunities, and their relative isolation. Teachers and nurses, when available, often did not speak any of the San languages. Some San had difficulty obtaining a government identification card because they lacked birth certificates or other identification. Without a government-issued identification card, the San could not access government social programs or register to vote. A lack of police presence and courts prevented San women from reporting and seeking protection from gender-based violence.
Indigenous lands were effectively demarcated but poorly managed. Many San tribes were unable to prevent the surrounding larger ethnic groups from using and exploiting San conservancy (communal) lands. Some San claimed regional officials refused to remove other ethnic groups from San lands. NGOs, such as the Namibia San Council, Working Group of Indigenous Minorities and Southern Africa, LAC, and NamRights, helped San communities assert their basic human rights during the year.
The devastating effect of AIDS in Namibia demonstrates how challenging the fight to control the disease can be, even in a country with good governance structures and economic opportunity. Namibia’s population of 2.1 million is dispersed throughout the country, and access to remote populations difficult. Nationally, 13.1 percent of the adult population is infected with the disease, with some regions experiencing prevalence rates over 36 percent. The north, northeast, and central parts of the country where pastoralist and mobile populations reside have the highest rates of disease. In Namibia, HIV is most commonly transmitted through heterosexual sex and from mother to child Youth aged 15 to 24 account for 40 percent of new infections, and women are disproportionately affected. In 2009, there were approximately 70,000 children in Namibia who had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.
Although Namibia has performed well in many spheres of development since it gained independence, these gains have been reversed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its impacts on the people and the economy. It is commendable that the country has experienced a reduction in the estimated adult HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending antenatal care (ANC) from a peak of 22 percent in 2002 to 16.9 percent in 2014. While prevalence has been reduced, the impacts of HIV/AIDS continue to have far-reaching effects.
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