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
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 and even perhaps foreshadowed the industrial-scale
killing in Nazi Germany. 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 wanted 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 illegal occupation of Namibia, in accordance with a United Nations
peace plan for the entire region. During the South African administration of
Namibia, white people commercial farmers, representing 0.2% of the national
population, owned 74% of arable land. 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, SWAPO has won every presidential and parliamentary election in Namibia. Nujoma was re-elected as president twice in 1994 and 1999 and then succeeded by Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2004. Pohamba was re-elected in 2009.