This southwestern African nation has only enjoyed independence since 1990, when it finally got out from under the grip of its neighbor, South Africa. For almost the entire 20th century, South Africa ruled over what was then known as South West Africa, first in accordance with a League of Nations mandate and then with the blessing of the United Nations following World War II. But during the 1950s and 1960s, an international chorus grew calling for Namibian independence—calls that went unheard by South African leaders. South Africa was unwilling to part with the mineral rich territory that also featured a deepwater Atlantic port. This intransigence on the part of officials in Pretoria, South Africa, gave rise to a rebel movement (SWAPO) in Namibia that battled South African forces during the 1970s and most of the 1980s. During this time, the United States publicly supported Namibian independence, while not pressuring its South African ally that was fighting Soviet- and Cuban backed movements in other parts of the region, including Angola (from which SWAPO operated secret bases). Eventually, South Africa agreed to allow free elections in Namibia that led to SWAPO officials taking over the new government. Since then, the US has provided substantial amounts of economic aid to Namibia, including millions to help fight AIDS, which has ravaged a large portion of the population in certain areas.
Lay of the Land: Approximately the size of Texas and Louisiana combined, Namibia’s terrain varies from coastal desert to semiarid mountains and plateau. This coastal southern African nation is bordered by Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east, South Africa to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
The first people living in Namibia were hunters and gatherers who lived in the region as early as 2,000 years ago. Nama herders entered the region around the 5th century and left behind records in the form of cave paintings. The Herero people settled in the western and northern areas of Namibia around 1600, followed by the Ovambo in the 1800s.
US relations with Namibia were overshadowed by the Cold War of the 1970s and 80s, when American policymakers supported the pro-Western government of South Africa in spite of its system of Apartheid. While US officials publicly called for South Africa to release its control of Namibia and allow its freedom, Washington was reluctant to push the issue while South African forces were fighting leftist elements in nearby Mozambique and Angola. The latter was the focus of considerable US aid to the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) against the Angolan government that was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. Between 1985 and 1992 alone, the US gave UNITA about $300 million in aid to fight a bloody civil war that was widely viewed as a proxy struggle between the US and the USSR. During that time, Namibia was often caught in the middle as UNITA guerrillas would seek refuge in Namibian territory.
Namibia has been included in President George W. Bush’s International Mother and Child HIV Initiative and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) bilateral presence in Namibia has been extended until 2010.
For the United States, trade with Namibia is all about uranium. The southern African nation is rich in the radioactive material that is key to both military and civilian nuclear programs. From 2003 to 2007, US imports from Namibia have been steadily increasing and totaled $328.6 million in 2009. US imports of nuclear materials from Namibia are by far the US’s largest import totaling $275.6 million in 2009, a slight increase from the $245.1 million worth of nuclear fuel imported in 2008. The second highest imports are unrefined gem diamonds, which totaled $40.8 million in 2009.
Congress Pushes for pro-Israel Stance with Namibia
The 2009 State Department Human Rights Report reported problems of excessive use of police force, poor conditions in prison and detention center conditions, arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention and excessive delays in trials. Other human rights violations include harassment and political intimidation, corruption, and societal abuse such as violence against women and children.
The US Liaison Office in Windhoek opened Feb. 24, 1984, with William H. Twaddell as director and closed Feb. 15, 1985. During this time the following officers served as director: Dennis Whyte Keogh (March–April 1984), Howard Jeter (April–May 1984), and William L. Jacobsen, Jr. (May–February 1985). It reopened Jun 1, 1989, with Roger A. McGuire as director. McGuire became Chargé d'Affaires ad interim when the Liaison Office was elevated to embassy status on Mar 21, 1990.
Martin Andjaba became ambassador of Namibia to the United States in September 2010.
A career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to two other African nations, Wanda L. Nesbitt became U.S. ambassador to Namibia in November 2010.
A native of New Jersey, Gail Dennise Mathieu was sworn in as the US Ambassador to Namibia on November 15, 2007.