As a relative newcomer to the world of nations, Namibia has mastered political stability and economic prosperity better than most African veterans. This is a country that works. Yes, many of its people live in grinding poverty and wealth disparity is a major issue, but the country's overall economic performance and social harmony continue to impress and there's nothing to suggest that these are likely to change any time soon.
Namibia's economy continues to roll along nicely. Although it was affected by the global recession in 2008–09, its mineral deposits ensured its economy rebounded as uranium and diamond prices recovered. By 2015 the country was again reporting a growth rate in excess of 5%.
There is much to be excited about when it comes to the country's economic future. Offshore oil and natural-gas exploration has thrown up some promising signals; the country is one of the world's largest producers of diamonds and uranium, with large deposits of gold, copper and zinc; while its tourism industry goes from strength to strength. In 2014, for example, the tourism sector was responsible for nearly one out of every five jobs in the country, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Nearly one million visitors come to Namibia every year – a lot when you remember that the country's total population is only 2.44 million people.
But like so many other countries, Namibia faces a massive challenge in ensuring that the country's prosperity benefits all Namibians. Crippling droughts have caused widespread hardship in a country that grows around half of its cereal requirements and where, according to the UN, nearly one-third of the population lives below the poverty line and roughly the same number is unemployed.
An Independent Voice
As their German and South African overlords learned through history, Namibia doesn't take kindly to being told what to do. When other African countries criticised the International Criminal Court for prosecuting more African suspects than suspects from elsewhere, Namibia joined the chorus and took it a step further, withdrawing from the ICC. When the world turned on Namibia early in 2014 when the country auctioned a hunting licence to shoot an old black rhino considered a threat to others of its kind, the government stood firm – instead of banning hunting as Botswana did in the same year, Namibia complained that the furore had resulted in lower bids by publicity-shy hunters, and that the money available for conserving black rhinos was much less as a result.
And so the pattern continues. Namibia has positioned itself so that it has strong political and economic ties to the West, but a subtle pivot in 2007 has seen the country strengthen its ties with China while continuing to do business with Europe and the US. This comes despite concern in some Western capitals about its ability to influence Namibian decision-making in economic, social and environmental fields. Namibia has also raised some eyebrows by, as recently as 2016, refusing to criticise Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe on the grounds that to do so would be to meddle in Zimbabwe's internal politics.
Namibia remains a responsible global citizen, but its willingness to chart its own course on the international stage suggests a genuine maturity, regardless of whether you agree with each of its individual policy positions.
Like many countries in Southern Africa, Namibia is struggling to balance the needs of a growing population with the demands of a fragile environment.
Namibia may look like it has plenty of open spaces, and many of its large carnivores in particular – cheetahs and lions among them – may live at much lower densities here than they do in some other regions of Africa, but think how easy it is for the delicate balance between wildlife and human populations to end. A cheetah, as the story so often goes, ranges onto private farmland. It may or may not kill a lamb or young cow in its search for prey – sometimes its mere presence is enough for the owner of the land to seek revenge. In so doing, the cheetah population takes another hit it can ill afford. Multiply this to so many similar scenarios across the country and you'll see how even Africa's largest cheetah population quickly becomes vulnerable. And as the number of wildlife-rescue centres across the country attests, the problem is certainly not going away.
But there are always two sides to this story. Farmers in Namibia are usually much more tolerant of livestock losses than Western farmers are ever likely to be, but this mindset of sharing their land with wild cats does change during times of drought when they are struggling to make ends meet – the loss of a lamb or a goat can make the difference between surviving or having to jack it all in.
Namibia is finding creative solutions: struggling farms converted into more prosperous nature reserves across the country's heartland; reinforcing livestock kraals (huts) and teaching herders better practices to protect their livestock from predators in the Caprivi Strip; using the commercial or trophy hunting of 'problem animals' to raise money for conservation. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Increasingly it is a battle for survival for herders and wildlife alike.