Before independence, the South African administration controlled the economy along traditional colonial lines. The country produced goods it did not consume but imported everything it needed, including food. Namibia still exports maize, meat and fish, and imports rice and wheat. However, although about 60% of the workforce is employed in agriculture, the country's commercial agriculture is limited by water, while large sections of wetter northern regions are already farmed intensively by subsistence farmers.
Namibia inherited a well-developed infrastructure and considerable remaining mineral wealth. Mining is the mainstay of the economy, accounting for about 25% of the country's GDP. There are important reserves of uranium, lead, zinc, tin, silver, copper and tungsten, as well as very rich deposits of alluvial diamonds. There are plans, too, to tap into the Kudu gas field, in the South Atlantic Ocean off Namibia's southern coast.
Tourism also plays an important role in the formal economy. Tourism to Namibia remains small-scale, but has been growing steadily by about 15% per year since 1993. Statistics for arrivals from overseas in 1997 indicate about 28,000 visitors from the UK, 14,000 from the USA, and 80,000 from Germany. Namibia has tremendous potential for sustained growth in tourism, provided the increases are steady and well managed.
Namibia's main attractions for visitors are stunning scenery, pristine wilderness areas and first-class wildlife. As long as the country remains safe and its wilderness areas are maintained, then the country's potential for quality tourism is unrivalled in Africa. Already tourism is a powerful earner of foreign exchange and a vital support for numerous local community development schemes.
Economically, Namibia remains dependent on South Africa; its other main trading partners are Germany, Switzerland and the UK.
Since the country is still establishing its own industries, it meets most if its needs for manufactured goods by importing them from South Africa. Realistically, the economy is likely to stay closely involved with that of South Africa, especially while Namibia continues to peg its currency to the value of the South African rand.
The revenue and foreign exchange from mining provides the financial muscle for the government's agenda. The government is developing structural changes to make the economy more equitable, and to diversify its components. Better living conditions for the majority of Namibians are being realised by increasing the productivity of the subsistence areas, particularly in the populated north. However, there remains an enormous gap between the rich and the poor, which must be closed if the country is to have a secure and prosperous future. THE GUANO TRADE
A poem quoted in The River Okavango
by CJ Andersson:
There's an island that lies on West Africa's shore,
Where penguins have lived since the flood or before,
And raised up a hill there, a mile high or more.
This hill is all guano, and lately 'tis shown,
That finer potatoes and turnips are grown,
By means of this compost, than ever were known;
And the peach and the nectarine, the apple, the pear,
Attain such a size that the gardeners stare,
And cry, “Well! I never saw fruit like that 'ere!”
One cabbage thus reared, as a paper maintains,
Weighed twenty-one stone, thirteen pounds and six grains,
So no wonder Guano celebrity gains.