Not a dumb American: Namibia edition

Have I told you about my project to read one good history about every African country? It is a project I have had in mind for a while, and I started it this year with my beloved Namibia. Because here is the thing about Namibia: We have been underappreciating it. Sort of a lot.

Let’s start with the basics real real quick. This is Namibia:


As you can see, it is the country north of South Africa on the west coast of the continent. It was colonized by the Germans, and then after World War I when German colonial holdings were being divvied up, South Africa took over governing it until it gained independence in 1990. It contains fewer people than the city of Houston (because a lot of it is desert). You have not been appreciating it enough, and I will tell you three reasons why you should.

1) Namibia is the first country to do what we are all going to have to do eventually unless we fix global warming much faster than we are currently fixing it, which is to run sewage water through treatments that render it once again potable. You wrinkle your nose because that sounds gross, but you will allllll be sorry you didn’t get used to this idea once it becomes inevitable. Namibia will have been used to it for years. Namibia is a forward-thinking genius pioneer of water reclamation!

2) Namibia has the freest press of any nation in Africa. You didn’t expect that, did you? Did you? You thought it was going to be Ghana or something! Ha, ha, joke’s on you, Ghana, the true truth is that it is NAMIBIA. Every year when Reporters without Borders does that thing where they rank countries based on how free their presses are, Namibia is always in the top twenty percent or so. You know who’s not in the top twenty percent? America, and we’re getting worse year over year, by a lot.

(I don’t know why I trash-talked Ghana just now. That was unnecessary. Sorry, Ghana. I am currently reading a big history of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but maybe my next country to read a big history of can be Ghana. To show that I bear it no ill will.)

(It’s just that I feel like sometimes people are all, “Ohhhh, Ghana, you’re the very shiniest African nation, all the other ones are terrible compared to you,” and I get jealous for Namibia, which is just way down in the south there doing its best and recycling water and having a free press and whatnot. Ghana just has more people! They have like ten times as many people, so of course they’re going to produce more writers and artists that get exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s not a referendum on Namibia, you know?)

3) Namibia is a total baller at conservation. See! You didn’t know that either! It is in their constitution. And this is very lucky for the biodiversity of the planet, because Namibia has crazy mammals, many of which are endemic to Namibia, and they work really really hard to preserve them. You know how we are all (when we remember to be) worried about black rhino populations? Well, Namibia has the largest herd of them in the whole world, and that is not by accident, friends! That is a successful plan implemented by Namibia to save the black rhinos.

Moreover (like that’s not enough, right? That’s what I’m saying! Namibia!), conservation efforts in Namibia benefit local populations. There is a nice New York Times article about it that you may read here, if you are curious. Essentially, the power to manage sustainability and ecotourism initiatives at the community level is given to the communities. So instead of the government applying a one-size-fits-all top-down version of conservation, it’s managed at the local level, and the communities derive economic benefits from it, which gives them a stake in continuing this work, rather than it just being “because the government said so.”


The history of Namibia I read (Marion Wallace’s History of Namibia) was super informative, but rather dry. There really aren’t that many comprehensive histories of Namibia out there, and I’m pretty sure it’s because people don’t know what an awesome country it truly is. Please tell your friends. I want to spread the word.

Onward! The next book in my Africa project is David van Reybrouck’s Congo: The Epic History of a People, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. I am the queen of this reading project.

25 thoughts on “Not a dumb American: Namibia edition”

  1. Not nerdy at all, though my nerd standard may be different than 90% of the population! I am really impressed with your project, and even more with Namibia – which I couldn’t even spell correctly before reading this post.

  2. Well, I certainly learned a lot just from reading your post! My knowledge and admiration for Namibia has increased tenfold. Or more, as I’m not really sure I knew anything about Namibia before. Now, however, it is my favorite African nation.

  3. I love you for doing this! Seriously, I do! This is the project I wish I could do if I could get through history books without wanting to put them down. Though the audiobook is probably a great way to deal with that. So for now, I will live vicariously through you and someday, I will be more inspired to tackle something similar to this. *waving pom poms for you*

    1. See, I love history books! I just have to set up a good way of reading them — which for me is reading one chapter per night right before bed until I’m through. And it’s working awesome!

  4. I still love you! Yay Namibia! I really feel like I learned something today. Their water reclamation project is totally awesome. I think folks in California will be having to send a delegation to Namibia ASAP in order to learn how to do this thing right since the California drought will very soon leave them without much water at all. And now because of that and their animal conservation Namibia has become my favorite African country unless any of your future reading and posts convince me otherwise.

    1. Yeah, I think San Diego?maybe? has talked about doing a water reclamation project for irrigating crops — or maybe they already ARE doing it. But I think more’s going to be needed, not just for California but for all over the country and the world. :/

  5. You have succeeded. I’m totally sold on Namibia.

    Also, being a terribly ill-read person, I had no idea Ghana was so well-thought-of. Back in my penpalling days, there was this thing where men from Ghana would purchase friendship books (little booklets with peoples’ addresses in them, intended to help everyone find more penpals) and send marriage proposals to all the women listed therein. They often went about this in decidedly squicky ways and it scared everyone in my penpal friend circle very much. So that’s been my dominant impression of Ghana for many, many years. I must take steps to correct it.

    1. Hahahaha, well, maybe I am wrong. I know when I was working on a big African history project at my old job, there was a lot of talk about Ghana and very little about Namibia. I somehow made it all the way through that project without learning one single thing about Namibian history.

  6. OMG, you just reminded me of my longstanding dream of visiting Namibia. I saw a travel brochure years ago with these gorgeously stark desert photos and thought “I’m going there!” Alas, I have not. Yet.

    1. We’ll see how the project goes. Right now I’ve done two big histories, but I think as I move forward with the project, I’m going to have a hard time finding one history per country. Like, that covers the full extent of the country’s history. I may have to up it to two books in some cases.

    1. Thanks! We’ll see if I can keep it going — my reading projects typically falter and die after an initial burst of enthusiasm (I’m sorry to say). :p

  7. Ahha, so I”ll just read your blog posts about all the countries in the world and become smart by osmosis. I can’t wait for your Congo post.

  8. Thank you. I now know more about Namibia. And now, my husband knows more, too. (Because I just read him the highlights of your post.)

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