What a contrast between Angola and Namibia! It’s a large country with a tiny population of about 2 million. Between cities and towns are vast expanses of empty desert or scrub bush and no one else on the road. Where in Angola small clusters of huts were constant along the road, and people were walking along the roads, had gathered to catch a candongueiro, or had set up little markets, in Namibia no one is out. You are really on your own if the car breaks down.
My initial impression is of a people very proud of their country, its democracy, health services, pensions for everyone over 60, and the effort that has gone into reconciliation between black and white since the war ended. They aren’t as complimentary of the education system. Even public schools require fees and many kids drop out after 7th grade, the end of primary school. Few villages have secondary schools so kids who want to go to high school have to live in town for the term. With the unemployment rate at close to 50%, not many families can afford to keep their kids in school. However the literacy rate is high and 80% of people get primary education. Everyone now gets instruction in both English, the official language, and whichever is their native tongue. Afrikaans used to be the official language and many people still speak it, but several Namibians mentioned the importance of dropping Afrikaans in favor of English, since it connects them to the world more effectively. I also sensed a desire to get away from that part of their history when South Africa ruled them with apartheid.
I can unequivocally recommend a couple of the tours we have done. Of course we did the requisite wildlife safari through Chameleon Safaris into Etosha National Park and scored big on spotting tons of animals and birds…herds of elephants at water holes, on the plains, and right by the road. But also giraffes, conventions of kudus, springboks, wildebeests, many herds of zebra, Kori bustards, yellow-billed hornbills, and many more. Although we arrived at the first water hole a bit late (it was after 8am, having left the lodge at 6:15), we caught a glimpse of a lion. The next day we watched a dramatic scene at the hole as 8 lions spread out over a huge area, trying to entice a herd of springbok to the water, so they could give chase. The springboks were pretty cagy though and the lions caught no one. Later we saw 2 cheetahs lounging under trees in the heat, and at the end of the day a rhino obliged us by coming very close.
Our guide was an Owambo, which is the largest group in Namibia, at 50% of the total. Early on we found out that he had actually been born in Angola when his parents had fled the fighting here and had lived in SWAPO camps, moving around the bush from one camp to another to avoid attack. SWAPO was resisting South African rule and was aligned with MPLA in Angola, while UNITA was aligned with South Africa and the US. What an unholy alliance! Imanuel, the guide, came back to Namibia when he was about 14. Out of 11 siblings and 2 parents, only 3 survived…his older sister and a younger brother. Needless to say, his formal education was pretty spotty, but he has made a real effort to inform himself and get training as a tour guide. He speaks good English, some Portuguese, some Afrikaans, his own language and some Herero. Becoming acquainted with him and being in Namibia has given me a much more complete sense of the history of the region.