Klaus Dierks Ph.D.

Copyright © 2001 Dr. Klaus Dierks




Communication links are the lifelines of Africa. The Republic of Namibia has developed a strong local commitment to optimised communication policies in the institutional and technical fields in order to secure sustainable developments in the economic sector performance.

Economically Namibia still has a structurally heterogeneous, de-integrated economy. It is characterised by the extraction and export of its rich mineral, agricultural and fishing resources whereas the impoverished subsistence economy of many areas serves the interests of the modern-sector-economy. Northern Namibia, in fact, is a "residual" labour reserve with little cash income or commercialised production, so that it has little effective demand for goods and services including telecommunication facilities. This situation formed the basis for one of the characteristics of Namibian communications: its unbalance between the "modern" and the former "homeland" sector. One of the principal objectives of the Namibian Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication is to overcome this characteristic and to develop an optimal and well balanced communications system in order to create a structurally sound and integrated economy and to balance the "first world" and the "third world" Namibias.

At the date of Namibia's Independence on 21 March 1990 the country had approximately 4 telecommunication lines per 100 inhabitants compared with 0,72 for Kenya, 0,55 for Ghana, 1,26 for Zambia or 0,2 for Ethiopia with automatic links to more than 150 countries world-wide. This development was strengthened even further after Independence making Namibia one of the leaders in telecommunications in Africa. The progress in the fields of telecommunications was reinforced by the bridging of the "two Namibias", the modern-sector Namibia and the neglected areas as well as the creation of links between Namibia and her land-locked neighbours in the east. Namibia's telecommunication's institutional and technical system can serve as an example to other African countries, thus proving that there is less justification for Afro-pessimism today than there was in the 1980s.




Namibia is a semi-arid to arid country with a size of 824 292 km2 in the south-western corner of Africa and a total population of a little more than 1 500 000 (1994) inhabitants, one of the most thinly populated countries in the world. The country is confined between two deserts, the Kalahari desert in the east and the Namib desert in the west with a African savannah high plateau in the middle (1 000 to 2 579 m.) The capital is Windhoek with approximately 150 000 inhabitants and an altitude of an average 1 600 m.

Namibia's arid climate is influenced by the subtropical belt in which the whole country is situated. Namibia's precipitation is caused by a displacement of the "Southern Inter Tropical Convergence" zone in a southerly direction during the summer rainy season. The distribution of atmospheric pressure, the precipitation and wind conditions are responsible for a parallel grouping of rainfall areas from the north-east to the south-west, from mean annual precipitations from approximately 600 mm to 50 mm. In this general direction the precipitation as well as the reliability of occurrence of rainfalls is decreasing.


2.2 A Brief Overview Of Namibia's History


The early period of Namibia's history is characterised by the complete absence of recorded data. The exploration of the country by Europeans began along the Atlantic coast as early as 1485, although access to the interior was barred by the inhospitable Namib desert. However, the harsh interior of Namibia aroused very little interest until the 1700s. The advent of European adventurers, explorers and traders from the mid-18th century onwards, entering from South Africa, had a disruptive impact on the existing patterns of organised society in Namibia. Recent historical research has revealed that the missionaries who entered Namibia as from the early 1800s were a major factor in preventing the founding of a unified state by the African inhabitants during the 19th century. The result of this penetration of Namibian society by the missionaries was a drastic change to the lives of Namibians, for from the 1860s onwards the missionaries were followed by white traders. An economic alliance was forged between the two expatriate groups which started to build up local demand for imported goods. (Dierks, ||Khauxa!nas - The Great Namibian Settlement, 1992, p. 113)

Where inter-group conflict between Namibian communities arose, missionaries and traders tried to act as mediators between and advisors to the protagonists, often in the process exacerbating the original causes of strife through double-dealing or by supplying weapons to one side or the other. Both the British authorities in South Africa during the 1870s and the German colonial interests in Namibia during the 1880s were alike able to take advantage of these developments. As from 1878 (British annexation of Walvis Bay) and 1884 the formal colonisation of Namibia by the German Empire began.

The process of colonisation in Namibia was in its main features not dissimilar to the imposition of colonial rule elsewhere on the African continent. There were two distinct, but interlinked, phases. During the first phase relatively small numbers of explorers, fortune-seekers, missionaries, traders and mining prospectors arrived in the country. These were not regarded as much of a threat to their way of life by the African inhabitants. These Europeans seldom became assimilated into the existing pattern of society, while the missionaries actively began to change the inhabitants' way of life by introducing alien values and divided loyalties. The second phase was characterised by a reinforcement of the administrative and military powers of the colonial authority so as to defend the interests of the Europeans. The real threat to the Namibians then materialised as European settlers occupied their land, seizing their cattle and forcing them to become a source of cheap manual labour without any rights or bargaining power. The Namibians were caught in a situation where they had little choice but to alternately collaborate with and actively resist the colonial system of dispossession and exploitation. (Dierks, ||Khauxa!nas - The Great Namibian Settlement, 1992, p. 115)

The outcome of the German colonial era was a divided, pluralistic society with a strong emphasis on separate cultural identities, and a relative integration of the inhabitants into a common economic system, whose foundation remained, however, profoundly dualistic between a property-owning settler minority and a largely property-less majority. This was coupled with political fragmentation of Namibia's indigenous communities and the political and economic domination of the colonising minority. Another result was the development of a remarkable modern physical infrastructural system, especially on the telecommunications (see next section) and railway sectors. However, these infrastructures were not geared to promote the well-being of the indigenous Namibians but were solely developed to foster the interest of the colonial society. This policy of group cultural separateness and fragmentation was to be expanded by the South Africans after 1915. For the indigenous inhabitants the change proved to be only from one colonial master to another, and it did not result in any improvement to their quality of life. (Dierks, ||Khauxa!nas - The Great Namibian Settlement, 1992, p. 119)

According to the Peace Treaty of Versailles which formally ended the First World War, the Union of South Africa was entrusted with several duties and responsibilities in Namibia, including for instance, to "promote to the utmost the material and moral well-being and the social progress of the inhabitants of the territory". This "sacred trust of civilisation" was not honoured by South Africa, which pursued a deliberate policy of racial domination (Apartheid) and exploitation of the economic resources during its period of colonial control up to 1990.

The continued violation of the sacred trust resulted in the Namibian people's determination to continue their resistance against the South African new colonial authority. The resistance intensified after the Second World War and under the leadership of SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organisation). With the support of the United Nations and after a long liberation struggle of the Namibian people against the South Africans, the illegal occupation of the Apartheid Regime ended on 21 March 1990 when Namibia gained her freedom and independence. (Dierks, ||Khauxa!nas - The Great Namibian Settlement, 1992, p. 120) The day of Independence resulted in the advent of a stable, peaceful multi-party democracy based on the rule of law and a deregulated, strong free market economy.

In 1993 it was in acknowledgement of Namibia's success in constitutional, political and socio-economic development that President Bill Clinton of the United States honoured Namibia by inviting President Sam Nujoma, as the first African Head of State, to be received at the White House after the inauguration of the new Clinton administration..

Explaining the reasons for his invitation, President Clinton said that "it underscores my admiration for what Namibia has accomplished and my commitment to democracy in Africa and elsewhere. Her example inspires the cause of democracy and human rights throughout the continent .. "

"With its exemplary experience in recent years, Namibia is truly in a unique position to further the entire region's efforts towards democratisation, market economies, conflict resolution and political stability. And I might point out that Namibia's constitution also has in it a commitment to preserve the precious eco-system of that country, a real ground-breaking statement of environmental commitment that I again believe will be honoured throughout the continent and throughout the world."


2.3 The History Of Telecommunications In Namibia


Namibia is one of the last, vast wilderness areas in Africa with an extremely rich African fauna and flora. But she also possesses, compared to other African countries and seen in relation to the small population and the large size of the country, an exceptionally well developed but unbalanced physical infrastructure. The history of the Namibian Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication is a story of the creation and development of one of Namibia's biggest and most vital assets - its communications and transport infrastructures. Such infrastructures are a prerequisite to progress. The prosperity, welfare and socio-economic development of all inhabitants and the success of the country can be accurately measured in terms of the quality and quantity of the communication and transport links that will serve it. This comprehensiveness of the development of these systems is all the more remarkable since the long distances, the wide dispersal of the population, the lack of professional and other personnel and the numerous natural obstacles make the construction and maintenance of communication and transport links an extremely expensive undertaking. (Dierks, Technical Aspects, 1992, p. 14)

The pace of progress cannot be overlooked - it was not achieved easily or cheaply. The problems and difficulties which the infrastructure creating Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication encountered were sometimes demoralising, often unique and always onerous. Namibia is a land of many faces: from inhospitable deserts and hard rocky outcrops to rugged mountains and undulating plains. Each of these presented different problems to the transport and communication engineers - some areas, barren and waterless, while others offer - one of the biggest structural problems- no conventional building materials or industrial substances. (Dierks, Technical Aspects, 1992, p. 23)

Namibia's excellent but unbalanced telecommunications infrastructure must be seen in the mirror of her colonial heritage. Before Namibia's date of Independence in 1990 infrastructures like telecommunications were solely developed in the interest of the colonial powers and not in the interest of the indigenous people of Namibia with the resulting imbalance between the "modern, first-world" sector and the impoverished "third world" sector of Namibia where the majority of Namibians lives.

Namibia's telecommunication age commenced on 16 January 1899 when the German colonial administration contracted an agreement with the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company in London to participate in the sea cable from Mossamedes (Namibe in Angola) to Cape Town with a link to Swakopmund, the port town of "German South West Africa". Further telegraph stations followed in Karibib (9 August 1901), Okahandja (22 September 1902) and Windhoek (27 October 1902). Swakopmund was the first town to get a telephone network with 28 lines on 1 October 1901. Windhoek, Okahandja and Karibib followed until February 1902 (I.G. Deutschsprachiger Südwester, 1985, p. 477 and 478). The total trunk connection between Swakopmund and Windhoek was constructed between 1901 and 1906.

Military needs during the Namibian resistance wars against the German forces necessitated the construction of a 495 km telegraph line from Windhoek into the Namibian south via Rehoboth, Tsumis, Gibeon to Keetmanshoop. This system was modernised in 1911/1912, after a telecommunication station at Keetmanshoop was inaugurated on 26 May 1906. This system was completed by a 364 km double railway telegraph line between Keetmanshoop and the southern port town of Lüderitz (completed 1907/08), with a branch line between Brakwater (south) and Chamis via Bethany (32 km: 1908). The total Namibian trunk system of 1 300 km was interlinked at the end of 1907, with direct telephone services between Swakopmund, Windhoek, Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz. Further additions were telegraph lines between Windhoek and Gobabis in the east (252 km: 6 September 1905) and between Usakos and Otavi in the north (15 November 1906) as well as from Otavi to Grootfontein (91 km: 24 December 1908). A trunk route from Keetmanshoop via Warmbad and Karasburg with a link into the South African system at Ramansdrift was inaugurated in April 1910 (260 km). This trunk line which was extended to Cape Town in 1912 was the most expensive one so far. Between 1901 and 1907 a telegraph system of 3 616 km with 34 stations and 12 local telephone networks was completed. (I.G. Deutschsprachiger Südwester, 1985, p. 478 and 479)

Between 1908 and 1914 this system grew steadily with extensions to the diamond fields at Angras Juntas, Elizabeth Bay, Pomona and Bogenfels with local telephone networks in the last three settlements. It is not known whether the public telephones accepted diamonds for payment! Further extension were added in Otjiwarongo, Outjo, Otjitambi, Tsumeb, Grootfontein, Otjozondjupa (Waterberg), Okahandja, Windhoek, Kupferberg, Khan Station and Khan Mine, Keetmanshoop, Koës, Hasuur and Ukamas. Okaukuejo (1914) and Namutoni (1915), both situated in the Etosha Pan were reached shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.

The only missing links in the settler's colony were telecommunication lines to the lonely and far-off situated farms. The first "farm party lines" came into operation 1909 between Gibeon and Maltahöhe and between Okahandja and Ombirisu (1912), with a total of 32 farm telecommunication stations in 1913, with a cost participation by the individual farmers. Furthermore the first wireless telegraph links over a distance of 8 000 km between Germany (Nauen) and Namibia (Windhoek) via Kamina (Togo) came into being in 1913. The first official communication via this link was Germany's declaration of war which initiated the First World War and ended Germany's occupation of Namibia in 1915 (I.G. Deutschsprachiger Südwester, 1985, p. 479 to 481). Namibia's telecommunication links during the German colonial times are pictured in the table in Appendix 4.

Initially the South African colonial era brought slow progress in the further development of Namibia's telecommunication system. Until 1926/27 no new projects were added. Only during 1927/28 it is reported that some new lines were laid and the trunk line between Windhoek and Keetmanshoop was renewed. 1929 Windhoek received its first automatic telephone exchange (Siemens). During 1931/32 trunk lines between Otjiwarongo and Otavi as well as Grootfontein and Tsumeb were extended. Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Usakos, Grootfontein, Keetmanshoop, Okahandja and Mariental received new telephone exchanges. Farm party lines were erected between Otjiwarongo and Erundu as well as Okaputa and Warlencourt while the farm line between Tsumeb to Dinaib was removed. At the end 1930s new farm lines were built to Hochfeld, Otjihavera, Osterode South and Klein Aubes East and West, furthermore between Aais to Pretorius, Outjo to Otjikondo, Tsumeb to Danairs Omeg, Kapp's Farm to Dordabis and Otjiwarongo to Tokai. Windhoek exchange received a new underground cable. The Second World War interrupted all further progress in telecommunications. (I.G. Deutschsprachiger Südwester, 1985, p. 482)

In December 1949 the Windhoek automatic exchange was expanded to 2 000 lines. In 1950 the country possessed 62 exchanges with 1 033 private and 2 267 business lines, furthermore 134 public telephones and 451 farm party lines. During the late 1950s the demand for telecommunication services still remained insatiable, and 1 066 new services and 820 supplementary services were provided in 1957, whilst 1 587 changes to existing services were effected. In this year the total number of hired services increased to 11 024 and 423 km of trunk lines and 1 622 km of farm lines were erected. (South West Africa: A Report for the Calendar Year 1957 and the Activities of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, Windhoek, p.2 and 3)

In 1960 this system grew to 11 163 lines, with 2 413 farm lines. During the early 1960s the direct telephone links were increased from 597 to 985 with a total distance of 202 518 km. Between 1965 and 1975 the investments for telecommunication increased from US $ 20 millions to US $ 75 millions. On 25 November 1972 Namibia's telecommunication's system was interlinked with the automatic system in South Africa and was later replenished by an analogue microwave system between Windhoek and Upington (South Africa) via Keetmanshoop. The exchanges grew from 99 to 467 with total costs of US $ 7,0 millions. Direct telecommunication links with 33 countries were possible as from 1980. During the 1980s telecommunication links with the Owambo regions in the north, with Opuuo (Kunene Region) and Katima Mulilo (Caprivi Region) were developed. In 1983 Namibia possessed for approximately 1,3 millions inhabitants living on more than the double surface of the united Germany 60 737 telephone lines (14 752 manually, 45 982 automatically and 5 890 farm lines). (I.G. Deutschsprachiger Südwester, 1985, p. 482 and 483)

After a period of stagnation during the early eighties, 1986 saw the introduction of the first fully digital electronic exchange in Namibia. This was the combined trunk and local EWSD exchange installed at Telecom building in Windhoek. The exchange, commissioned on 21 June 1986, replaced an old two motion electromechanical exchange and increased the telephone service potential in Windhoek tenfold. Before Independence on 21 March 1990 Namibia had an integrated network of analog and electronical transmission mediums of approximately 1 970 005 km. However, the dominant technology for transmission links was based on analogue microwave channels from the North to the South interconnected with copper-based open-wire carrier routes to the eastern and western parts of the country which now has to be extended and balanced to link the "two Namibias".

The Present (1995) Telecommuncation Situation in Namibia