One of the largest producers of uranium in the world, Namibia's president and his SWAPO organisation (formerly guerrilla fighting force) was the darling of left-wing activists at universities in the west (as I recall here in Montreal).
Before they got into power, Namibia's uranium mining & export business was considered a radioactive curse, and activists here obligingly blocked shipments of ore destined for Canada's Port Hope refinery.
Once in government, uranium mining was suddenly OK, the company was a great citizen of the state, with excellent mining safety practices and worker development programs, and the president personally promoted sales around the world, on behalf of Rössing corporation ( see http://www.rossing.com/index.html ).
All this is old hat.
But the bit about "the corner of Fidel Castro St. and Robert Mugabe Ave." is interesting.
Wonder if there is also a Pol Pot Square, Mao Ze Dong Blvd., Josef Stalin High School or Che Guevara shopping mall ? Anybody on this list with some additional insights ? (off list, if more appropriate.... thanks)
Namibian leader sounding more and more like Mugabe
NORMAN WEBSTER ON NAMIBIA [The Montreal Gazette, 19 April 2003]
WINDHOEK, Namibia - It isn't every day you find yourself standing at the corner of Fidel Castro St. and Robert Mugabe Ave. Count it one of the small pleasures of this quaint capital city in south- western Africa.
It seems that Namibia's president, Sam Nujoma, holder of the Lenin and Ho Chi Minh peace prizes, keeps a candle burning for Fidel. He is also one of the few remaining friends in the world to Zimbabwe's detested strongman, Robert Mugabe.
He even had him over for Christmas dinner. The two men spent the holiday at Nujoma's yellow beach house on Namibia's Skeleton Coast. The area gets its grisly name from the bones of whales, wreckage of ships and, at least in the old days, remains of doomed sailors washed ashore.
It is a bleak scene to fly over - endless sand dunes, the slag heap from an abandoned diamond mine, Atlantic waves pounding endlessly on a pebble beach. (They mount the three anti-aircraft guns only when the Prez is in residence.) An appropriate place, you'd think, for Mugabe to retire to after wrecking his nation, much more fitting than London or Paris or Riyadh.
Windhoek itself (pop 250,000) is far too good for him. It retains much of the charm that Mugabe's Harare used to know, a mixture of colonial architecture, modern malls and native markets. (You know you're in Africa when the highway Yield signs show not moose, or cattle, but a warthog.)
What sets it apart is the surprisingly German feel. The Germans, latecomers in the scramble for colonies, grabbed this sun-blasted corner of the continent in the late 1800s and kept it until succumbing to a South African expedition in 1915.
It was the end of German overlordship, but many of the colonists stayed on after the First World War. You can see and hear their descendants today, along with plentiful German tourists, as you walk down the street past the Restaurant Zum Wirt, Thiel's Schuhe/Shoes, Otto Muhr & Co. and Die Meubelmark (furniture).
At Joe's Beer House, an African landmark, you get suds still brewed to German purity standards. There is also a nice selection of kudu, oryx, ostrich and crocodile.
Not all the memories of Germany are happy ones. The Lutheran church at the corner of Castro and Mugabe has a wall with the names of the scores of whites who died in the war against the Herero tribe in the early 1900s. It does not bother with the names of the 60,000 or more Herero who were wiped out in the struggle.
The tone for that episode was set by the German commander, Gen. Luthar von Trotha, in this chilling order: "Any Herero found within the German Borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children; I will drive them back to their people. I will shoot them. This is my decision for the Herero people."
And he did what he promised. Today's Herero are suing for reparations.
There have been other bloody times here. Namibia was ruthlessly controlled by South Africa until 1990. Independence came after a long and bitter bush battle mounted by Nujoma's South West Africa People's Organization.
One legacy: Afrikaans is the lingua franca of the country, whose population is about 88 per cent black. English, the new official language, is being taught in the schools and will eventually take over.
The country's northern border with Angola used to be a violent place during the war for freedom. Nowadays you can chug across the river boundary and step ashore in Angola, if you don't mind baboons and the occasional croc sunning on the riverbank.
Nujoma, president since independence, is in a new battle against a foe as pitiless as Gen. von Trotha - HIV/AIDS. Already, life expectancy in Namibia has dropped to 39 years (37 for women), and there are predictions that it might go as low as 34.
Nujoma, 74 this year, is getting a bit cranky as he approaches a promised retirement in 2005. He has threatened white farmers with land seizure, attacked journalists for being unpatriotic and appointed himself Minister of Information and Broadcasting, the better to "tackle problems" at the state-owned network.
He is sounding, indeed, more and more like his chum Mugabe. Maybe they should both retire to the yellow house on the beach.
They could invite Fidel to join them.
Norman Webster is a former editor of The Gazette.