“Will they come to a small city in the dessert by the sea in a country many never heard of?” This was the question Dr. Hashali Hamukaya the Executive Director of the Benguela Current Commission asked himself when we suggested he host the Third World Conference on Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) in Swakopmund, Namibia. Well they came, scientists and marine managers from every continent and the newly formed Benguela Current Commission of Angola, Namibia and South Africa put itself on the map. For me, the return to Namibia after 16 years was an opportunity to see what this new country has achieved. Namibia was ruled by South Africa under the oppressive foot of apartheid and did not receive its independence until 1990 and Walvis Bay the only major fishing port was not turned over to Namibia until 1994. In 1995 I traveled to a meeting in Namibia of scientists from the Benguela Current countries to make the case for a cooperative Large Marine Ecosystem Project. Both the Namibian and South African delegations were all white (the former were non Namibians on contract). The two member Angolan delegation arriving late due to travel difficulties (war was still raging there) included a Russian scientist. German and Norwegian scientists were there in significant numbers. The only Black presenter was a young scientist from Benin working for the UN. BUT’ there was a sign of hope. Namibia had the good sense to invite a Namibian graduate student along with his U. S. professor as observers. I learned that other Black Namibians were away at graduate school. The atmosphere can best be understood by realizing that wearing my Mandela T-Shirt made our hosts nervous about violence from recalcitrant whites.
Fast forward to 2014: The projects discussed in 1994 have led to a Commission for sustainable management of the Benguela Current LME region and the Executive Director Dr. Hamukaya was one of the graduate students I heard about in 1994. The one who attended the meeting is now the Executive Director of the Southeast Atlantic Fisheries Organization which addresses the offshore ocean seaward of Commission for the area of the Benguela Current LME. Namibia used the resources of the project initiated in 1995 to build a cadre of Black scientists and resource managers. While the experts from around the world were present at the 2014 meeting the attendance was predominantly Black, including a good number of students. The logistics carried out by Commission and Namibian Ministries’ staffs were first rate. The aggressive participation of Black scientists from countries like Ghana and South Africa was notable. The was a meeting of colleagues not like the meetings which so often featured Northern Hemisphere experts lecturing to Southern Hemisphere listeners.
As the LME approach involves all of the sectors that utilize the marine and coastal environment representative of various sectors were present at the meeting, giving a unique opportunity to not only observe the country’s progress but to talk with key players in that effort. Anyone who has spent much time in Africa has discovered that in many countries the roads are often an obstacle to travel. Not so in Namibia. Using their own efforts they are building and maintaining an excellent road system connecting the rural areas of their large and lightly populated country with the towns. It is a Country where one may rent a car and comfortably drive just about anywhere as we did. This is a source of national pride. The tourist sector along with fisheries , the biggest economic area next to –mining, is very important for the economy. The tourism Ministry is brokering agreements between local areas and tourism developers for partnerships so the local areas benefit not only for jobs but from joint ownership. I saw the fruits of this effort as we visited their largest game park which has professional Black management.
Namibia still faces many challenges, the 8 percent white population controls 50 percent of the arable land and there is a huge wealth gap. But The Namibia government has been making steady progress, and is building the capacity of the Black populations suppressed under apartheid to increasingly get closer to their rightful place. From the vantage point of 2014 the deplorable situation of 1995 seems almost unimaginable and the recent peaceful democratic election demonstrates their readiness to take there well deserved place on the international stage.
Brad Brown is first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. He continues to work as a consultant on African coastal and marine projects and scientific capacity development. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org