Howzit! (Kinda like Howdy! but from South Africa.) This is Joey King and I just arrived in Namibia… but did not have to travel far. Quick trip from Johannesburg. In addition to being a student in ALEC at Texas A&M, I am also the Associate Director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M. In that role I am broadly responsible for the operations and strategy of the Institute but for the past year I have spent most of my time in South Africa establishing a new research station for Texas A&M in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.
Even though I did not have to travel far, I was excited by the opportunity to come to Namibia. Many people I talk to in South Africa spoke highly of Namibia – both in terms of the scenery and also the people. Namibia shares much in common with South Africa but has a much smaller population and less diversified economy. So my expectations about this visit were mostly formed by the conversations with people in the region and my experiences living in rural South Africa.
Prior to my arrival, I knew a little about the country – the Namib desert, the pristine coastlines, the beef industry, the German colonial legacy, and the strong economic and cultural connection to South Africa. Namibia is a part of the currency union in southern Africa (Namibia, Lesotho, and Swaziland all peg their currency to the South African Rand), so business and trade are dependent upon its relationship with South Africa. Recently, because of the strength of Rand, this has caused issues for international agricultural exports (mainly beef) from Namibia to major markets. I was anxious to see how this played out in society. What were the cities like? What were the villages like? How similar were things to South Africa?
Another aspect of Namibia that raised my curiosity was the dynamics of race relations in the country. Again influenced by my experience in South Africa, I wondered if the political rhetoric was racially charged, how had Namibia been able to develop after its independence from South Africa and post-apartheid policies, what were the people like and how did they relate to foreigners. So my time in South Africa has made me even more intrigued by this unique neighbor. I am looking forward to the week here and learning more about the people, culture, economy, and agriculture of Namibia.