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Namibia 2013 Crime and Safety Report

Africa > Namibia > Windhoek

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime is a serious concern in Windhoek and other areas throughout Namibia. The State Department has identified Namibia as a “Critical” residential and non-residential crime threat location on a scale of low, medium, high, and critical. Robberies, muggings, and thefts occur frequently, especially in downtown shopping areas and locations where foreign visitors tend to congregate. 

The vast majority of crime that now occurs in Windhoek is petty street crime. American visitors regularly fall victim to street crime. Incidents occur more frequently after dark than during daytime hours. The most common incidents are non-violent crimes of opportunity, committed by thieves who rely on stealth and surprise, such as pickpocketing, purse-snatching, vehicle theft, ATM card skimming, and vehicle break-ins. In most instances, victims who surrender their belongings without resistance emerge from the encounter unharmed. Criminals sometimes display knives and occasionally firearms. 

Personal robberies and residential break-ins and thefts remain prevalent. Residential burglaries in affluent neighborhoods were frequently reported in 2012.

Overall Road Safety Situation

Driving can be hazardous. Traffic fatalities among foreign visitors occur periodically. In 2012, there were 3,240 motor vehicle accidents resulting in 561 fatalities. Although major roads are generally very well maintained, Namibia’s network of gravel secondary roads can be dangerous, particularly during the rainy season. Defensive driving is essential to manage road conditions and the excessive speed used by many drivers. Driving at night outside urban areas is dangerous, as unlit roads make it difficult to see obstructions and animals that frequently cross the roads. Visitors planning to drive outside Windhoek should plan to arrive at their destination before dark. Vehicles should be in top condition and equipped with spare tires and plenty of water, food, and emergency medical supplies. Drivers in urban areas should be aware that taxis often stop abruptly to pick up and discharge passengers, resulting in frequent rear-end collisions. 

Namibian police checkpoints are positioned approximately 15 kilometers outside the principal cities and towns on all major highways. During the holiday season, additional checkpoints are sometimes established along the Windhoek to Swakopmund highway (B1) and near medium-sized towns. Most vehicles are allowed to proceed without inspection, but drivers should be prepared to produce vehicle registration documents, personal identification (passport, Namibian identification cards), car rental contracts, and/or drivers’ licenses on request. All drivers should stop and proceed only when waved through. Police have been known to fire “warning shots” at vehicles ignoring roadblocks. 

Theft from motor vehicles remains a concern. These types of crime usually involve smash-and-grab patterns and are sometimes associated with violence.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Namibia is rated “Low” for political violence. Namibia became independent from South Africa in 1990. There has been little political violence since independence, due in large part to its stable, democratic government. Namibia’s national elections in November 2009 were mostly peaceful, although there were several clashes between political parties. 

Bilateral relations between Namibia and the U.S. are good. Occasional, small scale demonstrations to protest U.S. foreign policy have been held. In November 2012, five people gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to protest U.S. support for Israel. In June 2011, about 20 demonstrators gathered at the Supreme Court to protest U.N., NATO, and U.S. involvement in Libya. Protestors then marched from the Supreme Court, to the U.N., and to the U.S. Embassy. In both cases, police coverage was adequate, and the protestors dispersed without incident. 

There have been no reports of hostility directed toward Americans on the streets. Americans visiting Windhoek should not expect to experience any hostility or aggression because of their citizenship. In fact, the atmosphere for Americans is welcoming and receptive. Although often critical of U.S. foreign policy, the government and press are generally not hostile toward the U.S. There have been no visible signs of anti-Americanism displayed by the press or the government.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Terrorism is a worldwide threat. The U.S. Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. 

There have been no incidents with links to terrorist organizations or large-scale organized crime organizations in recent years. The Prevention of Organized Crime Act and the Financial Intelligence Act contain measures to suppress organized crime, money laundering, and terrorist financing. There have also been no reports of incidents connected to international terrorist groups. 

Civil Unrest

Namibia enjoys a stable democracy. Demonstrations are rare and are usually non-violent. During the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections, there were isolated incidents involving clashes between supporters of different political parties. The police restored order quickly in those cases. In December 2012, the ruling SWAPO party held its 5th Annual Congress without incident.

Street demonstrations are rare, with labor unions occasionally staging marches. Striking workers have formed large groups to protest for workers rights or increased wages, but the demonstrations have been peaceful. Organizers generally enforce discipline in their ranks and avoid direct confrontation with the authorities. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Namibia is an arid, semi-desert country. It can experience extreme temperatures, especially during summertime (November-February), and seasonal flooding during the rainy season (October-March) in the central and northern regions. Dry river beds occasionally flood, resulting in roads becoming inaccessible. Motorists should adhere to warning signs posted at these riverbeds and not cross them when the water is flowing.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

Road accidents remain a major concern despite a relatively good road infrastructure and good road conditions. Road accidents remain one of the highest single contributors to fatalities.

In recent years, Namibia has had several aircraft accidents involving privately owned air operators. No major industrial accidents were reported in 2012.

Drug-related Crimes

Namibia is not a drug producing country. Most of the drugs that are locally available are smuggled in illegally. The drug of choice is marijuana, known locally as “dagga,” and is relatively cheap. Other types of drugs such as cocaine, crack cocaine, and heroin are also available. The use of cheap and readily available crystal methamphetamine, known locally as “tik,” is also on the rise. Namibia is being used as a transit route for drugs destined for countries in the region and elsewhere. Anti-drug laws are strictly enforced, and no bail is granted without a court appearance. 

Kidnapping Threats

Very few incidents of kidnapping have been reported in recent years. The few that were reported were not politically motivated but rather criminal or related to domestic disagreements. No incidents of kidnapping against foreigners were reported in 2012?1.

Police Response

Local police lack the resources, training, and personnel to deter street crime or to respond and investigate reported crimes. Long-term visitors should register with the Embassy and report to the Embassy if they are detained or arrested. Travelers should not challenge the authority of police or soldiers. U.S. Embassy Windhoek maintains excellent relations with the national and local police forces. In case of an emergency, visitors to Namibia should contact the local police in their area. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

Under Namibian law, law enforcement officers are required to produce credentials and identify themselves before carrying out a lawful arrest. Whenever an arrest is imminent, it is advisable to comply with the arresting officer’s request. An arrested person has the right to contact their legal representative. The police are obliged to afford the arrested person an opportunity to contact their family and/or legal representative. Incidents of police harassment can be reported to any police station, the office of the Inspector-General of Police, or the Office of the Ombudsman. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

The police have established Tourist Protection Units (TPUs) in Windhoek and Swakopmund, but they are severely hampered by resource constraints that hinder effective deterrence of crime. TPUs were established first in the Khomas region (where Windhoek lies) and Erongo region (where the popular seside resort of Swakopmund and port city of Walvis Bay are located) and subsequently will be expanded to all 13 regions. The TPU in Windhoek is located at the corner of Independence Avenue and Bahnhof Street. 

Contact numbers (emergency/non-emergency):  
Windhoek
Police: 10111 /209-4111 
Fire/Ambulance: 211-111

Outside Windhoek   POLICE                              FIRE
Swakopmund:           064-10111/402431             064-410-4299/081-12-85613
Mariental:                   063-10111345000              063-245-600/063-24-2211 
Luderitz:                     063-10111/202255             063-202-255 
Gobabis:                   062-10111/566100             062-566-666/081-12-44936
Tsumeb:                     067-10111/2235017        067-221-004/081-12-48677 
Rundu:                       066-10111/266300        081-257-543 
Oshakati:                   065-10111/223600        065-229-500/081-29-63300
Otjiwarongo:               067-10111/300600        081-2022-222 

American visitors can also contact U.S. Embassy Windhoek at (264-61) 295-8500 if assistance is needed in communicating with law enforcement officials. 

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

Windhoek has a number of adequate medical facilities and medical evacuation companies, including: 

MediClinic Hospital: (061-222687) 
Roman Catholic Hospital: (061-2702911) 

International SOS (private ambulance and medical evacuation) 
--061-230505 
--081-129-6300 
--112 from a local cell phone 

Windhoek Municipal Emergency Services (061-290-2702)

For medical emergencies outside Windhoek, visit the closest hospital in the region. 

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

For serious injuries, medevacs may be arranged through ISOS offices in Windhoek, Tsumeb, Kombat, Otjiwarongo, Walvis Bay, and Swakopmund. The telephone numbers for International SOS (ISOS):

Tsumeb: 081-128-5501 
Kombat: 081-128-5501 
Otjiwarongo: 081-129-6300 
Swakopmund: 064-200-200 
Walvis Bay: 064-200-200 

The Embassy recommends that all visitors have medical evacuation insurance before arrival in Namibia. In case of medical emergencies, the Embassy receptionist and after-hours duty officer can be reached at 264-61 295-8500.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Visitors face no specific health threats. Windhoek’s 5,600-foot elevation can cause fatigue or light-headedness. Windhoek’s dry, windy climate can cause dry skin. Because of fine dust and pollen in the air, visitors who suffer from allergies or respiratory ailments should bring appropriate medication. Visitors who anticipate spending time outdoors should use sun block, hats, and skin-covering clothing. Tap water is generally potable; bottled water is also widely available. While Windhoek, the coast, and southern Namibia are malaria-free, malaria prophylaxis is recommended for visitors to rural areas in eastern Namibia and anywhere north of Otjiwarongo, especially between October and April. Meningitis immunizations (types A, C, Y, and W) and an adult booster for polio are also recommended. 

Visitors should also be aware that HIV/AIDS is common, with an estimated general prevalence rate of 13.3 percent of the population infected. 

For additional health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/namibia.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Crime

Crimes/Scams

Local scams include offers to sell rough diamonds or precious stones to tourists, an illegal transaction under Namibian law. Often, the “diamonds” turn out to be worthless glass. 

Other scams consist of one person attempting to divert the victim’s attention (street children, requests to translate documents, etc.) so that a second perpetrator can take the victim’s wallet, bag, or cell phone. Visitors are advised to maintain maximum awareness if approached by strangers for any reason. 

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

The precautions useful in any large city will help prevent one from being a victim of crime in Windhoek. Visitors should maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times. 

Most confrontational crimes involve lone victims and take place in isolated areas. Visitors are advised to travel in groups and remain in high-traffic areas of town. Walking after dark is not recommended. 

Pickpocketing and purse-snatching are most likely to take place in downtown shopping areas and other high-traffic locations where foreign visitors congregate. Maximum awareness is recommended in these areas. Criminals tend to target victims who carry backpacks or similar personal bags, apparently believing that backpackers carry all their valuables in the bags. Durable plastic shopping bags from local retailers provide a lower-profile alternative. Carry only as much cash as is required for the day’s business and store the remainder (along with passports, credit cards, and other valuables) in a secure location. Common sense measures, such as not leaving valuables in parked cars, safeguarding purses, keeping wallets in front pockets, and being alert to one’s surroundings, are the best deterrents against crime. Cell phone theft is particularly common; visitors should keep cell phones out of sight and use them only in safe locations. Visitors should not leave valuables unsecured in their rooms. 

Theft from vehicles is frequently reported. Visitors should refrain from displaying valuables in parked cars. When driving, doors should remain locked, and windows should be closed. Drivers have been approached by thieves who distract drivers at traffic lights while their accomplice attempts to steal items from the passenger side. Also, visitors should be aware of an increase in criminals using remote key fobs to unlock vehicle doors in parking lots. 

Residents who relied on centrally monitored alarm systems, security guards provided by reputable companies, and high-quality door locks and window grillwork were generally less likely to be targeted than those who failed to use such safeguards. 

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

The Embassy is located in downtown Windhoek at 14 Lossen Street, Ausspanplatz.

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

Call (264-61) 295-8500 to reach the Consular Section, Economic Officer, and Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the Embassy.

The web site for the U.S. Embassy in Namibia is http://windhoek.usembassy.gov. 

Americans who visit Namibia are encouraged to register on the State Department website before travelling or with the Consular Section at the Embassy and to review the most recent Country Specific Information sheet on Namibia at http://travel.state.gov.

OSAC Country Council Information

For more information on the Windhoek Country Council, contact the RSO or visit http://windhoek.osac.gov.