From Barter to Fiat Currency: Tracing the Evolution of Money in South West Africa/Namibia

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Money has been an integral part of human civilisation for centuries. It is used as a medium of exchange for goods and services and acts as a store of value. Throughout history, different regions of the world have developed their own forms of currency, which have evolved over time. In this article, we will explore the history and evolution of money in South West Africa and Namibia.


early forms of currency 

The early forms of currency used in South West Africa varied depending on the region and the culture of the indigenous people. One of the most common forms of currency used was cattle, which were considered a symbol of wealth and prestige among the Herero and other pastoralist communities.


Bank of Namibia - Previous Governor - Dr. WL Bernard

Cattle were used as a medium of exchange, particularly in bride price negotiations, where the groom’s family would give cattle to the bride’s family. The number of cattle a person owned was also an indicator of their social status and wealth, and the accumulation of cattle was a sign of successful farming and breeding practises.

Another common form of currency used in South West Africa were shells, particularly Cowrie shells, which were used by the San people. Cowrie shells were traded for goods and services, and they were considered a valuable form of currency, particularly in long-distance trade. Cowrie shells were also used for decorative purposes and were worn as jewellery or attached to clothing.

In addition to cattle and shells, other items were used as currency in South West Africa, including beads, salt and iron. Beads were particularly valued for their decorative and symbolic properties, and they were often used in ceremonies and as trade goods. Salt was also a valuable commodity and was used as a form of currency in some parts of South West Africa.

Iron was another important item used as a currency, particularly among the Owambo people. Iron was a valuable resource, used for tools, weapons and other items, and it was highly sought after in trade. Iron ingots were used as a form of currency, and their weight and quality were standardised to ensure their value.

Overall, the early forms of currency used in South West Africa were based on availability and value of local resources, as well as cultural practises and beliefs of the indigenous people. These traditional forms of currency played an important role in the social and economic systems of the region, and they continued to be used alongside the introduction of European currency during the colonial period.

Bank of Namibia - Previous Governor - Dr. J. Ahmad

introduction of foreign currency 

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In the late 19th century, South West Africa was colonised by European powers. Germany colonised South West Africa in 1884, which then became a German protectorate in 1885. The arrival of European colonisers led to the introduction of foreign currency, which replaced the traditional forms of currency used by the indigenous people.

During the period of German occupation of South West Africa, which lasted from 1884 to 1915, several different forms of currency were used, reflecting the complex economic and political dynamics of the time.

Initially, German colonial authorities relied on a system of barter and trade to conduct transactions with local communities. This involved exchanging goods such as textiles, weapons and alcohol for cattle, ivory and other commodities. However, as German settlement and commercial activity expanded in the region, there was a need for a more formalised system of currency.

In 1890, the German colonial government established the Reichsbank, which was responsible for issuing and regulating currency in the colony. The Reichsbank introduced a system of paper currency, known as the mark, which was used alongside existing forms of currency such as gold, silver and copper coins.

However, the use of paper currency was initially met with resistance by local communities, who were unfamiliar with the concept, and wary of German monetary policies. In response, German authorities began to issue coins specifically designed for use in South West Africa, which featured images of local wildlife and landscapes to make them more appealing and familiar to local populations.



Bank of Namibia - Vision

The introduction of the Namibia Dollar (NAD) as the official currency of Namibia was a significant event in the country’s history, and several key figures played important roles in the process. Some of the central figures involved in the introduction of the Namibian Dollar are:

  1. Sam Nujoma: Nujoma was the first president of Namibia and played a significant role in the country’s independence struggle. He was a strong proponent of the Namibian Dollar and believed that it was essential for the country to have its own currency to symbolise its independence and sovereignty.
  2. Dr. Moses C Katjiuongua: Dr. Katjiuongua was the first Governor of the Bank of Namibia, which was established in 1990 to oversee the implementation of the Namibian Dollar. He played a critical role in setting up the bank and laying the groundwork for the introduction of the new currency.
  3. Dr. Hage Geingob: Dr. Geingob is the current president of Namibia, but at the time of the introduction of the Namibian Dollar, he was Prime Minister. He played a crucial role in developing the economic policies that underpinned the introduction of the new currency and promoting its adoption throughout the country.
  4. Dr. Bernard Elago: Dr. Elago was the Minister of Finance in the Namibian government at the time of the introduction of the Namibian Dollar. He was responsible for overseeing the financial sector and played a critical role in designing the new currency and ensuring that it met the needs of Namibia’s economy and financial system.
  5. Dr. Klaus Dierks: Dr. Dierks was a German economist who was commissioned by the Namibian government to develop a comprehensive plan for the introduction of the Namibian Dollar. He played a crucial role in the designing the new currency and ensuring that it met the needs of Namibia’s economy and financial system.
These are just some of the central figures who played important roles in the introduction of the Namibian Dollar. The successful implementation of the new currency was the result of the collective efforts of many individuals and institutions, including the Namibian government, the Bank of Namibia and various international organisations and institutions.




Bank of Namibia - Mission

Since its introduction, the Namibian Dollar has undergone several changes to its design and security features. In 1993, the first series of banknotes were issued, which featured images of Namibian wildlife and landscapes. The banknotes were printed by Tumba Bruk in Sweden, which also minted the coins.

  1. In 2012, the Bank of Namibia introduced a new set of banknotes, which featured improved security features and a new design. The new banknotes included features such as raised printing, watermarks and security threads to prevent counterfeiting.
  2. In 2018, the Bank of Namibia introduced a new set of coins, which featured images of Namibian wildlife and cultural heritage sites. The new coins were made of bi-metallic materials and had improved security features, such as micro lettering and latent images.

After Namibia gained independence in 1990, the country established its own currency, the Namibian Dollar, which is now the official currency in use.


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