The Great Kunene

The Kunene Region of Namibia for which I am nominally responsible for IT within the Ministry of Health and Social Security is big, very big, astonishingly big.

It is Namibia’s second biggest and least densely populated region.

To put this into context consider the following (please note all figures are from Wikipedia and hence liable to be made up by some Wikiterrorist):

England

  • Size 130,395 sq km (50,346 sq miles)
  • Population 51,092,000 (2007 estimate)
  • Population Density 392 per sq km (1,015 per sq mile)

Kunene

  • Size 144,255 sq km (55,697 sq miles)
  • Population 68,244 (according to Wikipedia – the Ministry actually uses a figure of around 44,000 but we’ll use the larger)
  • Population Density (on larger figure) of 0.6 per sq km (1.2 per sq mile)

So there you have it, vast (bigger than the entire of England) and sparsely populated. When you factor in the urbanisation of some parts it’s pretty obvious that massive swathes of Kunene are totally empty of people.

This isn’t to try and impress anyone as to the huge area I’m responsible for IT across, after all there only are about three computers and I think two of them are in pieces on my desk, I just want to try and get across the sheer scale of uninhabited wilderness that makes up the vast majority of this starky beautiful land.

For comparison Namibia in total (825,418 sq km or 318,696 sq mi) has a population density of 2.5 per sq km (6.6 per sq mile).

So when I and two colleagues toured the Great Kunene (me finding and swearing at various computers, they finding and swearing at various vehicles) to visit the other two “big” towns apart from Opuwo, Khorixas and Outjo, this was quite an undertaking.

Khorixas is a town that exists because some South African bureaucrat back in the day put a pin in the map and decided it would make a good administrative centre. In some ways it makes Opuwo look like a glittering jewel but on the flip-side they do have cheese and fruit, all the time.

In addition to prodding some PCs I was able to catch up with a friend who came in-country at the same time as me and meet two VSO doctors working in the hospital who kindly invited me to theirs for lunch.

I was able to identify and actually fix a couple of problems in the afternoon (even I know how to uncheck “pause printing” to solve a “no output” problem). A lot of the staff, perversely especially the ones who do the most typing, are struggling along with ancient P3 128Mb machines naturally running XP SP3 and Office 2007.

We stayed (for three nights) at a top class lodge in Outjo called Ombinda (I think) on the Ministry’s cost. It was very pleasant and the food was excellent.

Outjo District Hospital is a newer and flasher building (though some services are still housed in the old building which is literally falling down). Their computers are also much more up-to-date than Opuwo or Khorixas. I am not quite sure how they managed this though being the main drop-off for all equipment headed into the Kunene region might have something to do with it.

Spent the day fixing more printer problems (“load the paper” or “plug it in”), a connectivity issue (“no use the RJ-45 cable when connecting between RJ-45 ports, not the RJ-11 that sort of fits”), updating Anti-Virus and tearing what little hair I have left out watching Norton singularly fail to uninstall.

Culturally it was all very interesting and I got a chance to harangue my local colleagues endlessly over dinner about the tribal makeup of the country and apartheid (you could only buy white bread in Outjo if you were white, “How ever did you cope?”, “Had an armed uprising”, “Oh”).

Also got a chance to get down to Otjiwarongo to find various Ministry vehicles rotting in garage forecourts since a repair had been deemed too expensive but there was no way to recover or write them off.

Found an ambulance that had been sent to a garage around 2005. The premesis had since been sold and turned into a private house and the ambulance now sits languishing in the back garden, marooned from the road by a pond and several pieces of shrubbery. Surreal.

Back to Opuwo last thing on Friday and I felt back at home amongst the bustling throng, goats and donkeys. Perhaps I’m getting more used to it here.

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