Country Facts #7: Namibia to Portugal

This week: soft drink incompetence, lonely trees, drunken politicians, heavy metal, submerged waterfalls, murderous princes, and a man named Bright Dike.


Namibia – Namibia is an odd looking country, with the main bulk of its territory supplemented by a finger of land jutting out from the north east of the country. Known as the Caprivi Strip, it was created at the behest of the country’s German colonial rulers, who wanted a port on the Zambezi River leading to the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately for the hapless Germans, the route to the coast was rather impeded downstream by the small matter of one of the world’s great waterfalls, the Victoria Falls. READ MORE

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Namibia, with the peculiar Caprivi Strip in the north eastNamibia Map / CIA / Public Domain

Nauru – A tiny single island nation in the middle of the Pacific, Nauru has for decades centred its economy on the lucrative mining and export of its only natural resource of note, fossilised bird droppings, a kind of phosphate used to create fertiliser. Sadly, the guano is now all but gone, and Nauru is now utterly dependent on aid from Australia for survival. Around half of the national working age population is unemployed, and with 71% of Nauruans obese it has become the most overweight country in the world. READ MORE

Nepal – Even before their deposal in 2008, the Nepalese Royal Family did not have an easy ride of the 21st Century. Though the official turn of events have been fiercely disputed by sceptics, the Crown Prince Dipendra is said to have killed his father King Birendra and nine other family members in the Royal Palace in 2001, before turning the gun on himself. But Dipendra survived, and in line with royal protocol he inherited his father’s title while in a coma, making him a brain dead King for three days before he finally succumbed to his wounds. READ MORE

Netherlands – In April 2013, 40,000 Dutch citizens declared their intention to abdicate from the Netherlands via an e-petition. They did so in protest of an admittedly rather naff song produced to commemorate the crowning of the new Dutch King, Willem Alexander. READ MORE

New Zealand – In 1984, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, under pressure due to disagreements with his National Party colleagues, unexpectedly called a snap election while apparently under the influence of alcohol. Perhaps he should’ve waited to sober up before making such a critical decision- when the so called “Schnapps Election” was held one month later, Muldoon was beaten in a landslide, and his 10 year stint in power came to an end. READ MORE And see his slurred announcement here.

Nicaragua – In 1937, Nicaragua and its northern neighbour Honduras came perilously close to war because of a stamp. Created by the Nicaraguan postal service, the stamp in question cheekily implied that a large swathe of Honduran territory on the border between the two nations belonged to Nicaragua. What had begun as mere political audacity very nearly descended into actual warfare as troops from both sides poured into the area, but an internationally brokered peace treaty thankfully saved the day. READ MORE

Niger – The world’s most isolated tree once flourished in the otherwise lifeless northern desert of Niger. The Arbre du Tenere grew in the middle of the Sahara Desert 400km from the next tree, surviving only because its roots extended 40m below the sandy surface into an underground well. The Tuareg nomads that lived in the Sahara refrained from using it for firewood for centuries- but it was toppled anyway by a drunken Libyan truck driver in 1971. READ MORE

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The solitary tree, sadly now goneArbre du Tenere / Michel Mazeau / CC-BY-SA 2.0

Nigeria – No one does names like the Nigerians. The former president of the country is called Goodluck Jonathan, and his wife is named Patience Faka Jonathan. It is considered normal for Nigerians to name children after a quality they are thought to possess, or something related to their birth, or simply whatever the hell they fancy. And it’s not just politicians: a quick look through the names of Nigeria’s top male footballers unearthed such gems as Sunday Mba, Bright Dike, Lordson Ichull, Hope Akpan, Prince Aggrey, and Sincere Muenfeh Seth. READ MORE

North Korea – Despite its perennially woeful economic performance, North Korea always manages to find the spare cash to build huge structures in the capital Pyongyang as a show of national strength. One such building is the May Day stadium, the world’s biggest , which has an official capacity of 150,000. The colossal arena was built in 1989 response to the Seoul Olympics that took place across the southern border one year before, and it is best known for hosting the annual North Korean propaganda extravaganza, the Mass Games. READ MORE And watch the Mass Games here.

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The purpose may be deplorable, but it’s hard not to be mesmerised by the choreographyArirang Mass Games 2013 / Uri Tours / CC-BY-SA 2.0

Norway – As one of Europe’s wealthiest countries, Norway is an attractive destination for many migrants and refugees travelling to the continent from Asia or Africa, and in recent years an increasing number have found a way in through its remote Arctic border from Russia. However, the crossing policies of both countries have turned the process into a bit of a farce. Russia does not allow people to exit the country on foot, while Norway does not allow entries in vehicles unless all passengers carry documentation- so the wily migrants simply began buying cheap bicycles to make the 200m cross border journey instead. Unfortunately, in 2016 the increasingly anti-immigrant Norwegian government began to deport thousands of people who had made the unauthorised crossing back to Russia. READ MORE

Oman – Oman, this is a depressing one. Slavery was only legally abolished in the Sultanate in 1970, making it the third last country on earth to do so. And yet, after playing a central role in the Indian Ocean slave trade for centuries, Oman has found it difficult to overcome its slavery demons. As in many of the Gulf States, mistreatment of foreign workers remains a major problem to this day. READ MORE

Pakistan – Unlike most national titles, the name Pakistan is a relatively modern invention. It was formed by Choudhry Rahmat Ali in 1933 as an acronym representing the five Muslim majority states seeking to secede from British India: Punjab, Afghan Province, Kashmir, Sindh and- for the final three letters- Baluchistan. The ‘I’ was simply thrown in to make the name sound better! READ MORE

Palau – The surface of the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau is dotted with a number of small marine lakes. The most famous of these, known simply in English as Jellyfish Lake, was once directly connected with the Pacific Ocean, but falling sea levels left it cut off from the ocean. This ensured the jellyfish were protected from outside predators, and subsequent millennia of evolution have rendered their stinging tentacles largely redundant. The lake, only a few hundred metres wide and long, is now packed full with around eight million of the gelatinous creatures. READ MORE

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Not a great place for Scyphophobes… Migration Of Golden Jellyfish In Jellyfish Lake / Richard Schneider / CC BY-NC 2.0

Panama – In 1989, the United States invaded Panama to oust President Manuel Noriega, who had attempted to cling onto power despite losing an election earlier that year. Noriega fled to the Vatican embassy in the capital Panama City, a cunning plan given any US attempt to storm the building would have earned them the wrath of Catholics worldwide. The US forces’ response was as stereotypically, brazenly American as anything in a Hollywood comedy: they began blasting heavy metal music on loudspeakers outside the building in an attempt to drive him out. After three straight days of this Noriega finally gave himself up. READ MORE

Papua New Guinea – More distinct languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea than any other country in the world. Its seven million people speak more than 800 languages- that’s close to one new language for every 10,000 people. Many of these languages are spoken by only a handful of people and are thus at risk of disappearing. The incredible linguistic diversity is a result of the country’s mountainous terrain and tribal social system, which ensures communities just kilometres apart have minimal interaction with one another. READ MORE

Paraguay – In some respects, Paraguay is one of the world’s greenest countries, with almost all of its electricity needs being served by hydropower from huge dams such as Itaipu and Yacyreta. And yet, the huge reservoirs created by these dams have caused significant damage to the environment. The Itaipu reservoir flooded 1,400 sq. km of land on the Paraguay- Brazil border, destroying rare plants and robbing animals of habitats, not to mention completely submerging what had been one of the world’s largest waterfalls. READ MORE

Peru – At an astonishing 5,100m above sea level, La Rinconada in the Peruvian Andes is the highest major settlement in the world. The city grew up around a nearby goldmine, and as more and more workers arrive in search of fortune La Rinconcada is now home to around 50,000 people, most of whom live both in squalid conditions and year round freezing temperatures. READ MORE

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Snow is present all year round in the world’s highest cityLa Rinconada Peru / Hildegard Willer / GFDL

Philippines – A bungled Pepsi competition sparked countrywide riots in the Philippines in 1993. The American drinks conglomerate announced a competition offering $40,000 to the holders of a particular bottle cap, but when the winning cap was announced it emerged there were 800,000 winners. Unsurprisingly, Pepsi balked at the $32 billion pay out, prompting aggrieved “winners” to go on the rampage. READ MORE

Poland – Since the accession of Poland to the EU, Poles have made up the largest ethnic minority in the Republic of Ireland, but it seems the locals are still a bit befuddled by their new guests. In 2007, Irish police spent several months attempting to track down a renegade Polish motorist by the name of Prawo Jazdy, who had committed more than 50 driving offences, before realising the name was actually Polish for Drivers Licence… READ MORE

Portugal – Between 1808 and 1821, the capital of Portugal was not Lisbon, as it had been since 1255 and is today, but Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The change came about when Napoleon invaded Iberia, prompting around 15,000 Portuguese, including the royal family and government, to decamp almost 8,000km to the south across the Atlantic Ocean. READ MORE


If you have anything to add to any of these entries, you can offer a better one, or you just want someone to talk to, please leave a comment!

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