The ongwe has grown from a small cub into a mighty animal.
Ongwe is the Oshiwambo word for leopard. This imposing African cat’s face on the Ongwediva shield reflects the town’s feline origins, at least in the creation of the name but few people I consulted could actually give an exact etymological explanation of the name.
One source indicated the meaning of Ongwediva as valley of the leopard, but other friends doubted this meaning. I also think it is historically not correct, first because there is no valley in that area, only a ditch serving as a conduit for a small stream that flows rather infrequently, and second, because Ongwediva has been called by that name for as long as I or anybody else older than I, can remember. It was also mentioned that Ongwediva could be the name of a tribal chief and that this was his homestead way back in history.
Ongwediva used to be a village, even much less than a village. Because of its proximity to Oshakati, it did not display the typical features of a settlement on the way of growing into a village. It only became a centre of growth after independence when more land for settlement and development was required, preferably outside the flood-prone areas in and around Oshakati. But even before it was officially proclaimed, it has grown into a settlement of sorts and functioned much like a satellite suburb of the much bigger Oshakati. However, once it became a town in its own right, things really started moving and it quickly exploded into a growth point, ably managed and steered by the incumbent Ongwediva Town Council.
It was towards the end of 1999 that the Council first mooted the idea of an exhibition or a fair but there was not much structure and even less agreement on what format it should adopt. When the first Ongwediva Annual Trade Fair was announced around the middle of 2000 (I think), not even the name has been finalised.
The Economist has been following and covering the Trade Fair ever since the first one was held in a dusty square of land with no fence, and only one building with a weird roof design. Already by the second year, it became obvious from the interest from the local business community, that its future format will probably be more a trade show than an entertainment bazaar. And I think it was from around 2003 that it officially adopted the profile and became the Ongwediva Annual Trade Fair.
As a project of the Ongwediva Town Council, it also became apparent that organising and running a show like this, take much more than just a few casual arrangements two weeks before the opening date. The Town Council, according to my own experience, took this task very serious and established all the structures and capacity to maintain the momentum from year to year.
During these formative years, Angola grew in importance as a trading partner and a very strong Angolan presence has become almost a hallmark of the show over the past ten years. Amongst the locals it is extremely popular and there is no lack of support for the full week and two days it runs. It is the longest show in Namibia, beating the big show in Windhoek by one day. It is also approaching visitor number comparable to those at the Windhoek Show. This year, the Town Council is targeting 100,000 visitors which indeed would just be another milestone in a line of many. If it actually exceeds that number, the Ongwediva Annual Trade Fair has become the only rival to the bigger brother event in the capital.
The Trade Fair is now the number one event on the business calendar of the north. It draws hundreds of exhibitors, many from other countries, and it has truly become the premier showcase of existing business capability as well as potential business looking at the lucrative hub of Ongwediva, Oshakati and Ondangwa. It is certainly the most important annual event organised by the Town Council.
If you, dear reader, have never visited the Ongwediva Annual Trade Fair, I strongly recommend that you find time to travel there in the next week and go and experience first-hand this unbelievable phenomenon. Where 25 years ago there was only bush and a ditch, now there is a sprawling town with a central business area, well-planned suburbs and all the services a municipality must provide.
The short road between Ongwediva and Oshakati has meanwhile become prime industrial property. While only a few years ago, there was still some semblence of two separate towns, Ongwediva and Oshakati are now separated only by a boundary line. For all intents, these two are the first steps to a future metropolis.