By Tina Haulyondjamba
Known as an upper middle income country where rampant unequal wealth distribution exists, Namibia has over the years struggled to formulate workable policies to ensure that inequality is alleviated or even reduced. Statistics revealed by the Namibian Statistics Agency have shown that 29.9 percent of the country’s population is unemployed, there is a 26.9 percent poverty incidence while a large percent of the Namibian population is said to remain vulnerable. With many desiring to unpack the root causes of unequal wealth distribution which is said to be on the rise, the Economic Association of Namibia together with the Hanns Seidel Foundation and The Namibian Newspaper earlier this week in the capital held an inequality conference as a means of establishing ways to address this social ill.
Concerned about pervasive inequality in Namibia, the Minister of Mines and Energy, Tom Alweendo during the conference stressed that unrestrained inequality is a poison that has the potential to destroy the Namibian society.
Having witnessed inequality on a daily basis, Alweendo expressed concern about how those who have wealth, rationalise inequality as a problem that does not concern them.
“People have somehow become immune to inequality around them, they usually tell themselves that they did not cause it and therefore they do not have any responsibility to take any action to help solve it. How much are we willing to tolerate before we cross the line of creating a society where people are given equal opportunities” he said.
Alweendo further explained that over the years corruption has contributed to inequality and has had a negative impact on the country’s social economic development. “This is bad for ordinary citizens especially for the poor and the most vulnerable. In my view the failure of good governance leads to corruption, it’s also my contention that corruption is a result of unethical leadership. It is therefore important that we make ethical and principled leadership a core issue in our choice of leaders.
We as Namibians certainly can do better in addressing inequality in our society. We need to become a caring nation where the strongest among us always feel compelled to protect the weakest, where the minority are not made to feel as objects of scorn by the majority and where the younger ones are awarded the necessary opportunities to fulfil their dreams” he explained.
With education being the greatest equaliser, Alweendo noted that parents who have financial means usually make all the necessary effort to invest in the education of their children by enrolling them into private schools.
This they do to provide their children with better education which usually results in them having an edge over those who are from poor back grounds.
“Indeed it is a great thing to invest in the education of our children but it is unfortunate that children from well-off families are likely to receive quality education while the vulnerable receive mediocre education. You may notice that what we are doing as a society is planting a seed of future inequity” Alweendo highlighted.
The Institute for Public Policy Research Associate, Frederico Links further noted that it was quite clear that Namibia has a very serious issue with equality of opportunities in education in terms of access to information and quality of education. “The education system over the years is not getting better and at the rate that we are going I cannot see it improving because as a country we are not scaling up to improve the system.
We can sit here and pretend that we are doing great things and that our education system is set for purpose but through the outcomes all we are seeing is a lie. We are not doing great on any level” explained Links. Unhappy about how so much money is being spent on education that is not fruitful Links urged policy makers to resource both private and public schools properly. “The inequality discussion has to come into play because we are not getting the value of the money spent on our education systems. There needs to be a devotion to fixing issues that can change children’s life outcomes” he said.
The United Nations Children’s Fund, Education Officer, Jessica Brown who over the years has been working with the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture in an attempt to better understand the inequalities in education highlighted that the state of inequality in Namibia is not positive.
Through collected statistics at UNICEF, Brown noted that there is a national problem with repetition and drop out rates.
“In grade one we have a 20 percent repetition rate which shows a massive problem with the education foundation. We also see at the end of every phase there is a big dropout rate.
Those who drop out and fall behind are usually children from low income brackets although education is now free there is still a lot of hidden expenses such as food, transport to get to school and school clothes” she explained.
An alarming discrepancy in survival rates in schools in rural communities has also been discovered by UNICEF.
There is usually 100 percent rate in remote schools of children who usually start school in grade one but only one percent are finishing grade twelve, whereas in urban schools 56 percent are finishing grade twelve.
Children from marginalised communities such as the San are said to be falling behind because children who also tend to be taught in a language that is not their home langue are at a disadvantage.
The average percentage of out-of-school children is 18 percent in the country. In regions such as Kunene almost half of the children are out of school, while a third of the children in the Omaheke region are out of school
“We see a massive difference in teacher qualifications, in Kunene only 66.6 percent of the teachers are formally trained where as in Khomas almost 90 percent are trained. We also see a big disparity in our schools, in Khomas almost all schools have running water but in Kavango East only 67 percent of the schools have running water.” One of the things that UNICEF has also found is that there is an inefficiency challenge – education has the biggest portion of the budget “but it’s unfortunate that we are not seeing the quality out of this money. The spending structure in our education system is skewed” Brown explained. Economic Association of Namibia Chairman, Rowland Brown in turn expressed concern at how Namibia still sits with massive challenges when it’s comes to inequality. Brown noted that there is a need to look at inequality in a broader perspective as half the country still lives without electricity, a third of the country’s population lives in shacks and 1 in 3 children live in shacks without electricity. “Inequality causes instability and the current distribution of wealth in Namibia is far from just and we cannot ignore it as a country.
Land and commercial land is a huge issue, inequality is a Namibian issue, it is not just an issue for the poor but it is an issue for every Namibian” he said in conclusion.