The Minister of Mines and Energy, Tom Alweendo, in his keynote address to the annual meeting of the Economic Association of Namibia correctly noted that the “… unrestrained inequality is a poison that has a potential to destroy people’s livelihood…and cause polarization in society”.
He called therefore for the electorate to ‘’…make ethical and principled leadership a core issue in our choice of our leaders”. Namibia committed itself through the 2000 Millennium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
This commitment was renewed through the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals when Namibia joined the international community to eradicate poverty and hunger and to reduce inequality as well as to provide good health, quality education and productive employment.
According to the Borgen Project Report of September 2017, poverty in Namibia declined by 11 percent from 2001 to 2011. However, 26.9 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2015. Causes of poverty ranged from agricultural and environmental factors; socio-economic factors; and health factors. Agricultural and environmental factors have their origin in the destruction of traditional food production systems. In pre-colonial times the territory in southwestern of Africa was teeming with diversified bio-diversity in its fauna and flora.
The first inhabitants of this area lived through harvesting the bounty of nature: natural fruits, tubers, game meat and the like. Today their food systems are fenced in the commercial farms and national game parks. The first citizens are now deprived of their natural sources of survival. They live in abject poverty.
The second wave of settlers was made up of pastoralists and agronomic communities. Chief Kambazembi (circa 1890) of Otjozondjupa was one of the richest pastoral farmers. However, his people lost land on which their cattle grazed. They were turned into near paupers.
The northern and north-eastern communities tilled the land ang grew a variety of crops. However, natural disasters and the contract labour system conspired to destabilise their food production system. Able bodied men were conscripted into the colonial labour system and women were left to till the land. As a consequence, hunger and poverty increased in these agronomic societies.
The socio-economic factors are best illustrated by the rural urban and gender divides. Poverty is rural. Women headed household are likely to be poor compared to male headed households. Women had no access to productive resources such as land. They were not allowed to seek remunerated employment. Rural women are the face of poverty and inequality in our society.
The health factors are illustrated by maternal and neo-natal mortalities. Maternal mortality in Namibia is 200 deaths per 100,000 births. Neo-natal mortality is 19 deaths per 1000 births. These deaths may be a result of the poor not having access to quality health services.
Though Namibia has a comprehensive social safety nets raging from social pensions to food banks, such transfers only alleviate poverty and its symptoms. They will not eradicate poverty or bring about prosperity.
If we want to eradicate poverty we must attack the causes of poverty. The poor must have access to quality public services such as education, health care, housing, water and sanitation, decent jobs, land and other means of wealth creation.
The current loss of jobs due to economic recession is further worsening the unemployment rate in the country. Young people including the unemployed graduates are becoming disenchanted with the national leadership.
They expect their leaders to engage them and chart a way forward. One could have expected the national leadership at least to call for a Job Summit for the purpose of generating ideas on how best to deal with escalating retrenchments.
The Job Summit could examine alternative employment opportunities through public works or other avenues. Unemployment push people further into poverty, deprivation and inequality.
Victor Sulla, World Bank Senior Economist for Namibia advised the country’s leadership to focus on “… more inclusive and faster economic growth, job creation and greater efficiency in public service that will help Namibia overcome the challenges of poverty and inequality”. Such advice seams to have fallen on deaf ears.
Namibia has been in recession for more than two years. The country expected its leaders to provide leadership under such trying circumstances. When Statistics South Africa declared a week ago that the country was in a technical recession both the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the country’s President Mr Cyril Ramaphosa issued statements to calm down the anxiety and uncertainty within the population.
The Namibian people expect the same from their leaders. One would have expected the leadership to call for Investment Summit to develop strategies for economic stimulus. One is tempted to agree with the Observer newspaper comment of 31 August 2018.
The editor opined: “Our leaders are just not old in age, but they are unable to look at old problems with new eyes.
They are stagnant and the country is in a stalemate with destiny; our future opportunities as a nation are being strangled one-by-one”. It appears that poverty, unemployment and inequality shall remain an enduring legacy in our country and its people during this kind of leadership.
Increasingly it is becoming clear that the trust the people of Namibia invested in this leadership is being betrayed.
Namibia demands an innovative and dynamic leadership to fight poverty, unemployment and inequality!