The developmental state in the Namibian Context: Can we ever get there?
Chalmers Johnson sketched, early on, in the debate of the developmental state based on the experience of Sandbrook in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Although not much debate has gone on in our country about the prospect of the developmental state, for many reasons I imagine, one cannot help but think that its nonetheless necessary.
Considering how long it has been since independence, we need to shift our focus on from only, maintaining the status quo, maintaining power and merely focusing on reducing poverty, things that has so far taken our attention off the fundamentally important issues aimed at long term, and lasting solutions such as the implementation and operationalization of a successful developmental state model.
Chalmers studied the developmental model of Mauritius.
He argued that developmental elites create political stability over a long term; they maintain sufficient equality in distribution to prevent class or sectoral exploitation, and set national goals and standards that are internationally oriented. Clearly, stability exists in our country, at least politically, although political leaders have barely taken advantage of this stability. We have had many attempts to bring about equality in the country, but these attempts have been embarrassingly fruitless.
We continue to be divided, as the poor continue to live in merciful abject poverty, while the rich live in a somewhat different country from the Namibia known to the poor.
Inequality in Namibia is so high, so high that its relatively been ignored compared to other issues that exist such as poverty. It is incredibly disappointing how many of our people have accepted this inequality. A developmental state caters for its subject, while still maintaining an emphasis on the growth of the economy.
Developmental states take control of their economies, governance and authority without necessarily being authoritarian. Democratic states can also have developmentally oriented programs, aimed at economic emancipation and creating a suitable environment for industrialization, market flourish and business enabling environments. The state being a driving force does not mean crippling the private sector, on the contrary, a developmental state should encourage a collaborative model in which the policies of the government and the private sector works hand in hand, and dependent on one another.
Johnson argued, unapologetically, that developmental states are necessarily authoritarian, or at least semi-authoritarian, but this is mostly aimed at monopolization of political power, to make the government strong enough to be able to block assertive and undisciplined labour movements that might sabotage the developmental model.
Many people would argue that democratic states cannot embark on this model, which is nonsense and short sighted at best.
White effectively argued, not only may democratic politics motivate rulers to act developmentally, through strategies to enhance both growth and equity, but also their success in achieving growth with equity will help consolidate democratic institutions.
Democracy may also augment the capacity of governments by generating legitimacy and by improving administrative efficiency and rectitude through mechanisms of accountability.
Democratic states have a duty to their citizens, which is by no means different from other states, but unlike socialist states such as Namibia and others, developmental states do not spoon feed its subjects. This is not to say social programs such as pension, and food bank programs aren’t necessary in a country as poverty ridden as Namibia, on the contrary.
The difference is that, developmental states more often empower their citizens to support themselves with projects such as Small and medium enterprises support programs, youth development programs, public private partnership and many others.
PPPs has been used in Namibia, although to a lesser extent, and somewhat to the benefit of the minorities rather than the majority of citizens. So, in principle, democracy is reconcilable with a developmental state. But unlike developmental states, Namibians has mostly chosen liberty over efficiency.
Developmental states remains developmental, they are in the long run oriented to growth with equity and mostly eschew systemic corrupt and self-serving behavior. Clearly, we are very far from achieving this assumption. Despite institutions like Anti-Corruption Commission, and others established to tackle corruption, their efforts have been fruitless.
Developmental elites are motivated and driven by growth and development of both the economy and the welfare of their citizens. These objectives take much of their time and efforts, rather than corrupt and self-serving activities.
Countries like Mauritius, appoints candidates in the National Assembly just to represent under represented ethnic groups and the voiceless, they also consult associations, unions and NGOs and civil society prior to the national budget to budget with the interest groups especially the poor rather than just budgeting for them, small details which our bureaucrats and politicians clearly neglects.
The Namibians government should also find a solution to our vulnerable market, which is being exploited by international and global players because of globalization for us to be developmentally oriented.
There is no point in denying that Namibia does have the potential to flourish in a developmental model. The lacking ingredient is government or rather political will of our leaders to implement a developmentally capable state or create an enabling environment for state driven development.
The other question is also whether our government is well equipped to embark on such a complex model, seeing as we already have failing and underperforming state owned enterprises, but as Mauritius, Botswana, Ghana and many other has demonstrated, the developmental model is applicable in our country and can willingly be applied successfully.
*Tobias Joseph is native of Okapya Village up north. He studies Master of Arts in Political Studies at the University of Namibia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.