When President Hage Geingob takes his begging bowl to the international community, his usual refrain is that Namibia is being treated unfairly for being classified by the World Bank as an upper middle -income country. This classification is based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita income of US$5,828.
President Geingob reckons that this measure does not portray the true social and economic reality in Namibia.
The Gini coefficient of 59.7 makes Namibia as one of the top countries of high- income inequality. Poverty in Namibia is high. It is estimated that 34.9% of the population live on US$1 per day and about 55.8% live on US$2 per day.
Unemployment among the youth was 45.53 % in 2017. In 2017 GDP declined by- o.8%.
Clearly these figures support President Geingob’s concerns.
Namibia is not able to access concessional loans because it is thought to be a rich country. The GDP figures do not take into consideration that 75% of wealth in Namibia is owned by 10 % of the population.
Namibia loses some of its GDP through expatriation of dividends and through financial leakages such as illicit financial transfers by multinational companies through schemes such as transfer pricing and other sophisticated financial manipulations.
The World Bank and other lending institutions would shrug these realities aside and blame the Namibian leadership of not putting in place policies to deal with social and economic inequality, poverty, unemployment and financial controls.
These institutions know quite well that Namibia has limited options in these matters. Global economic arrangement does not give Namibia much policy space in these matters.
For example, the need for foreign direct investment has necessitated that Namibia has to put in place favourable terms in order to attract foreign direct investment.
President Geingob has been vindicated by a recent book of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD), titled, “ Beyond GDP: Measuring What Counts for Economic and Social Performance”.
The book was authored by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Jean-Paul Fitoussi and Martine Durand.
These are respected economists. They argue that GDP does not measure what makes life worth-while. GDP is a measure of volume of goods and services produced within a country over a given period of time.
GDP cannot tell us everything we need to know about the health of countries and societies.
The authors of “Beyond GDP” assert that GDP was not designed for this task. They emphasised: “… we need to move beyond GDP when assessing a country’s health, and compliment GDP with a broader dashboard of indicators that would reflect the distribution of well-being and its sustainability across its social, economic and environmental dimensions”.
They argue that there is a need for a broader range of statistics that capture diverse situations of different groups of the population, that is the individuals and households. Such measures should capture the reality on the ground.
The fact on the ground reflect the people’s concerns, for example, the quality of jobs the people have; the housing condition; the future opportunities for their children; environmental sustainability; measures of household incomes; longevity and morbidity.
Such metrices should draw the attention of policy makers to those things that make a difference in the people’s lives.
Now President Geingob and his advisors have a strong tool to make the point that lending institutions should look beyond GDP. These lending institutions and the development partners should look at the plight of the people in Namibia.
They should discover the destitute San communities of Omundaungilo in Ohangwena Region; the San community of Omboto area in eastern Oshikoto Region; The San community of Amarika area in Omusati Region; the peri -urban inhabitants of Kilimandjaro and Havana informal settlements in Windhoek; the inhabitants of Dordabes settlement, Kalkrand and other depressed and dying small town.
The lenders should look at the real condition of the people not just at national accounts which the GDP represent.
The President Geingob’s advisors and planners develop a broader- dashboard of indicators for Namibia depicting the socio-economic reality of the people which goes beyond the national accounts. Such indicators should also indicate how government intends to address these challenges and at what cost.
In other word, government has now an opportunity to design a Well-being Framework for Namibia and sell it to development partners and lending institutions.
The fact that “Beyond GDP: Measuring What Counts for Economic and Social Performance” was published by OECD, an organisation of countries with powerful economies, gives hope that multi-lateral institutions will pay attention to its contents and arguments.
One hopes that the World Bank shall rethink its orthodoxy of GDP and adopt a more dynamic measure of well-being in favour of the people.
“Beyond GDP” is a must read for policy makers and planners in government.
It opens up new path-ways ways of thinking about economic and social performance of countries. It gives decision makers a broader picture of the condition of citizens.