On 5 March 2019 members of Workers Unions, contractors, construction workers and activists took to the streets to demand that Government must desist from giving construction tenders to foreign companies. Frustrated members of the Metal and Allied Namibia Workers Union (NUNWU), angry representatives of the National Union of Workers (NUNW), loathing activists of Affirmative Repositioning ( AR) and disgruntled unemployed construction workers as well as some local contractors gathered at Dr Antonio Agostihno Neto Squire in Windhoek and accused the Government of “…messing up their future and that of the future generations”.
The demonstrators refused to listen to the statement of Deputy Minister of Works and Transport, James Sankwasa.
The message of demonstrators was plain and clear: economic nationalism. Economic nationalism is a form of Trumpism- America First.
This message is an expression of desperation about the state of our economy. Many construction workers lost their jobs during the last three years. Foreign construction companies are the obvious target under these tough economic conditions.
In particular, Chinese companies are loathed by unemployed construction workers and local contractors. The perception is that foreign contactors especially those of Chinese origin are being favoured by Government.
The demonstrators seem not to have done their homework properly.
The issue is not really the foreign contractors. The central problem is that of Government priorities under the current economic down turn. With exception of Walvis Bay to Kranzberg Railway Line rehabilitation and the modernisation of Hosea Kutako International Airport, all other road construction projects could wait until the economy improves. The Walvis Bay to Kranzberg Railway Line is of vital economic importance in view of the extended Walvis Bay Harbour.
For the harbour to carry additional volume of cargo, the railway line is of vital importance. Currently cargo from and to Zambia is carried by trucks all the way to Walvis Bay or to Zambia.
If the railway was in good condition a dry port could be constructed at Grootfontein. Trucks from Zambia could off load their cargo at Grootfontein railway head.
This could save on road repair and maintenance.
Hosea Kutako International Airport is the entry point for air passengers. Its rehabilitation is overdue. This is a vital economic asset especially for the tourism sector. Safety of passengers is another consideration.
However, both the rehabilitation of the railway line and the modernisation of Hosea Kutako International Airport require special expertise which local contractors may not have. Companies to do such a job should also have financial means to be in a possession to provide bank guarantees.
If money earmarked for non-priority road projects could be rechannelled into things like the rehabilitation of hospitals, schools and other Government buildings, local contractors shall benefit greatly.
This is what the unemployed construction workers and unions should fight for. Namibia as a small open economy cannot afford to be engaged into economic nationalism.
Trump can afford that because the United States of America controls the world economy through the American dollar which is used as a means of international payment system.
Though their demonstration was ill informed the message they sent out is clear: unemployment, poverty and inequality are rising. Government cannot continue with its ostrich style strategy.
Government should be seen to be engaged with business, labour and civil society to find ways and means of addressing the current economic recession. Economic recession was not caused by one person or one event.
To address it the whole nation should be involved in finding answers as how to stimulate the economy. One way of doing so is to re-prioritise the National Budget. Fanciful and vanity projects such as dual carriage way to Hosea Kutako International Airport can wait for good days. Such big project being carried out at the same time are likely to increase national debt to unsustainable levels.
Available resources should be used to stimulate demand. Such resources should target employment creation ventures in order to put money in the pockets of workers.
The workers shall use their buying power to stimulate the economy. This is where the Government needs to be engaged with those who are controlling the commanding heights of the economy.
The youth wing of the Governing Party is equally concerned about the levels of unemployment. SPYL knows the plight of its members. The youth are the most affected by unemployment, high housing rents and similar economic challenges.
Their voice should be taken seriously. Graduate unemployment is reaching a crisis point. Suh a situation cannot be ignored any more. It requires policy response such as working with employers to expand their experiential attachment training programmes.
Policy responses require resources for their implementation. Resources are scare, however, the little that the country has can be re-prioritised. This is where political leadership is needed.
As Namibia transitions from youth into adulthood, the current atmosphere of loathing, frustration and anger should be turned into hope in the future, positive thinking and creative energy. Our future is in our hands. By working as a team we shall create a better future for all.