A different approach to fixing Namibia’s structural inequalities is needed
By Karl Lichtenberg
Namibia-based consultant and Scholar
To H.E. Dr. Hage G. Geingob, President of Namibia
I want to thank H.E President for officially opening the cabinet workshop on the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF), to further the mutual understanding to create an effective and implementable economic empowerment framework.
I am privileged to have been born in a free and independent Namibia in 1993. Through hard work my parents gave me the privilege of attending an elite Namibian school and study economics at a respected university. Being in this position of great privilege, I feel it is my duty to address the structural impediments many Namibians still face today.
As the President has rightly pointed out, persisting inequalities in Namibia threaten our social cohesion, political inclusion and peace. It also is important to recognise that the situation in Namibia has improved significantly, when looking at the overall poverty rate and the Gini-Coefficient, thanks to Government interventions. The Namibian Government deserves credit here, it has transformed Namibia to be a leading example on the African continent in many regards.
I agree with the President, that Government needs to cater to the most vulnerable citizens. I also agree that it is not possible to build a prosperous nation around this model. I agree that we need to deal with structural inequality, income disparities and lack of participation of the black majority in the economy. I also am of the opinion that the status quo cannot and should not be continued.
What I would respectfully disagree on with the President is, how we can solve these issues and make the Namibian system also work for the black majority. I think Namibians have a right to be sceptical whether the introduction of NEEEF will really make the Namibian system work for even those most disenfranchised.
As the President rightly pointed out, Government has introduced various empowerment initiatives, like the land resettlement scheme, affirmative action loans and the granting of fishing quotas. These empowerment initiatives however did and continue to rather empower certain well-connected individuals, instead of communities and groups.
Why is this? Looking at the goals of these policies and comparing them to today’s actual state, we are able to say that we need to improve our targeting of those still left disenfranchised. Not to say that these initiatives did not have the right goal, we just need to optimize the way we try to achieve these goals.
This clearly justifies being critical of NEEEF and we need to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated, should it be implemented. Should NEEEF not clearly only benefit those still disenfranchised and still suffering?
I support the idea of elected employee representatives being represented in management and weighing in on management decisions. This in many countries has proven to be of great benefit, not only for employees but also to the sustainable development of those businesses.
The trouble with the Namibian economy however is, that employees have a weak bargaining position, as unemployment remains high. There is a significant risk, that if the Namibian government decides to force management representation in some way or another, companies will just take their business elsewhere.
In my mind NEEEF in its current form is trying to saddle up the horse from behind. To strengthen the bargaining position of employees we need to reduce unemployment. In general, to reduce inequality we need to increase quality employment in Namibia. Even if we implement NEEEF and businesses do not leave, we still will not be able to help the course of those Namibians truly disenfranchised, there simply are not enough quality positions to fulfil this albeit noble goal.
As HE the President rightly pointed out, the private sector in Namibia has for too long been complacent with the status quo and done too little to push government for important reforms. They clearly need to do more. HE the President is right in finding it shocking that when asked what their solutions to addressing the land question and the issue of income inequality are, he is often met with deafening silence. I wish to make some propositions that in my mind could be solutions to these problems.
1. Land Question:
Government resettlement policy as such is not a bad idea. However, government should not only lease land to those people resettling on it. Rather it should give these people formal ownership of the land they are resettled on. This would bring security to these people, give them wealth and enable them to take up loans to further improve the land they work and own.
It also in necessary that we realise and acknowledge that simply by distributing land we will not be able to achieve broad economic income and wealth for all Namibians. Rural land, especially in arid Namibia, is too unproductive to achieve this goal.
2. Income Inequality:
a.) Companies and Government should be transparent to their employees when it comes to salaries. Employees should have the ability to compare what colleagues in a similar position and with similar responsibilities earn. Everybody should earn the same for the same work done. Names of the employees would not need to appear, only skin colour for each individual position indicated, to make sure that income is not linked to skin colour.
b.) For income equality it is necessary that we raise the quality of education to an acceptable level across the country.
3. An economy that works for the disenfranchised:
a.) Government since independence has failed to move the so-called “red line” veterinary cordon fence to our border with Angola. This means it has essentially been keeping an apartheid legacy, prohibiting a large part of Namibia’s northern population from gaining full access to the central Namibian market and as a result also international markets. If Government would move the “red line” to the Angola border and make Namibia’s market accessible to all, this would greatly benefit the Namibians living north of the red line and would greatly increase their income! It would open up large parts of our economy for many Namibians that so far have been denied access.
b.)It should be mandatory for all raw materials that are extracted or farmed in Namibia to also be processed here. That would create jobs for many Namibians that to this day struggle to find regular employment in the formal sector.
c.) Government should put all taxes it collects from the extraction of minerals into a central fund. This fund should be solely dedicated to improving healthcare, education and economic opportunities of the poorest 30 percent of Namibians.
To make Namibia’s economy and society work for all Namibians we first and foremost need to open it up to all Namibians. All Namibians have a right to quality long-term employment and we should take action to ensure they are able to claim this right! These are my suggestions to improving the lives of those Namibians that are still left disenfranchised and excluded.