Namibia ‘Ticking Time Bomb’?


By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK A leading researcher says Namibia’ social transformation 15 years after Independence has been business as usual. The country policy direction has not been indicative of either redistribution of wealth or tackling poverty by means of social protection. Dr Henning Melber, Research Director at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, says in his paper “Namibia’s post colonial socio economic transformation: Business as usual?” that although praised as being politically stable, Namibia owes a lot to the patience of its citizens. His paper addresses not only Namibia’s poverty profile but also the way it has planned for development, the donor assistance it receives, the country’s quest for a least Developed Country (LDC) classification and its transformation since independence. Namibians, just like citizens of neighbours Zimbabwe and South Africa, says Melber, have been extremely patient and “if they wouldn’t, the reality would be different”. Although known for its stability if compared to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, he says, the way things are going points to a ticking time bomb. He told scores of people who attended his presentation last week that since independence, the situation of poverty in which many Namibians live has not changed. The country is ranked as having the highest social divide and extremely unequal wealth distribution in the world. At 0.701, Namibia is said to have the highest Gini-coefficient than all countries and an extremely unequal distribution of wealth. Although the liberation struggle was also about creating conditions or a better life after apartheid in terms of political and human rights and also decent living for those who were excluded from the benefits of created wealth, little has changed to suggest that the poverty situation has improved because many still live in destitution. Melber said the government’s responsibility for its electorate would have been reflected in concerted attempts to transform the socio-economic environment with the aim of combining the further exploitation of the country’s natural resource base with redistributive interventions in the interest of the majority population. But, he noted, the past 15 budgets have not indicated that public spending was becoming more equitable and more focused on the poor. “Even worse, there are reasons for a strong suspicion that public spending is increasingly being channelled to more privileged groups of society employed in activities that bring little in the way of return through higher income growth, such as defence, paramilitary security, intelligence and poorly performing parastatals,” he said. Since after independence, Melber says, inequalities that were inherited are still persistent despite major efforts to eradicate them, especially in the distribution of access, learning outcomes and resource inputs. Another thing that has remained mainly unsolved over the years, notes Melber, is the unemployment situation. According to statistics, over 30 percent of Namibia’s population is unemployed, which directly contributes to poverty. According to statistics of 2001, the wealthiest one-fifth of the population controls an income share of 78 percent, while the poorest fifth lives on 1.4 percent. The main source of income of close to 350 000 people, statistics of 2001 indicate, comprised of five people per household with 45 percent being female headed. This reflected the continued non-industrial character of the economy. While 42 percent lived from wages and salaries, 28 percent from farming related activities, and 11 from pensions, nine percent lived from farming businesses and six percent from cash remittances of relatives. Judging from data, the researcher said, “little has actually changed in terms of the general distribution of wealth and poverty among the country’s population, of which too many people live in destitution”. The ongoing exclusion of the poor and marginalised from the benefits of the country’s wealth and resources is not just a result of apartheid, says he, but portrays the visible results of the state’s policy direction which is not indicative of a political will to serve the poor. “It is not about redistributing of (relative) wealth, nor tackling chronic poverty by means of social protection but it’s about self enrichment, capitalism and class. In other words, it’s business as usual,” adds he.