100-Dollar Wake-Up Call

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro The dust may by now have settled since Bishop Zephania Kameeta’s bid to afford each of us N$100 a month towards putting bread and butter on our tables. Be that as it may, still Government cannot afford to rest on its laurels now that the matter has been struck off the list as the issue that motivated it in the first place is still very much with us. Poverty. The proposal was neither inherently nor in principle bad. I believe that with it, Bishop Kameeta et al intended to keep on the agenda the abject poverty and squalor a disturbingly big chunk of our population finds itself in every corner of our 13 regions with few exceptions. This is not to say that Government is not aware and has been doing nothing about poverty. Its efforts in this regard are as myriad and commendable as is the intensity of the nature of the problem. You may be familiar with the term “poverty alleviation” which has lately been re-termed “poverty reduction”. This term has been the hallmark of the Government’s efforts against poverty. Recently the National Planning Commission released poverty profiles of the Caprivi and Omaheke regions. Profiles on other regions are to follow. The ultimate objective with these profiles is to make informed interventions. Also the news that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is seized with the issue of poverty and efforts are ongoing to harmonise the sub-region’s social welfare bids is gratifying. Still poverty is knocking on our doors every minute of the day and does not seem to be taking leave of us for the foreseeable future. It is a time bomb that our societies cannot ignore for long or cannot drag their feet on. Thus, conscientious and concerted efforts by all in this regard are urgent. That is why Bishop Kameeta and others should be complimented for pausing a minute to cast their thoughts on the matter. Not all of us have time to pause a while to think about the conditions in which many “previously underprivileged” of our people find themselves. Let alone our neighbours. We are too busy milking the system, even out of its last drop, forgetting that each and every one of us has a stake in it both in terms of contributing to its prosperity, as well as reaping from the benefits so accrued from each according to his ability and to each according to need. Namibia officially declares a household poor if it devotes over 60 percent of its expenditure on food. By this definition, 38 percent of Namibian households were found to be “relatively poor” and nine percent “extremely poor” by the 1994 National Household and Income Expenditure Survey. Strides may have been made since 1994 to reduce poverty but this should be measured against the rate at which the Namibian population has grown in this period. The Namibian population is said to be growing at the rate of 3.1 percent, according to figures recorded in 1980. The economy from 1990 to 1994 grew at an average rate of 4.4 percent, which was an improvement on the growth rate of 1.1 percent the previous decade. Cursorily, this shows that poverty in the country is a constant companion and the economy is struggling to keep pace. It is in this context that the Kameeta proposal should be viewed, albeit that it was another bid on the economic pie. However, with a prudent and judicious use of our finite wealth, finite as I differ with those harping that Namibia is a land of plenty, we may satisfy the needs of our needy people. Namibia does not only experience poverty but a substantial section of its populace is reeling in poverty. Thus, it is an act of statesman- and womanhood itself that our statesmen and women, used in a broader context, and not only meaning those in government or lawmaking, are constantly reminded how the other half they seem to be representing only in word but not in deed, live. The Kameeta proposal, however, had a tiny folly. It was trying to be everything to everybody. Hence its early abortion. Nevertheless, the debate should continue. More than anything, Bishop Kameeta’s proposal was an appropriate wake-up call to the Government of the day, and the society at large, that out there many a wretched of the society are drowning in misery and suffocating in their agonies. Not that they are hopeless cases. With the necessary focus, avoiding spreading the country’s resources and wealth thinly and thereby rendering them inefficient in the process, the country may be onto something that she one day could proudly bequeath its future generations, both in terms of governance and in a welfare sense. All that is needed is political willpower, civil awareness, a culture of care and determination. We must abstain from the rampant wasteful use of our country’s resources in a manner that short-changes those in dire need of them. Part of this waste is manifested by a bloated sense of “deserving” gripping especially those in the upper echelons of the State machinery be it in the civil service, politics and lawmaking. More often than not, the people, the operators of the State machinery are supposed to serve, end on the sharper end of the competition for scarce resources with the operators taking care of themselves first and foremost. Needy people like those receiving old age allowance come second or third best with perks for those in high offices like car schemes, palatial housing schemes and what-have-you enjoying priority. One is aware that a socialist ethos does not take easily to Namibia, if not completely out of the window altogether. Still one is often inundated with phrases like “free that” and “free this”, “equal access to this or that” shunned out from populist political rostrums without much meaning. Such phrases also adorn many an official policy without finding any practical meaning. The list is endless. Most of the times, understandably given the parasitic system of greed and survival of the fittest we have opted for, such phrases are devoid of content and are mere hollow phrases. That is why inputs of the likes of Kameeta and others in the society are a necessary reminder of the arduous responsibility facing society in terms of poverty reduction. It may be a pointer to a ticking bomb that may be too late to detonate. Rather than conveniently burying concerns raised we must constantly engage them and add value to them if need be. Those coming forward with them do not do it out of self-interest but to genuinely contribute towards seeking a solution to a common problem. Now that the Government’s attention has been drawn to the plight of many, it is incumbent on it to take it a step further and revisit and re-polish it. Poverty is with us and we cannot wish it away. Populist phrases such as equality are just what they are, cast in ambiguity and ideological bankruptcy. As long as that is the case our country shall remain poverty-friendly, and grand designs such as NDP-what and vision so-and-so plans without content and with visionless visions will remain.

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