One Doesn’t Have to be Over-Rich to Be a Productive Citizen

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The article written by the notable local economic analyst, Martin Mwinga, titled Shift in the Economic Power to Blacks (Parts 1 & 2) published in the New Era newspaper of 10 and 17 November 2006, pg 8, is an unfortunate opinion piece especially in a time when Namibia is on a fast track in building a strong and united nation by reconciling erstwhile political and tribal foes. The writer claims that the aim of the article is to “identify which tribal groupings are actively contributing to the growth of the national economy through their efforts to generate wealth”, and “which tribal groupings are economic passengers and consumers of wealth”. The article further reads: “At some point in time, the differences in the economic power of each tribe will lead to economic, political and tribal rifts that will heighten tribal tensions that could end in political crises and lead to the collapse of the very economic foundation we are trying to build”. There seems to be an inherent problem both with the purported aim of the article and the assumption being made that increase in the economic imbalance between the different tribal groups will lead to crises and bring the country’s economy down. The writer needs to take cognizance of the fact that it is the black elite, and not necessarily a tribal grouping, that has become richer after independence than the ordinary Namibians. Thus, there is a substantial number of people even within the dominant tribal group who feel the economic alienation and whose sentiments can never be underestimated. Thus, looking at economic imbalance among the blacks only from a tribal perspective is wrong! Further, the motive for assessing Namibia’s economic development from the point of view of contributions from the different tribal groups raises more questions than answers. Why should it be significant that Damaras, Hereros and Oshiwambos own this and that business, and are therefore contributing meaningfully to the country’s economy? In fact, to conclude, for example, that “Damara/Namas do not dominate any segment of the Namibian economy, and are therefore not a very productive tribe” is not only an affront to the integrity of these people, but it has a racial undertone. Why should it be important who, from amongst Namibia’s racial or tribal groups, dominate ownership of, for example, cuca shops, bottle stores, supermarkets, clubs, factories, etc.? It must be stressed here that one does not need to own Shopprite, Pick ‘n Pay or Game to qualify to be a productive citizen. It is a fact that the Oshiwambo people are known to be business-minded, which is a good attribute for wealth accumulation in a free-market system. However, the apparent absence of this in the other tribal groups does not necessarily make them “evil” or “bad” so as to be associated with less complimentary attributes such as “economic passengers and consumers of wealth”. Labelling people this way is divisive and has a tribalistic connotation. Each and every individual is meant to contribute to the development to the national economy, no matter how big or small! Therefore, it should not matter what tribe owns what, and this should not be the basis of determining their contribution to the national economy. We are all Namibians, and the businesses that are there, are for the benefit of all! One interesting observation that can be made from the article is the writer’s seeming ignorance on the distinction between Damaras and Namas as people belonging to two different tribal groups as he grouped the two together as “Damara/Nama”! It is thus perplexing how a commentator of his standing cannot know that Damaras and Namas are two distinctive tribal groups who share a common language, which usually is referred to as the Damara/Nama language. The article has not said anything about the Nama people as a tribal group and how they live in their regions, other than mentioning the “Nama” name under the “Damara/Nama” category. This shows evidence of lack of knowledge about, or extensive contact with the different tribal groups on the part of the writer. For example, statements like “Ovambos were perceived to be backwards in terms of education and poor with natural resources at independence” (whatever this is supposed to mean!) are totally misplaced and not true. On the contrary, there were already many prominent business personalities among the Oshiwambo people before independence, such as Dr Frans Oupa Indongo and Punyu. Even in terms of education, the Oshiwambo people had more medical doctors and qualified nurses on average compared to the other black groups in the country before independence. It is thus very unfortunate that the writer is falling victim to the very racial prejudices spread by the former apartheid government to keep the blacks divided, and thus prolong their subjugation by confirming these prejudices in the article. Esau Nowaseb Windhoek