Politics of Deeper Integration with South Africa (Part 2)


By Martin Mwinga Part 1 highlighted how South Africa with better economies of scale derives more benefits from economic integration as reflected in trade balances between the two countries, which is in South Africa’s favour. Part 2 of this piece looks at those things that Namibians have control over and can change to enable them to take advantage of opportunities presented by this deep integration with South Africa. The Mystery of Specialised Knowledge Knowledge is power, especially if put to good use. When people go through an education process, they acquire two kinds of knowledge. One is general and the other is specialised knowledge. General knowledge no matter how great in quantity is of little use in making a person productive and competitive. Most Namibians, blacks in particular, possess limited specialised knowledge, and the educational qualifications they possess only gives them general knowledge, which adds little value to the economy and leaves them less prepared to compete with their South African counterparts. Although the country has produced a high number of people with degrees since independence, whether they are educated is another matter. For many Namibians getting a degree or a diploma paper is more important than getting the substance of learning attached to a particular discipline. Knowledge has no value except that which can be gained from its application toward some worthy end. Accumulation of degrees, certificates add no value; they represent nothing but miscellaneous knowledge. Titles are more important to Namibians and as soon as they receive their MBAs, Masters and PhD degrees that is the end of their education, and the only thing they use their degrees for is to ask for salary increases without increasing their productivity. During my career in both the public and private sectors, I observed that Namibians on average seem to have a problem in applying or practising what they have learnt and lack the discipline to apply this knowledge. This could be attributed partly to less of career guidance, but rather a lack of focus, laziness and lack of discipline have a lot to do with this. Whenever one attends a funeral, it is very interesting to listen to the biographies of black Namibians that can read as follows: He or she was a highly educated and successful person who possessed two bachelor degrees, two Masters, an MBA and two PhDs. What the person achieved with all these degrees and diplomas is never mentioned. Success is now measured by the number of degrees accumulated, not how the person applied this knowledge for the betterment of others and his/her contribution to the economy. Namibians can learn a lot from Jews, a small nation that has discovered a working formula to remain competitive in the global world. Jews came with nothing to the USA and Europe, but they realised that the secret to remain competitive and accumulating wealth is by developing specialised knowledge and becoming experts in every field that can give them a competitive advantage. Through their brainpower and specialised knowledge, Jews have managed to penetrate the world economy. Although they account for 3% of the USA population, Jews own and control more than 25% of the US economy and continue to dominate all sectors of the world economy, be it finance, science, industry and commerce. There is no doubt that integration offers great opportunities, but the battle for deriving the benefits from integration is a battle that needs the greatest amount of preparation and the possession of enough specialised knowledge and the discipline to apply this knowledge to ensure victory. Comparative Advantage: Namibia can successfully penetrate the South African economy if economic policy-makers in government sit down and identify opportunities in which Namibia possesses economic comparative advantage. The failure of economic planners in government institutions is that they have developed the same line of thinking similar to politicians. Politicians have visions and sell that vision to the nation, and they employ economic and other policy technocrats to translate their visions into tangible and specific projects that can add value to the economy and create wealth for the nation. While politicians will dream of manufacturing planes, cars, computers, it is the duty of economic technicians, especially those in government, to advise politicians that before we build a plane we need to develop expertise in manufacturing a simple part that make up a plane, be it a seat cover or a tyre. Take for example the production of a Boeing aeroplane. One country (USA) assembles the aeroplane, 53 countries supply spare parts in which they have a comparative advantage. Japan, despite being the second largest economy in the world, does not manufacture passenger aeroplanes, but specialises in the supply of parts to assemble the wings of a Boeing aeroplane. China specialises in manufacturing the engine and some body parts, South Korea specialises in manufacturing Boeing tail parts, and Namibia could one day supply seat covers to Boeing if the right strategy is put in place. The manufacturing of spare parts is a billion dollar industry and the USA has completely lost the competitive advantage in manufacturing spare parts and now only concentrates on assembling aeroplanes. When politicians dream about manufacturing cars, it is the duty of economic policy-makers to pinpoint to the politicians the areas in which Namibia might have a comparative advantage. For example it might be cheaper for Namibia to invest in the production of car seats, tyres and not the manufacturing or assembling of cars, planes, computers. Namibia only accounts for less than 5% of the South African economy with great opportunities to gain access and penetrate South African markets if only Namibia gets the basics right. With the benefit of hindsight and the bitter lessons of the last 15 years with its lost opportunities, Namibia has to make a definitive and fundamental choice about its future destiny. This is to choose between remaining an economic slave of South Africa or relaunching an economic development strategy that will enable Namibia to reap the maximum benefits from the existing economic links with South Africa. There has to be a new vision, a sense of purpose and determination to transform the Namibian economy by capitalising on the deep integration between the countries. The road to realise benefits from integration with South Africa will require the development of specialised skills, taking advantage of our comparative advantage. The aim of attracting foreign direct investment into Namibia is partly to attract and transfer skills and technology into the country. However, the behaviour and practices of South African companies using old colonial tactics to continue with the exclusion policy that applied during the colonial era should be stopped as a matter of urgency. This can be achieved through pressure exerted by Namibian clients doing business with these companies. Unions and parliament also have a role to play in ensuring that these practices are not tolerated and be done away with once and for all. I hope that one day a commission of inquiry into the operations and practices of these South African companies that deny Namibians to fully participate in the running of these companies and the economy will be undertaken to help come up with solutions and put an end to the marginalisation of Namibians and liberate the Namibian economy from this economic slavery. – Martin Mwinga works for RMB Asset Management, but writes in his personal capacity.

Previous articleRutandu Kuna Kutjilisa
Next articleHaingura the Winner