Gobabis, the capital of the Omaheke region, appears to have simply hit the ceiling as far as economic development is concerned despite the completion of the Trans-Karahari Highway, a regional route constructed to expedite the transportation of cargo and passengers to Gauteng Province, the economic hub of neighbouring South Africa. Very little appears to have changed since independence. In certain instances, this once vibrant town seems to have taken several steps backwards instead of prospering. Before we can detail this economic stagnation, it is important to point out that Gobabis offers several investment opportunities for the establishment of a UHT milk factory, wildlife resorts, warehousing, haulage, taxidermy, hydroponics, poultry farming, meat processing, leather tooling and even light manufacturing for export to other African countries. Because of the Trans-Kalahari Highway, any business that does its homework would never go wrong because Gobabis has direct access to Botswana and South Africa, while Zimbabwe, Angola and even Zambia could be accessed via the major routes linked to this highway. Land appears not to be an issue because there is so much of it in the form of fully serviced, inexpensive industrial stands. And this town even has an incentive, in which entrepreneurs employing six or more permanent employees are exempted from all municipal rates and taxes on land for a period of up to 10 years from the date from which a pre-determined output is reached, while at the same time enjoying reduced electricity tariffs. But for various reasons, Gobabis has little to show since it was founded in 1895 and this state of affairs has manifested itself in a high unemployment rate while squatters are growing at an unprecedented level. This and the number of street children loitering around are the face of poverty, degradation, hardship and destitution at this strategically located eastern town. All these social ills are a direct consequence of a lot of factors, one of which is the poverty in the imagination of those investing in this or that venture that ended up closing shop. Noble as it may seem, the resettlement process appears to have impacted negatively on the town’s fortunes as it is believed to have deprived it of about N$7 million that came from the commercial farmers whose farms were procured to resettle hundreds of landless blacks. This figure may seem like a drop in the bucket, when compared on a national scale, but it is quite significant for an economy on the scale of this town. Gobabis also finds itself in this invidious position due to the fact there is seemingly no unity among blacks, Germans and Afrikaners as each racial group does things its own way. There is an adage, no man is an island, and also that many hands lessen the burdens of many a cumbersome task. On this score we appeal to all these Namibians to work together if they are to overcome the myriad of challenges that have seen several businesses, among them the toilet paper factory, and the Uri car assembly plant, closing down despite their feasibility. Though the Trans-Kalahari Highway has fallen short of being a catalyst for the town’s economic development, it is somehow a lifeline for the hospitality industry at Gobabis where the lodges and the bed-and-breakfasts are thriving. Though the highway is commendable, the only adverse factor is the inclusion of a bypass that deprives business in the town of potential clients, as truckers and others have to skirt around the town. One way to revive the economy is possibly to harvest the bush that has encroached many farms belonging to the municipality. Though this may not be the panacea for all the town’s economic ills, it could take many people off the streets. And this sort of undertaking is not capital intensive, unlike other ventures that rather cost an arm and a leg. Once chopped and processed into firewood and charcoal, this product could be exported to South Africa where we are told there is already a vast market for this resource. Planners should also not wait for the proverbial manna to fall from heaven, but should rather have long drafted a regional master plan targeting this largely underutilized highway.
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