There is a saying in Otjiherero which says: “ouzeu kausana”, which loosely translated means “if you think you are worse off there is someone else who is more worse off”. Living mostly in the central and eastern regions of the country and having visited other regions such as Oshikoto, Omusati, Otjozondjupa, Oshana and Erongo, one at times tends to think that people in these regions live under difficult circumstances.
But that was until I recently visited the Okavango Region and spent five days in settlements around the town of Rundu. Except for a few buildings that are under construction in the central part of Rundu, there is almost nothing happening and the place looks like Oshakati 18 years ago.
Despite the fact that the town enjoys a huge population like the other north-central towns, in terms of development the town of Rundu compared to Oshakati, Ondangwa or Ongwendiva is miles apart.
Most painful are the living conditions of the people in the small settlements around Rundu. The people in these small villages are mostly subsistence farmers who produce only enough to feed themselves when they receive good rains and hardly produce extra food to sell.
At some homesteads, the most valuable assets are a few cows and a radio set. Many families have no source of income and the only way a family has cash in the house is when they have a family member who works in Rundu or other towns and send a bit of money home. Most families survive on the Government pension grant, if they are lucky to have a pensioner at home.
Simply put, many families are not connected to the national economy and there is no cash flowing in and out of the family. There is also no skills transfer and thus most of the families will remain subsistence farmers for many years to come.
Strangely, the answer partly lies in the fact that many people living in central and northern areas of the country made early contact with the colonisers and worked at farms, mines and were employed as domestic servants.
Although the working conditions were terrible, these people one way or the other had a small income and learned valuable skills from the colonial masters, which until today became productive to them. The little income they earned enabled them to send their children to school and acquire assets.
Many people from the Okavango Region made contact with the colonisers later and thus missed out on the small wages and the skills transfer.
Maybe the Government-envisaged green scheme and aquaculture projects could prove to be the catalyst to improve the living standards of the people in this region. It could turn the subsistence farmer into a commercial farmer who will be able to sell produce and be connected to the national economy.