By Metusalem Nakale
As we enter 2008, it is important for us to ask ourselves whether or not we are doing what we are supposed to be doing to get to Vision 2030.
In fact, we must pause from time to time on our long and challenging journey to reflect on the ground we have covered so far and the stretch ahead.
Obviously, some citizens would argue that we need not panic because we are on course. Yes, no one would dispute that.
It is true some plans are in place and the government is busy, as are its agents and other stakeholders, to steer us toward our destination.
Nevertheless, based on my observations, I am compelled to ask if we are tackling the key problems to ensure the transformation of our economy by the year we have set ourselves, as time is fast running out.
Such a question is critical at this juncture before time, energy and other resources are squandered on things that have a minimal impact on the attainment of Vision 2030.
You can call me a doubting Thomas, if you like, but I think there are several critical issues we are neglecting. It is some of these issues I intend to bring to the nation’s attention so that we can start pondering them with the view to acting on them.
First, we must accept that the realization of Vision 2030 will represent change. In other words, we are envisaging a changed economy in which our people the majority of whom have known nothing but abject poverty will, hopefully, have better living standards. Accepting this simple fact is important because it will help us to embrace change and suggest what needs to be done.
Ironically, we seem to fear the very thing we desire – change. We want to achieve the Vision, but we are not prepared to set the change process in motion to facilitate its attainment.
We seem to feel more comfortable designing plans and talking about them.
But the implementation of those plans seems to be our Achilles Heel, something that has been observed even by outsiders.
I remember one British consultant who attended a local conference saying, in a private conversation, that: “Namibia has some of the best plans and policies in the world. The only problem is the implementation.”
Anyway, for positive changes to occur we must reconfigure some of our existing structures, improve our processes and cultivate a culture conducive to the desired state. This will not happen by a magic touch.
We must act and decisions must be made some of which might prove hard and bitter; there is no short cut. Someone must stand up and lead the change crusade, just like we did during the liberation struggle.
It is going to be tough and even painful, but it is a process we cannot escape, if we want to make Vision 2030 a reality. By the way, I must point out that this is the acid test for our new generation of leaders.
The present superficial and piece-meal changes will not suffice. What is needed are deep-reaching, revolutionary changes. Regardless of how scary it sounds, it is the truth. But are we truly prepared to take the bull by the horns? And do we have a clear view of what needs to be done to navigate our way through the current chaos?
If we agree that we need to change, let me now look at some of the things that need changing. There are many, but I will only focus on the ones that I think are less talked about, but which are equally critical.
To start with, in my view, our reward system is not supportive of our national goals, especially Vision 2030.
One good example is that in this country we do not reward true hard work and we pay some citizens for doing nothing. For instance, some citizens on the government payroll give virtually nothing to the government in return in terms of their labour. They are paid just for occupying government offices without producing. They only wait for their monthly cheques!
Secondly, you have people, in our organizations and government departments, who do not add value to our economy. Many of these people are square pegs in round holes for whom work is for ‘omboloto’, something they do to enable them to put bread on their families’ tables regardless of their contributions.
These folks have become a financial burden, or to use an accounting terminology they have become never-ending liabilities to the government, although the latter turns a blind eye to this fact.
In fact, these are the very people compounding the problems of poverty because no additional value is created. As a result, unemployment is spiralling out of control as no job opportunities are generated to absorb new labour and hence low economic growth in general that is not in a position to address the country’s socio-economic problems.
This unfortunate situation is likely to continue and deteriorate, if unabated, and can lead to social upheavals in the not-too-distant future. This is our own time-bomb waiting to explode!
In multinational companies, if you do not produce the desired results, you are given your marching orders.
In Namibia, on the other hand, you can run an organization down and get a Golden handshake should you decide to quit, or you can fail to deliver and yet continue to get your monthly salary!
Does this not go against what the psychology of motivation tells us about how to get the best out of people?
Thirdly, at present we seem to be sending out contradictory messages. As a case in point, we pontificate about productivity and hard work, while we do not truly recognise hard work nor do we reward output.
In other words, our words and our actions are moving in opposite directions.
Moreover, we say we want to transform our economy into an innovative knowledge-economy, yet we do not reward those who possess or generate knowledge more or those who have innovative ideas or people with solutions to the myriad problems facing our country.
This leads to one conclusion: perhaps we do not truly value these main drivers of modern economies. I think we need to deal with all the above contradictions that exist in our society first, as they will act as a break.
Furthermore, we must place more value on knowledge as the main driver of the emergent economy and coax those who manufacture or possess it into sharing it with those who need it. Currently, we seem to have misplaced our values!
It would be an oversight on my part not to mention education. Having more qualified teachers as envisaged by the ETSIP Programme, though necessary, is not sufficient.
Among other things, we need to address the issue of the quality of the kind of knowledge emanating from our classrooms, which is not up to scratch: it falls short of what the country needs to compete in the 21st Century.
Such bland regurgitated knowledge is the reason we have hordes of unemployed youth roaming our streets, an army that is growing by the year.
In my book, this is because our system still clings to imparting more ancient, codified and de-contextualised knowledge found in textbooks, which has been shown to be different from the knowledge embedded in humans that comes from doing and that is required to solve problems in today’s workplace and economy.
Moreover, instead of concentrating more on passing on facts to students, we must shift our emphasis to equipping our students with the skills that will enable them to creatively manipulate knowledge and apply it to produce new products and services.
This means we need to bring more elements of today’s workplace into our classrooms and expose our students more to real-life creative problem-solving.
In addition, the way knowledge is created and shared in some of our classrooms is constrained by power relations and limited by teacher-dominated classroom discourse that takes place in many of our classrooms.
This one will require the restructuring of power relations. It will need, inter alia, more democratic classrooms to facilitate the generation of knowledge and foster critical, unlimited, creative thinking.
But are our education chiefs prepared to undertake a more far-reaching overhaul of the system than is currently proposed by the ETSIP Programme?
Finally, some citizens say that we do not have the necessary resources. I do not concur. My contention is that Namibia like Japan, Germany, Sweden and China has all the resources she needs to bring about the desired changes. We are blessed with abundant natural resources.
What is more, our country has a diverse population which is a blessing per se: there is a lot of knowledge embedded in our people, which if creatively managed, shared and exploited can catapult this country into hitherto unseen riches.
If we are saying our people do not have the necessary skills or knowledge, have we ever stopped for a moment to ask ourselves how this country got where it is today?
What I see as the major challenge is how to effectively and creatively mobilise those resources in order to produce results, without letting greed and selfishness get the better of us.
To sum up, we must acknowledge that we need to change and start doing what needs to be done. But we must be brave enough to face an uncertain future and chart new territories where we have not been before.
Vision 2030 will require visionary, decisive and values congruent with our goal and leadership with the determination to move the country forward.
The latter can only be achieved, if we bring all our people’s brain power to bear on the problems we are faced with by adopting a more aggressive and inclusive approach or we can continue with our exclusive talk shops and become the world’s laughing stock by 2030.
– Metusalem Nakale is a lecturer at the Northern Campus of the University of Namibia.