Tale of Lonely Lüderitz Town

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By Fluksman Samuehl If there is any town in Namibia that has survived tough economic times, turbulence and upheaval since its discovery, LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritzbucht probably presents a classic example. The town has experienced harsh economic times in its existence. To understand these dynamics and complexities, one should unravel historical issues that have shaped the town. On top of this, there are issues that have generated a lot of interest if one looks at the post-independence LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz economy and its future prospects. In itself, the awkward position of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz raises a number of developmental questions. At the end of the long road and in a lonely position, LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz is being rediscovered. Paradoxically, this town is well known for its extraordinary long tradition of generosity and hospitality. But this is a town which was originally founded as trading post and fishing village due to its excellent natural harbour. When I arrived in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz way back in 1991, I had no idea what the future held for me. The town was deeply in poor shape following many years of neglect by previous regimes. I have always felt that LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz was a tired town waiting for its opportunity to arrive. LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz portrayed the images of a lost and forgotten town. All indications showed that the road towards economic prosperity would be bumpy and uncertain. It was a town deeply insecure of its position. The challenges we collectively faced as inhabitants were enormous, considering the ageing infrastructure, years of neglect, serious lack of competent and professionals in key areas of administration. The early 1990s, the town of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz mimicked the images of a dying town, close to that of the nearby abandoned ghost town of Kolmanskop. The question whether LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz would one day rise again kept puzzling me in the early 1990s. Like those who have written off LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz as unable to recover, I did not see an easy way out. I have always wondered why it has been the case, knowing that LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz boasts of rich natural resources as well as an interesting and wealthy recorded history. If properly marketed the town could be turned into a “gold mine”. With all this pessimism in mind, I never knew that I would one day be called upon to provide leadership in different ways and thus make a humble contribution towards the town’s development, economic recovery and help define its future in the Namibian economy. Recently, a meeting was held between the LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz-based fishing industry and Namport to consider the prevailing business climate. This platform has revealed a number of legitimate issues. This platform highlights the rising costs of doing business from the harbour town of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz. It has further raised eyebrows over the town’s future. It clearly demonstrates that the town was at a crossroads and needed to take a fresh look at its future survival. It further illustrates the need for alternative economic sectors on which the town can rely upon for its future survival. Namport’s strong view of having difficulty in promoting and operating a port not linked to a railway network system speaks volumes if new diversified markets have to be found. The urgent need for Government’s intervention becomes much clearer when the subject of the future of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz crops up. On the other hand, it is a fallacy that the fishing industry is awash with money. Most fishing outfits in the industry are struggling, citing operational difficulties mainly due to rising costs of doing business in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz, external factors and other reasons. The fact of the matter is that the fishing industry which was seen as a “gold mine” by the locals can no longer be relied upon. The fishing honeymoon seems short-lived with no clear signs of recovery any time soon. It is imperative that Government supports initiatives aimed at boosting the survival of the town amidst a changing business climate, external factors and globalization impacts which are real. Government’s direct injection is vital to keep the town afloat. It is important that the town diversifies its commercial and industrial infrastructure so as to lower its high level of dependence on only few major contributors to its economy. At present tourist related investment appears to be the most viable alternative upon which to build and strengthen the local economy. At independence, the new Government mooted special development initiatives to revive the town’s economy and thereby ensure its long-term sustainability. Today, it appears that there has been a major shift by Government from its original commitments of saving LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz. This situation is very difficult to explain. But to understand the town, one must examine a number of key issues. LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz is widely regarded as extremely wealthy as the town is endowed with fish, lobster and diamonds, etc. For many Buchters (Namibians born and bred in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz) it is widely argued that the economic benefits accrued from natural wealth found in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz do not return to LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz to help accelerate development in the harbour town. This notion has been an overriding issue for years. Although this phenomenon has been in evidence of late, it appears to have captured the imagination of Buchters in a way unmatched in any previous period. There have been repeated questions why LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz was in such current state of development. Post-independence challenges Contemporary Namibia has given birth to new towns, some with flourishing administration, and the unfortunate ones have suffered near collapse including demotion with an uncertain future. LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz town which comes a long way has had its own dynamics and complexities. Its local authority was not spared from this and it has come under constant pressure from its constituents to deliver public goods including infrastructure such as roads, modern shopping facilities, better affordable housing, entertainment facilities mainly for the young residents as well as jobs, etc. Schools of thought on development But how does development take place? There are two schools of thought on how development actually takes place. On the one hand, there is the argument that first infrastructure has to be in place before investors are attracted. On the other hand, it can be brought to bear that natural resources, specialised skills, geographical features such as a natural harbour, tourist attractions or a strategic location, must be in place before development can happen. In the case of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz, it appears these arguments do not really matter. The bottom line for investor decisions has always been the question of exploitable resources as well as the will power to make a difference. I recall the disbelief when it was announced around 1991 to go ahead with a revolutionary Spanish decision by Pescanova to open a state-of-the-art fish processing factory in town at the time when LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz lacked basic infrastructure. The first decade of independence has brought significant development to LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz. Notably the most significant development projects include: NovaNam state-of-the-art fishing factory, the re-birth of Elizabeth Bay Mine (NamDeb), Waterfront Development Project, Namport’s new 500-meter quay, Nest Hotel and other hospitality facilities in town bear testimony to a modern LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz economy. The way forward Which way for the town of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz? The future of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz presents an interesting public discourse. At a close look of things, one comes to the conclusion that the overall town’s development has shrunk in recent years. There has not been significant direct injection by Government in recent years. LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz’s political and economic contours are still in considerable flux. The success in dealing with these challenges will be measured both in Government leadership style and substance. At local level, the major problem facing local decision-makers seems that of capacity to deliver. The lack of professionals only stifles the town’s development. It is vital to strengthen local institutions tasked to promote development. The local political leadership should embrace a coherent development strategy. One area where residents deserve change appears to indicate towards the generation of fresh ideas meant to improve LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz’s economic profile. Emancipation through hunting for fresh ideas and new thinking are vital if LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz is to come out of the present doldrums. It would require political leadership able to excel as well as the ability to identify the interventions required to deal with present and future challenges. The town would need to a large degree pragmatism. Swift interventions are needed to avoid the situation of reaching rock bottom. Decisive measures are required to further enhance leadership capacity. In pursuit of a new and modern LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz economy, the town has also to re-style itself in an attempt to lure tourists to the area. LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz has a number of obvious tourist attractions, including its dominating German colonial architecture, its unique landscape and interesting topography, as well as the popular “ghost town” of Kolmanskop where diamonds were first mined in the Namib Desert. It is anticipated that with the proposed expansion of the Waterfront Development Project, the town will become increasingly attractive to tourists. Given its rich history, the town appears to suffer from the absence of marketing champions. Now is the time to act and promote a new formula for co-operation open for viable business opportunities. Government should step up the momentum and assume responsibility in the area of leadership, direction and guidance if these issues have to be overcome. – Fluksman Samuehl is a Scholar of International Relations & Strategic Studies and former Member of Parliament. He lives in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz since Independence. The opinions expressed herein are solely accredited to the author in his personal capacity.