Economic Struggle in Today’s Namibia

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By Bernadus C. Swartbooi

“Each generation must out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it” – Frantz Fanon
“Tell no lies and claim no false victories” – Amilcar Cabral

As we advance into the historic struggle for the economic emancipation of our people, the incisive quotes above by African revolutionaries are instructive to our generation today.

We must however state that our generation faces no obscurity, that our path is clear, and our role crystallized. In this regard, our attempts will be to tell no lies and claim no false victories.

We make a clarion call to all youth, that the focus of the present youth generation must be on the economic struggle. And we must all join the debate and provide our collective ideas around which ways are best suited to ensure “economic democratization”.

We thus assert as stated by James Carville that “it’s the economy stupid!” Failure to achieve meaningful economic transformation will have the undesired effect of “hollowing” our democracy.

Namibia is entering the NDP III period. It is estimated that during this period, the total investment required would be N$76.3 billion for baseline GDP growth of 5.0% per annum.

To achieve a 6.0% growth, approximately N$90 billion is required. Relative poverty is projected to reduce from close to 30% to nearly 20% while extreme poverty would reduce from roughly 5% to 2%. Over the NDPII period, job losses occurred, with the rural areas affected the most.

Overall unemployment rose to 36.7%, while the rural unemployment shot up to 45%, according to estimates.

Youth unemployment remains high and the drive toward finding workable mechanisms to empower youth are intensifying. SPYL must be at the forefront of the solutions and the realization of these endeavours.

This means that we must consistently search for ways and means to advocate for polices and programmes that will directly benefit our youth, especially the rural youth.

By way of observation and to offer perspectives to our view, we believe that our country is characterized by a four-tier economic system. The First Economy is characterized by the bourgeoisie and ruling class, the Second Economy by middle and working class, the nouveau riche and the new-poor, the Third Economy by the bottom of pyramid (BOP), and the Fourth Economy mainly by those outside the Economic Pyramid.

The First Economy and to a lesser degree Second Economy is modern, produces in some instances and consumes the bulk of import of our country’s wealth and is integrated within the global economy.

The Third Economy or the BOP is characterized by underdevelopment, mainly in rural set-ups, contributes little to the GDP, and contains a sizable percentage of our population.

The majority in this economic sphere are the youth, and incorporates the poorest of our rural and urban poor. This economy is structurally disconnected from both the First and Second economies, except for occasional employment opportunities.

The global economy rarely impacts this arena, and in the extreme, this economy is incapable of self-generated growth and development.

The Fourth Economy is that component outside the purview of any economic activity. It has no structure to generate or organize any economic action to improve lives. It is the economy of survival from nature.

These sections that are in this economy include the San and Ovatue people. This economy must be driven by government through humanitarian interventions to ensure that lives are not lost and that mainstreaming eventually occurs, through targeted economic activity.

Take Forward the Struggle

It is under this fragmented economic configuration that SPYL needs to respond pro-actively, to take forward the struggle for economic transformation, with a renewed sense of urgency and purposefulness.

All youth must join in this mammoth effort, to ensure poverty eradication. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it,” stated Karl Marx in 1845 in Das Kapital.

We agree with Karl Marx, in principle, and therefore, our generation is rightly tasked to change Namibia for the better, not to over-philosophize and over-interpret our challenges.

We know our problems, but to change the conditions of poverty that have afflicted us remains the most important generational role of our times. Results-based pragmatic action is necessary.

The question to pose and answer is: “When will the ordinary African live a decent and dignified life? And when will Africa genuinely become an economic factor in the global economy?” This question has a time-frame that requires us to ask when, rather than if.

Poor Forever

Agreeably, the more than 800 million Africans cannot be poor forever, and the mineral and human wealth must translate into tangible life-changing results, such as the enjoyment of decent living and the achievement of individual and collective dreams by every African on the Continent.

In this, the 21st century, Africans must begin to live decent lives. All Namibians must live decent lives. That’s not a difficult undertaking, no.
In his interesting book titled: “Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa’s Future,” the renowned Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, takes the view that we must unleash ” .. .the entrepreneurial talents and creative energies of the real African people..” Of course he goes further to address other relevant matters that are beyond the scope of the present intervention.

We fully concur with the notion that African talent and creativity must be unleashed, and the time is now. But how?

It is under these pre-eminent thoughts and as part of our attempts to answer the question posed earlier on, that we held our first Economic Transformation Convention, under the theme: Accelerated Job Creation, Youth Empowerment and Economic Development.” The Convention offered the SPYL a sound platform to engage the day-to-day concerns held by our youth. And the Declaration speaks to these concerns.

Attended by our regional structures and invited guests, we believe that the Convention was a major success. Firstly, because the substance of the Declaration points to specific implementable policy directives.

Secondly, Cabinet had the opportunity to hear the direct voices of the youth, as the Declaration was presented at the Cabinet Retreat.

Thirdly, and importantly, the Declaration offers the opportunity for the SPYL to further deliberate on the strategies and tactics to achieve economic transformation in order to achieve total social welfare, in collaboration with all relevant interested citizens, by maximizing our collective intellectual capital, as a nation, to drive economic transformation.

Fourthly, the Declaration forms the basis for a stronger compact with the youth and the broader society, on such important matters as amongst others, education and training, HIV/AIDS, business enterprise development, housing, land reform and policy implementation, the latter often lagging behind.

Moreover, the objective is to advance Namibia into a “transformational democratic enterprise.” Differently put, a dynamic nation whose citizens are innovative, forward-looking and passionately spirited about their country, its future and its endless possibilities.

The content of this “transformational democratic enterprise” we must of course debate at length and in depth, and I invite others to join the debate.
Nonetheless, here are some of the key resolutions of the Convention:

1. Youth Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Development Fund
The establishment of a Youth Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Development Fund, is necessary in order to provide start-up capital and grants for youth business initiatives and to support operational initiatives, business development, business management and business marketing. The Fund is also aimed at helping youth entrepreneurs take significant stakes in businesses with good standing.

The Convention took serious note of the prohibitive nature of mandatory collateral requirements imposed by the financial sector. Therefore, a strong grant system must be put in place to ease off the insurmountable barrier. This Fund must address this challenge.

Alongside the above grant system, the government, through the relevant state-enterprises must provide coaching and mentorship, nurturing and monitoring of youth business, to add value and, sustain business ventures and create momentum for youth economic participation and growth.

The Fund must also have an Empowerment Register, which will ensure that broad based and fair youth participation in the Fund takes place and is effectively monitored. Such a Register will prohibit that only a few or the same youth and individuals benefit from resources. This register must be a public document.

2. Youth Incubation Centres

These centres must be established throughout the country to serve as a platform for showcasing youth entrepreneurs, generating and exchanging of business ideas and to link youth entrepreneurs nationally, regionally and internationally through building strong marketing, innovation synergies.

Such centres will have to be logistically structured with higher education institutions as well as with the state tender process, in order to directly benefit from the numerous tenders from the state.

This will help that there is a chain of support aligned to make this initiative a success.

However, the government must provide the essential machinery, to be used on a monthly rent basis by the occupants of such centres, as the lack of machinery and equipment is already a prohibitive factor.

3. Micro-Credit Schemes

There is a need to improve and expand the micro-credit schemes to enable the poorest youth to engage in productive economic activity, especially in the vast rural areas.

This programme is aimed at releasing the rural economy from the enclave status, where little or no economic activities take place, and where the economic enterprise is almost exclusively reliant on good rainfall and weather conditions, making this economy unstable, unpredictable and speculative.

4. Accelerated Youth Employment

The state should encourage more labour intensive activities, through construction of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways, ports, schools, hospitals, housing, including rural housing programmes, and in many other productive sectors of the economy, where meaningful and sustainable jobs can be created. Value addition to raw materials must be mandatory.

Restrictive age barriers required at some government jobs, such as NDF, Nampol, Prisons inter alia, are artificial impediments to jobs. The employment age in these above-mentioned institutions must be extended to a maximum of 35 years.

The increased incorporation of the unemployed youth in NYS, Cosdec and at Multi-Purpose Youth Resource Centres in all towns should be accelerated. Multi-purpose Youth Resource Centres must be fully capacitated with the necessary youthful staff as well as with technological and related infrastructure to ensure full beneficiation of all our youth in the thirteen regions.

These centres will also have to serve as important educational and resource centres, which will again enhance the quality of education.

In this regard, the Ministry of Information and Communications’ Technology must immediately implement the concept of Information Centres, based at the Multi-Purpose Youth Resource Centres.

This will assist in the expansion of ICT availability, which is currently exclusive to a few only.

5. State Procurement

The State Procurement rule, procedures and regulations should be adapted and amended, as necessary, to make youth shareholdership mandatory in awarding tenders. Public procurement must also grant a 30% mandatory preference to local enterprises with a distinct historically disadvantaged flavour.

The tender process must thus require at least 30% of public tenders youth ownership of companies bidding for state tenders. Preferential access for the youth should be granted in the allocation of tenders.

Equally, 30% of private procurement should also be sourced from youth enterprises. Opportunities of ownership must be provided to young people by owning shares in economically viable entities.

6. Namibia’s Indigenous Bank

The establishment of Namibia’s Indigenous Bank owned by Namibians is called for. This will add to the lucrative banking business, while ensuring indigenous ownership, which is long overdue. The aim is to add more products and indigenous participation to the sector.

The ownership of this bank must have government majority shares as well as private indigenous individuals. The state can at least for the first 10 years, hold on to the majority shares, and divest the shares to other indigenous individuals.

7. Land Reform Programmes

Systematic but immediate focus on Agrarian Reform programmes with special emphasis on emerging youth farmers is urgent. Financial assistance to these emerging and interested youth farmers to run profitable agricultural enterprises is urgent.

Training and support services for youth resettlement farmers is crucial. To this end, the current Resettlement Programme must at least have 30% youth occupancy by the end of 2009. The promotion of the dairy industry, beef, pork, poultry and the agronomic sector are cases in point, where youth farmers can make inroads and where the rural economy can become more dynamic.

The Green Scheme must be expanded immediately, and the resettled farmers should also benefit from the Green Scheme.

The Green Scheme seems to be an exclusive programme and we must change this state of affairs.

The ownership of resettlement farms should be addressed on an urgent basis and resettled farmers should be granted certificates of ownership and be assisted by the Deeds Office to register these farms in their names for collateral purposes.

Where the willing-seller-willing-buyer principle stagnates to intolerable and low levels of land acquisition and redistribution, this policy must then be revisited.

7. Education

The continued restructuring of our education system through ETSIP so that it gives our youth the necessary skills to engage in economic activities is vital. Expensive and in-affordable tertiary education remains a sticking point in fast-tracking skills development in Namibia.

More collaborative effort with government, SOEs and private sector entities is urgent.

At least 10% of collective SOEs’ total budget must be dedicated to scholarship/grants system. These resources must be used to send as many youth as possible to international universities across the globe, in meaningful numbers, so that a real impact can be felt in the human resource drive.

The expansion and enhancement Vocational Training Centres to become key role players and stakeholders in the skills-starved economic sector is overdue. These VTCs must offer more diverse courses and must also recruit such youth without school, but who have the talent and intuition for practical and innovative work.

8. Provision of tax credits to youth enterprises

Youth enterprises should be exempted from the usual tax burden in order to encourage enterprise development and ‘business risk taking’.

9. Housing

The introduction and expansion of youth participation in Build Together Programmes is important. This programme should be transferred to the NHE, and must cater for new urban poor youth, young professionals and to assist them with small building loans, especially in rural areas.

The programme must be expanded to rural areas. Equally, the expansion of housing provision to peri-urban areas is urgent in order to raise the standard of living of our people, while raising the economic value of such areas.

There is a need to explore the certification of alternative building construction methodologies and materials.

11. Arts, Sports and Culture Excellence Centre

The promotion and value addition to youth talents in the areas of art, sports and cultural activities is critical. These sectors not only have entertainment value, but have huge and as yet unexplored economic empowerment potential. The government should, through the Ministry of Youth, establish this centre.

The Ministry of Youth should be renamed: Ministry of Youth Enterprise Development and Innovation. This is directed to seriously recast and refocus the mandate and genesis of this important Ministry.

In this regard, urgent personnel redeployment must occur, especially at the Head Office. Moreover, a stronger devolution drive of this institution, through filtering the human and financial resources to the regional youth forums of the NYC structures, is essential.

Therefore, the NYC must be strengthened with additional resources to carry the mandate forward.

16. Implementation of policies

SWAPO Government has formulated very progressive resolutions and policies, but implementation of the same is very poor.

Government should establish a Vision 2030 Council for the accelerated implementation and monitoring of Vision 2030. The public service efficiency and effectiveness must be sharpened. Therefore, the deliberate youth recruitment policy must be initiated, so that by 2012, youth professionals are at least 30% in management cadre.

The youth should also be recruited for the boards of SOEs, and a target of at least 30% by 2009 is set. The recycling of same individuals benefiting from BEE programmes is a point of concern.

The over-exclusive empowerment of the same individuals resulted in the alienation of a large part of our society. BEE must be genuinely broad-based and fair.

There must be a decentralisation of the national budget to the constituency level, so that all constituencies benefit from the budgetary allocations of the government. All our people must benefit.

There is also a need to strengthen the constituency offices, to ensure continuity and institutional memory.

Thus, capacity building of regional government officials and political office-bearers must become institutional.
This Declaration will serve as an important pointer through which the SPYL will monitor and evaluate government implementation of youth empowerment programmes and activities.

As SPYL, we are proud of the work we are doing and we are determined to meet the challenges that confront our youth and nation head-on.

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