Poverty is it by choice or pure mediocrity?

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Let me first and foremost thank your newspaper in advance for allowing me to share this opinion piece with your broader readership.
I would also like to congratulate Namibia on its silver jubilee, 25 years of independence and the inauguration of the new government on 21 March.

Poverty facing our nation is an undeniable fact that needs the attention of all in this country including those affected by the social ills of poverty.

The question coming up is why the majority of our population finds itself in the poverty trap both in our urban and rural areas. Is there something we can do during our lifetime? Is poverty by choice or pure mediocrity? Definitely, there is a role in this equation for all Namibians irrespective of where they are.

May be what we need to agree with is the degree/level of responsibility depending on where we are on the social ladder of leadership.
Renowned writers on the topic of poverty have put the blame squarely on the political leadership.

There are many views but in this opinion piece I only cite three such writers.

Moeletsi Mbeki in his book Architects of Poverty analyses the plight of Africa and concludes the fault lies not with the mass of its people, but with its rulers.

Moeletsi believes with the exception of South Africa and Mauritius, the rest of Africa needs new rulers – the people themselves – who understand that the path to a prosperous future lies in hard work, creativity, knowledge and equity.

I am not a believer of a radical approach to issues that are within reach but surely what we could learn from Moeletsi is that people should demand what they deserve from their political leadership.

Jeffrey Sachs in “The end of poverty” believes that our generation has the opportunity to end extreme poverty in the world’s most desperate nations and that we can end poverty by 2025.

Although Namibia might not find itself in the category of desperation, this book offers good solutions, which are equally relevant to our poverty challenges in Namibia. Sachs helps us to understand how we can make it happen in our lifetime by just putting the basics right.
Another writer, Gregg Mills, in his book “Why Africa is Poor” posits that poverty is now optional and demonstrates that Africa is poor because its leaders have made this choice.

Whether this is true for Namibia lies in the understanding of the role that key stakeholders like the State, Government, Church, NGO’s, communities and their traditional leadership play in poverty reduction in Namibia.

I am convinced that in Namibia with the strong political will prevailing we can win the fight against poverty and by extension, the other social ills facing our nation. Namibia should continue spending more and more on social sectors like education and health and strengthen leadership at all levels of society to ensure commitment.

Timely investment in infrastructure including rural areas and the increase in the social grant system will go a long way in our social development process.

The high rural/urban migration in the country needs to be addressed as well.

National statistics indicate that poverty levels are higher in rural areas than in urban setups, and that despite the fact that a 44.2 percent poverty decline was recorded in the rural areas between 1993 and 2010, which explains the need to curb the continuous high rural/urban migration.

My knowledge of rural Namibia is that in the most densely populated regions of the rural north-west, north-central and north-eastern Namibia, most villages have a school, a clinic, a church in the same vicinity, indicating thus the existence of local leadership.

Shouldn’t we strengthen or empower this local leadership structure in some way in order to achieve the overall goal of poverty reduction?
The agricultural potential in these regions is huge and the inhabitants are already engaged in subsistence agriculture and cattle farming activities.

The rest of rural Namibia presents cattle, small stock farming and small-scale mining activities, etc. as a means of survival.
What Namibia could do is to fully utilize today’s technological advances available to assist rural communities to make the most of what they know best. Developing or empowering our rural setup will create more opportunities that will keep people away from migrating to bigger towns and the city.

I am talking of available solar energy sources for power in the villages, I am talking of modern irrigation schemes, fertilizers, and modern boreholes to provide clean water for both human and animal consumption, and modern auction/cattle kraals.

I am talking of communication services and roads that link rural farmers to auction facilities or provide facilities accessible to Meatco for farmers to sell their produce. This might sound theoretical but I am of the opinion that Namibia with its rich endowment in natural resources and its stable economic environment should be able to meet these basic requirements for a prosperous life in the villages.

Therefore, as Namibia is celebrating its silver jubilee, 25 years of independence and the inauguration of the new government on 21 March 2015, we should remind ourselves of the plight of the many in our rural areas as well as the urban poor in our towns and city.

• Sebedeus !Naruseb the author of this opinion is employed by the International University of Management (IUM). The views expressed in this article are entirely his. E-mail: snaruseb@gmail.com

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