“Before colonisation, the people of Namibia had evolved a variety of forms of subsistence living. In the barren coastal Namib Desert, isolated Khoisan communities lived on the produce of the sea and the game and plant life that existed in the valleys of then few seasonal rivers. In the southern interior, where the country was often too dry for cattle, the Nama herded sheep and goats.
“On the better-watered central plateau, the Herero (Ovaherero) raised cattle in vast numbers. In the Kaokoveld, the Tjimba (Ovahimba), a section of the Herero (Ovaherero), were limited by the rugged terrain to raising small livestock and hunting. Scattered across the highland plateau, the Damara cultivated small plots, kept goats and hunted game, while the San hunted across the waterless plains of the Kalahari Desert,” reads an excerpt from the second chapter of the book, “To Be Born A Nation,” published by the Swapo Party of Namibia Department of Information and Publicity in 1981.
One is inclined to quote this particular excerpt to underline the fact that Namibians prior to colonialism were engaged in some economic activities to maintain and upkeep self. Needless to say, the economic mode of production they engaged in for a larger part were communal in nature, or communalist if not communist or socialist, if you wish, whereby all were engaged towards the greater benefit of all. From each according to his/her ability and to each according to her/his needs.
That was the Namibia before colonialism. The word inequality, so to speak, was little known about. If it ever existed at all not to the extent it had become blatantly manifest during the colonial period, a legacy that remains in the post-colonial and post-independence epoch.
And the gap, that is the divide between the rich and poor, has been widening. Add to this the other eyesore, poverty. Certainly the two are inextricably linked.
There’s no way you can have inequality, to the extent that we have in Namibia, without poverty.
As illustrated by the excerpt above, Namibians were engaged in some sorts of economic activities, as subsistence-based as it may have been.
But the instructive thing is that such was associated with little inequality, nor factored in poverty of any significant note. Hence there’s no denying that inequality, and the resultant poverty, was a legacy of colonialism, and to a large degree a legacy of colonialism. But the pertinent question this day, each and every Namibian should ponder, is whether irrespective of the colonial genesis of inequality and poverty, 26 years after independence we are not guilty of the perpetuation of this colonial ill, and many of its attendant ills?
Since the advent of colonialism, our indigenous modes of production have in the process been arrested and torn asunder, and replaced by various and varying modes of production, all with just one aim, the accumulation of wealth, which had been and continues to be built with the sweat and toil of the presumably lesser classes – peasants earlier, to lately in the modern capitalist economies, the working class or the proletariats. Lately, various fanciful terms have been coined to try and explain the relations between especially the formerly colonised nations, which have remained poverty-stricken despite various fanciful terms like the New World Economic Order, and what have you and their ever affluent former colonising nations.
In this age we have been and are seeing Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs). Nothing fundamentally and structurally different from the old-age exploitative relations between the haves-countries and their peoples, and the haves-not and their people. One is inclined to reflect especially on the relations and relationships between industrialised countries (Europe, the USA and Canada, etc.) and their people, and the ever-industrialising ones (Africa, Latin America, Asia). Yes, one may have lately been seeing some, especially Asian and Latin American countries, making some notable strides towards industrialisation. But can the same be said in terms of inequality and poverty. Especially in Africa?
While trends in the rest of the world show an improvement in poverty levels compared to 20 years ago, Africa is getting poorer. This is according to the African Social Development Index – ASDI – whose findings reveal that poverty, fuelled by inequality, remains the single most driver of human exclusion in Africa. Women, youth and rural communities bear the most of human exclusion.
Many may be asking so what. Simply because lately a team of renowned international economic experts assembled in Windhoek to help Namibia chart the way forward in combating inequality and poverty. ‘How do we fight inequality?’ Government asks, seeks foreign help for local problem’ screamed a headline in one of the English weeklies last Friday. Coming to mind immediately when reading this headline was the question as to where and how Namibia, in the first instance, views and deposits the inequality and the resultant poverty, or vice-versa synthesises as such? One thing is sure, the inequality and poverty we are seeing in the country is a legacy of colonialism. Be that as it may, have we ever paused as a country to reflect that we may have been perpetuating such, consciously or unconsciously, or through a want of a resolute action if you want. But most importantly through lack of a clear ideology if only to first arrest such inequalities and inequities inherited. Because until we take this as a departure point, no foreign economic experts, however renowned, may provide us with the correct answers. The answers lie with the conviction in our ideology, whatever that ideology, to deal with inequalities and poverty and to uproot such, especially structurally!