The year 2017 represents another important – though possibly bumpy – time in Namibia – a nation treading carefully between using its resources to fight basic poverty and investing in growing its economy.
The year 2016 had its fair share of positives on the scorecard, but rather than take a last look into the rearview mirror, many Namibians would prefer to look instead to the future.
Their wish is for many things to change over the next 12 months.
With unemployment at 28 percent and HIV-AIDS prevalence at 17 percent, the year 2017 presents an opportunity – in terms of time – to address some of these anomalies. In terms of unemployment, several key steps were taken in 2016, which must produce tangible outcomes this year.
The revamping of the country’s foreign policy to give it an economic diplomacy edge and the investment conference held in November must be followed up on to ensure investment in the local economy.
When this is done, many more families would have breadwinners at home – relieving government of the duty to have to feed such families.
Money saved from the feeding schemes can then be channelled towards other national priorities.
President Hage Geingob in his New Year message last weekend dubbed 2017 as ‘The Year of Rededication’, as he drums up enthusiasm around the implementation of his government’s goals. In the corridors of power, 2016 was christened ‘The Year of Implementation’.
Geingob predicted in his message that the same challenges Namibia experienced during 2016 would persist in 2017.
The country’s economic outlook came into sharp focus in 2016, with rating agencies casting aspersions over the local economy and its credit worthiness.
It goes without saying that a lion’s share of the current economic difficulties are a result of the turbulent global economy, which has been particularly hostile to commodity prices.
As such, windfalls from Namibia’s extractive industries, which contribute about 25 percent to the country’s income, have been hard to come by. In relation to other industries mining is still the largest contributor to the Namibian economy.
Geingob’s trademark Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) has some produced good outcomes, as announced in December at State House, but more needs to be achieved under its key pillars, such as those focused on economic advancement and social progression.
The highest achievements were listed under the effective governance pillar – which strives for transparency among political office bearers and senior civil servants. This should provide a solid stepping stone towards achieving other Harambee goals, especially those directly targeting bread and butter issues.
Land and housing are certainly some of the challenges Geingob anticipated in 2017 – and his foresight is spot-on.
The Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement, which has given the Geingob administration a torrid time, appears subdued, but writing it off would be at the doer’s own peril.
AR, under pressure from a multitude of its followers to deliver on its promises, is likely to continue its activism over land and housing during what is likely to be a politically volatile year for the ruling party.
It is expected that instead of focusing on volumes of houses built this year, authorities would find a formula to deal with the issue of affordability as volumes alone will not address the issue, evidenced by the fact that many mass housing units across the country remain unoccupied due in part to prohibitive pricing. Yet, these houses were created out of the urgent need to deal with the problem of affordability.
The second land conference, which was postponed late last year, is now scheduled to take place in September to review the resolutions of the first land conference of 1991 and chart the way forward.
It is hoped that conference will hammer the final nail in the coffin of the country’s emotionally-charged land crisis.
Meanwhile, Namibians continue to pray for rain, which has been a rare occurrence in recent years – dragging on for as long as five years in places such as Kunene Region.
Drought has ravaged Namibia so much that billions of dollars meant for development had to be redirected to feeding schemes and relief efforts.
President Geingob is incidentally expected to officially launch the cultivation season in Ogongo, Omusati Region today, a move aimed at inspiring hard work among the country’s subsistence farmers.
The expectations of the nation and the promises of the President will inevitably be affected by the elective politics of the Swapo Party – which is set to have its congress this year.
In fact many Namibians hope the congress – often brutal, taxing and distracting – could be held sooner rather than later, so that those vying for positions can return to other national duties.
President Geingob himself is likely to be in contention for the party’s presidency, which would enable him to stand again as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 national election. There are attempts in the party’s central committee to declare Geingob the sole candidate for the Swapo presidency, but it is not clear whether this would be challenged or not. Also, there have not been any other clear contenders for the position.
If Swapo sticks to its ‘zebra-style’ electoral policy, which advocates for an equal blend of men and women in key party positions, and if Geingob is endorsed as the sole candidate for the president’s position, this year is likely to see women slugging it out for the party’s vice-presidency.
The National Union of Namibian Workers, an ally of Swapo, will also elect representatives to attend and vote at the ruling party’s congress.
The Swapo Party Women’s Council held its elective congress at Keetmanshoop in December, at which Eunice Ipinge and Fransina Kahungu emerged as its secretary and deputy secretary, respectively.
The Swapo Party Youth League and the Swapo Party Elders Council are also expected to have their congresses this year, and the outcomes are likely to have significant bearing on the composition and decisions of the Swapo Party congress.