Will Namibian oil be a curse or blessing?

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They say one should expect the unexpected at any given point in time especially should the nation soon discover that it has been blessed with commercial oil deposits which could last for some decades.

With that said, if commercial oil deposits are found in Namibia, what tangible benefit or impact will its discovery have on the daily lives of the majority of Namibians, taking into account that the country is already blessed in large quantities in numerous other commercial natural mineral resources such as diamonds, gold, copper, uranium, zinc, of which their direct impact towards the socio-economic development relative to our small population is highly and extremely debatable.

In other words, what difference will the discovery of commercial oil in Namibia make that all other minerals combined could not achieve during the last 100 years or so? In that regard, will the discovery of oil be a blessing or just another curse on the doorstep of the nation.

However and in all fairness, to anticipate any potential benefit from the discovery of oil reserves in Namibia it is important as an author to first briefly reassess the historic and current contribution of the country’s already existing natural mineral resources to the socio-economic development of the country relative to the small population and towards the current numerous challenges facing the nation.

For starters, Namibia first discovered diamonds in 1908 but due to colonisation and the lack of appropriate social investment legislation the true economic value and contribution of these precious stones towards broad-based economic empowerment and development of the country are quite small relative to the small population and needs of the country. Namdeb of late generated N$11 billion dollars in revenue and despite such tremendous performance the country still faces, despite its abundant natural resources blessing, huge socio-economic challenges with no significant solutions in sight.

The country has since then over the decades discovered other natural mineral resources of commercial value and quantities of which their relative contributions to the socio-economic environment in terms of new community schools, clinics, hospitals, libraries, community energy, water, sanitation, roads and sports stadiums, among others, are either non-existent or negligible to say the least. In that regard, the discoveries and current operations of the various natural minerals in the country vis-a-vis their direct contribution towards large-scale poverty alleviation and other social development efforts in the country are extremely worrisome to say the least, of which the discovery of oil will not, as observed from the contributions of the other natural resources, do much to change the status quo.

Going forward, this article is in essence written in response to the disturbing disclosure in The Namibian daily newspaper of the 2nd of March 2017, which revealed that Namcor, as a representative of the Namibian government on the oil scene, is entitled to only 7 percent profit sharing regardless of the potentially undiscovered quantities of oil in the Kavango West Region by Acrep, an Angolan based oil and gas exploratory company. The question then is what if they discover trillions of oil deposits in the Kavango West with an estimated lifespan of 60 years-plus and throughout that period Namibia as a sovereign nation is only entitled to 7% whilst the bulk remains in private hands. What will the impact be to the immediate communities in the Kavango regions and the Namibian people at large?

This specific article got me seriously thinking that we as a nation are not really serious at all in truly determining our own economic future to sincerely and aggressively solve our domestic social problems as we in this regard continue to auction off our natural resources to the highest bidder without any preconditions whatsoever towards the true socio-economic development of our country.

I have therefore and for the purpose of this article deliberately ignored the costs involved in oil exploration and all its related costs but rather on the daylight robbery of our natural resources to the current and future detrimental state of the nation. We as a sovereign developing nation, and as especially based on our strong historic background, were never supposed to sell ourselves so short no matter the price tag offered, as our natural resources are our only competitive advantage to rescue the nation from extreme poverty and from all other social ills.

Historically, Namibia as a nation was highly divided by the previous regime of apartheid but has since its independence significantly shifted away from its pre-independence socialistic rhetoric which had initially united it as a people and society. That rhetoric, whether intended or not, earned the liberation movement and the country at that time the necessary international sympathy and support from like-minded nations that eventually enabled the country to liberate itself from the yoke of colonialism and all that was associated with that era, which included the complete control of its natural mineral resources for the direct benefit of its people.

This significant strategic shift in favour to auction off at independence all of the nation’s natural mineral resources to the highest bidder simply meant that any individual, whether foreign or not, who has the necessary financial and technical capacity, will be able to own any unspecified discovered amount of oil quantities in the land of the brave to the detrimental state of the nation and the masses.

This state of condition does not augur well with our historic background as a nation as it defeats the entire purpose upon which our natural resources were meant to be exploited for their true economic values and potential contribution towards a nation free of poverty and all related negative socio-economic ills.
• Pendapala Hangala is a Namibian socio-economist.

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