A person from Haiti whom I met recently told me his country is among the world’s poorest and least developed. He then asked me: “Is your country rich and developed?”
His question reminded me of how we frequently gauge if a nation is developed by a single focus on economic growth, which is generally determined by the increase in a country’s productive capacity over a period of time and expressed in per-capita terms. In fact, there can be no real development or wealth formation in a nation without significant progress in human development.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines human development as a concept involving the human condition, with its core being the capability approach. That concept relates to the process of increasing people’s choices to lead a long and healthy life; be educated; and enjoy a decent standard of living with unhindered access to resources, services, opportunities, basic human rights and various ingredients of self-respect.
By investing in people, national administrations, businesses and societies empower people to pursue many different life paths, thus developing their human capabilities.
I told the person from Haiti that this is exactly what Namibia’s Vision 2030 seeks to do. With the right resource allocation and utilisation, and carefully managed and monitored, Vision 2030 has the potential to truly respond to and benefit all sectors of the population as a “people first” exercise while progressively moving the country on the path towards achieving developed nation status.
It is the combined effect of increase in the capital stock, advances in technology and improvement in human wellbeing and social justice that are considered to be the principal causes of a nation’s development.
In recent years, the idea of sustainable development has brought in additional factors, such as environmentally sound processes, that must be taken into account in a country’s progress. Economic development is only a means of enlarging people’s choices – and fundamental to enlarging those choices is building human capabilities, which are the substantive freedoms a person enjoys to lead the kind of life he or she wants.
Human development focuses on equity and human participation, without hindrances, in all social, economic and political processes that affect their lives and, in turn, allows them to be equal beneficiaries of those processes. Without these, many choices are simply not available, and many opportunities in life remain inaccessible. The quality of human life is stymied and overall development becomes lop-sided, stagnates and, worse, is retarded.
This way of looking at development, often forgotten in the immediate concern with accumulating commodities and financial wealth, is not new. Philosophers, economists and political leaders have long emphasised human wellbeing as the purpose, or the end, of development.
As Aristotle said: “Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful for the sake of something else.”