• Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari
In his 1980 offing, ‘Tyranny of the Status Quo’, Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman argues that leaders who reformed their countries in the first three months of their mandates had a better shot at success. He refers to F.D Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and François Mitterrand.
What Friedman tried to demonstrate is that beyond the three months’ threshold, the system has the potential to build walls around a leader in what he describes as the ‘uniform tendency in government to reverse the declared policies of leaders’. In the ‘Iron Triangle’, which preserves the status quo, lies in each corner ‘the direct beneficiaries of laws, bureaucrats who thrive on them, and politicians who seek votes’. There are important lessons here for Namibia. Two years ago, President Hage Geingob cohered his presidency on prosperity. To give credence to the prosperity agenda, reform of the state became a sine qua non condition for the success of his presidency. But, as Friedman warns, reforming is complex and difficult.
It is why a leader with high ambitions for their country should ask a few hard questions. The question foremost on the mind of President Hage Geingob as he tries to steer the ship through the jungle of reform and prosperity is: Do I have the dogs to hunt? Additionally, he should also pose the question first posed by the political scientist Peter Katzenstein in his book Small States and Markets: what makes a small state succeed?
These questions are crucial for both the President and us at this point in the political cycle of our republic with various media reports highlighting malaise in the system. The SME Bank saga illustrates a bad example of what the Geingob presidency had set out not to be at inception. But this and several others shed light on squatters in the system who could arrogantly thrive on corruption and the preservation of a corrosive status quo.
These have the potential to swell the ranks of the cynical, thereby questioning the ability of the Geingob presidency to deliver on its prosperity mandate. As we move a gear into our developmental narrative, we should warn that administrative malfeasance can lead to collective suicide. The question of whether we have the dogs to hunt for prosperity becomes even more urgent.
Ideas and how we think collectively about development can materially alter the fate of our country. Still, it goes better with saying that words are good, but deeds are certainly better. Especially now that we are entering our cross-cutting 5th National Development Plan – Working Together Towards Prosperity as a crucial link in our long-term planning toward Vision 2030.
After all, NDP5 with clearly identified sectoral game-changers represents what might lie ahead on the frontier of possibilities for our country. But that frontier can only be within our reach when we unleash the dogs that will hunt for prosperity. Do we have them? Yes and no.
No, because we don’t have a good education system; we don’t have a good vocational training system and a strong work ethic. We also don’t have a spirit of innovation and enterprise. As a result of these defects, there is a chronic imbalance between our puffed political stability and trembling economic flexibility. Worse, our Gini coefficient is not salutary and suggests that we are not a model for inclusive growth!
Yes, we could have the dogs to hunt if we could dedicate our best human resources to the specific policy areas that are critical to national development (education, vocational training, infrastructure development, public administration, development planning, trade and industry). To get this right would imply that those who lead these clusters not only talk boldly, but also act accordingly against those who undermine national development. As a collective, we should move beyond an era of hesitations into one that is Jupiter-like, characterized by energy, strength and drive.
In a forcefully analytical and prescriptive 5 November 2009 annual address titled
’Accelerated economic growth and job creation: the need for a paradigm shift’ Tom K Alweendo, then
Governor of the Bank of Namibia rightly warned: ‘So far our approach to economic development has been somewhat too cautious, except that the results are not encouraging.’ If NDP5 implies that we make the necessary institutional innovations and modifications in order to align the promise with the possibilities – we should go in that direction.
* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is a visiting fellow at Sciences Po Paris. He holds a PhD in political science from the Sorbonne.