‘Towards Democratic Developmental States in Southern Africa’ is the title of a book surveying the state of democracy in the sub-region, especially the ability to deliver.
The launch of the book last Tuesday coincided with a lively and vibrant debate by the Namibian civil society, including two of the Namibian contributors to the book, Herbert Jauch and Ellison Tjirera.
It was moderated by Masego Madzwamuse from the Open Society of Southern Africa, and one of the five editors of the book. The other panellists were Uhuru Dempers, Mauhongora Kavihuha from the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA) and Nangula Sheyavali, a senior researcher with the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR).
Literally, the jury was out on the states in Southern Africa on the night, including the Namibian state in terms of its inability hitherto to deliver, part of the reason for non-delivery being lack of ideology.
Certainly, Madzwamuse could not but have set the tone for the lively debate, which ensued, with her observations that while the 1980s and 1990s have been generally characterised as the epoch of the African continent. For Southern Africa, the opposite has been the case, as the characterisation of this period in the sub-region by the dictum of Africa Rising has been a misnomer, as the region has never been rising.
Yes, while there has been political and democratic stability during the said epoch, for the sub-region, this has been unaccompanied by a commensurate surge in terms of the socio-economic well-being of the populace to the extent that definitely something could be said about the direction it has been taking.
This contrasts with the East Asian Pacific region that has been able to reduce poverty, while 45 percent of the sub-region’s population has been living below one US dollar a day.
While the Gini coefficient of Botswana, for example, has been very high, South Africa is said to have dismally failed to redistribute income. And Namibia and South Africa have failed to restructure their economies. Development and democracy in the sub-region have been juxtaposed to inequality while the real gross domestic product in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been stagnant.
Jauch pointed out that with regard to Namibia, the essence of the democratic developmental state has been one of a trickle-down effect. He said even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lately departed from the concept that economic growth necessarily leads to poverty reduction and that there is now a need for the state to drive processes towards desired ends. But, can the state, like in the case of Namibia, be expected to drive such a process given the lack of an ideology? This brought into perspective Namibia’s constitution as it relates to the provision of a mixed economy and what this actually means. There was a consensus that such a provision has been taken for granted as far as its meaning is concerned, especially given the lack of ideology in Namibia as is currently the case.
Adding his voice to the important role any state can play in the drive towards a democratic developmental state, Tjirera, echoed the common thread of most of the speakers, the interventionist state, and pointed out four key elements in this drive needing looking at particularly, land, the economy, governance and what he described as systematic redistribution. However, as much as the state is important, it cannot and should not be the only factor. He said the issue of land needs serious thinking and commercial land must be accessible to the poor.
This necessitates social class as a criterion in the allocation of land that should not be restricted to commercialisation. As such, the economy, Tjirera maintained, should go beyond the current mode of extraction.
But the process cannot be left to the government alone. This brings in other players, especially the civil society, workers, women and the media. Sheyavali noted that given their majority of more than 50% of the Namibian population, women must and should play a role commensurate not only to their numbers but also to their current status as a disadvantaged and excluded social class, historically and currently with black rural women, especially on the sharp edge. She emphasised the importance of access to land and finance by women. Kavihuha noted the unabated attack on workers in the country and expressed his reservations about the interventionist state maintaining that politicians always have their own interests first. Not only this but even economic advisory councils, which ought to give politicians better direction, are about the capitalists’ if not politicians’ own interests.