Namibia’s Competitive Advantage
John Maxwell teaches that people who succeed in life generally and in leadership specifically are those who follow their strengths to discover their unique purpose. This is what is often referred to in the scholarships about the conducts of nation states as a competitive advantage or competitive edge. In 1985, Professor Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School authored a tone-setting textbook for business schools wherein he unraveled the concept of Competitive Advantage. He outlined that an organization can accomplish sustained competitive advantage in three primary ways, namely: Cost Leadership, Differentiation, and Focus. Cost leadership is the provision of reasonable value at lower costs but by continuously improving operational efficiency even though employees are not paid high salaries but have other intangible benefits or promotional interests. Differentiation is the creation of a strong brand with a capacity to communicate how its products are superior, delivered faster and better, are more appealing and of greater benefit to the consumer compared to others in the market. Focus refers to understanding and providing a service by finding one niche market so that the organization’s offering is considered ‘a must have’.
There are countries that understand this and are doing better than others. For instance, China uses cost leadership to expand itself and its properties accessibly and cheaply around the world. China leverages on its low standards of living domestically, pays its workers little, but exports its products massively. China even exports its cheap(er) workers around the world. It also manages its influence by keeping its currency, the yuan, at a lower value than the international US dollar. India started as a cost leader with differentiation by providing skilled technical, English-speaking workers at a reasonable wage. Japan changed its competitive advantage in the 1960s through cheap electronics so that by the 1980s, it was known for quality brands, such as Sony. America’s comparative advantage is innovation and the promise of freedom. American organizations inspire innovative products through faster and more successful marketing.
From the above it is evident that Afrikan nations are yet to identify their competitive advantages and sustain them in the face of dynamic changes in circumstances and political leadership requirements. So far on the Afrikan continent, only South Africa managed to sustain a competitive advantage even during the days of harsh and vulgar apartheid. It is the only sub-Saharan country that compared better with the western world, due to the existence of a work ethic that the sociologist Max Weber once called the protestant ethic of bureaucratic rules and customer services. In the rest of black Afrika, services remain appallingly below standard. Another advantage South Africa had was its institutions, such as banking, real estate, healthcare and education service providers that continue to attract stakeholders from around the Afrikan continent to abandon their own institutions in favor of South Africa where institutions are run along rules that are blind and sustainable.
What is Namibia’s competitive advantage today? Small and young as Namibia is, she has tremendous strengths which can take the country forward along the road less travelled. It must be appreciated that Namibia as a country is too small and it being sandwiched between big and richer economies, Angola in the north and South Africa in the south, renders it vulnerable such that if it does not become proactive to identify, define and develop its own competitive edge, it will remain marginal in Afrikan affairs. The economy of the Land of the Brave is too small to be left to direct itself. Namibia therefore has to become proactive in leveraging its strengths to become a center of excellence in Africa and among nations, especially in the Black World. Here are some of the advantages that can be harnessed and honed for medium and long term roles as a ‘saakmakende klein ou volkie’.
– Number One: As President Geingob is wont to say, Namibia is a child of international solidarity, whose birth was midwifed by the United Nations. There are three aspects to this unique position the country has in international history. First, there is no one singular nation that assisted the evolution of international law as did the case of Namibia. In 1960/61 Ethiopia and Liberia as sovereign nations in Afrika petitioned the International Court of Justice to declare unlawful the continued occupation of South West Africa by the Union of South Africa. That case still stands as one of the reference cases in international law studies in relation to the right of self-determination.
Namibia thus may be small in size but big in international recognition and Namibian leadership of the liberation struggle successfully punched above its weight by lobbying the international community to the point that the United Nations (UN) recognized the liberation movement SWAPO in 1973 as the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people.
Second, Namibia’s transition to independence in 1989/1990 was the most successful story in the history of the UN, and continues to inspire other multinationally supervised transitions in the world. The Namibian story continues to affirm the legality of international law generally and the UN specifically. The Namibian story becomes more significant in the context of later and less stable transitions such as South Sudan.
Third, Namibia gained freedom when the world was transitioning from being a bi-polar world to a uni-polar world. It was a zeitgeist that gave the Founding Fathers and Mothers of the Namibian nation space to work out a template for the future by way of the Constitution which is second to none – crafted by Namibians on home soil within 80 days!
With this Namibia set the tone for black majority rule in Afrika unlike any other case before. Hence it is on record that the Namibian experience served as an inspiration for the relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to a democratic and inclusive South Africa. The peaceful transition in Namibia gave fearful white South Africans confidence that if black leaders in the more militant SWAPO were as reasonable, genteel and urbane, then there was a future for them in South Africa under the ANC which was historically less militant.
– Number Two: Namibia is the most peaceful and most stable nation on the Afrikan continent today, thanks to the win-win spirit that was honed during the struggle for liberation and the acceptance that it is a multi-party democracy in the true sense of the word. Even when we disagree, we find common ground for medium and long-term lasting solutions. Very few countries have enjoyed peace and stability after independence as did Namibia, after a protracted war for independence. Peace is never cheap and stability never without hazards – peace and stability are both necessary conditions for sustainable development. The country had five post-independence elections whose results were accepted by all in spite of the minor hiccups. Namibia had two peaceful transfers of power and all three presidents (two former and one current) are living in harmony in the country as comrades. In our relations with other nations in the world, it is peace and stability that we can export. Under conditions of peace and stability we can attract more investment if we tell our story right and with consistency.
– Number Three: There is enough space for more people to live and make a contribution. If we do it right, we would encourage more people to live and work in Namibia to grow the economy.
– Number Four: Namibia has the best race relations on the Afrikan continent and if harnessed properly, can become the microcosm of a Diversity Heaven, a Zebra Nation that all nations can emulate. In a selfish manner, Namibia could utilize the white skills that have fled from neighbouring countries for its own benefits which in return can serve the region and Afrika.
– Number Five: Namibia’s position between two unstable countries offers it a unique opportunity to brush up its skills in peace-making, peace-building and peace-maintenance. Namibia’s expertise in this realm is not fully utilized because Namibians have not been able to tell their story better.
– Number Six: The timing of Namibia’s self-rule coincides with the era of the amplification of mixed economies. Namibia can improve its rhetoric of being a mixed economy that can lure investors to the country, yet on its own terms towards win-win solutions, such that the nation benefits and investors function in a crime-free environment where their money can sleep peacefully at night and grow.
– Number Seven: One of the geniuses of the Namibian political leadership thus far is in managing ethnic and tribal histories. Ethnicity was not created by colonialism. Apartheid colonialism in particular misused ethnicity to advance its own interests of divide and rule. In addition, there was and still is great ignorance in Namibia about how we are constituted. Yet the political leadership managed to balance things well so much so that the majority ethnic group in the country, the Aawambo, showed extraordinary maturity to move the country to the point of, for a lack of a better word, abdicating political power to a member of a smaller ethnic group to take over leadership. There is NO readily available record of this accomplishment on the Afrikan continent hitherto.
– Number Eight: The fact that Namibia is one of the most Christian countries in the world has served us well in terms of our readiness for National Reconciliation. Our Christian values of being one another’s keepers offers us, as it did during the days of struggle, an advantage to develop a common language of grace and service beyond ourselves as we do things under God and the flag of the Republic, where we accept that we were created in God’s image regardless of our looks and economic conditions. Upon this precept we have peace with ourselves, peace with our neighbours and peace with the rest of the international community.
– Number Nine: Namibia has grown in maturity to accept that not everything in the apartheid past was bad, but there are elements from the past we can build upon to mortgage a better society for all who live in it. One of these great edifices of the apartheid economy is the institutions that the democratic government has inherited, such as the roads, financial institutions, mining, fishing and farming sectors, the shops and some schools in the country.
– Number Ten: The existence and growth of the Namibian judiciary as an effective and independent organ of state is a source of great pride. Even though the independence of the judiciary is often a source of frustration for those in political power, it is a major strong foundation for a strong spinal cord to service reliability and integrity for the future self-correcting socio-economic and democratic system.
– Number Eleven: Small or rhetorical though it might sound, the fact that Namibia in the mouth of its governing party SWAPO has committed the country to a zebra gender-balance way of thinking and ideally governing the affairs of the nation is a keynote in our anthem for real peace, stability and sustainable development. After all, women are the majority of the population. The foresightedness of this declaration is of great moral importance to the wider world.
– Number Twelve: Namibia, through serious introspection of its Government created the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management (NIPAM) which philosophically and in terms of its aims and objectives, stand head and shoulder above its peers on the Afrikan continent. NIPAM was created to transform the public sector nationally, regionally and locally to be citizen-centric for purposes of national reconciliation, peace, stability and a common loyalty to the state so that Namibia can occupy its rightful place amongst self-governing nations. .
– Number Thirteen: The edification and codification of continuity and change as a governance ethic is an important statement about how to move forward with lessons learned. Contradictory and complex though this might sound, the logic of building upon a strong foundation to create meaningful change is very powerful. To give expression to this, President Geingob as third President instituted the Presidential Executive Council which brings to a high level conversation on the national governance, for all surviving Presidents, Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers to do introspection on the past, the present and the future for purposes of offering ideas to the incumbent Head of State.
– Number Fourteen: The abundance of sun is a huge energy source that can be tapped through investment in renewable energy. All it needs is are people with ideas and commitment to make the country a magnet center in Afrika where people are judged not by the colour of their skin, but the contribution they bring to this land under the watch of the smiling Afrikan sun.
– Number Fifteen: The small size of a nation with a great reputation offers it unenviable room to do things that other nations cannot do, either because they are too old and set in their ways or too large to transform in a meaningful manner. There is greatness in smallness. With the right attitude and leadership, Namibia can do much more in terms of growing the most essential ingredient of the economy, the people, both in size so that there is enough productive power as well as buying power. One of the most rapid ways to grow an economy is manufacturing. At the moment, with our work ethic, it is well-nigh impossible to make Namibians truly productive. It is more difficult as long as we are partially committed to the future to change the way we think and work with an obligation to expand the common good, and partly committed to the past with a culture of entitlement –that mentality that it is our time to eat at the expense of all. Our reality enjoins our leaders to tap into the diverse gifts we bring as individuals, races, languages, religions, cultures and stakeholders of one type of the other that make the whole greater than its parts. This requires courage, discernment and honesty to work with what we are and what we have. There are things that white people are good at and others that black people can do better. These contributions are not mutually exclusive but complementary to build a future which is a Zebra, neither black nor white, but ours.