By Magreth Nunuhe
WINDHOEK–ECONOMIC experts have urged Namibia to pull up its socks if it is serious about attracting foreign investment by developing its infrastructure, defining its position on foreign investment, taking advantage of industrialisation opportunities and creating solid institutions.
Addressing the Invest in Namibia Conference held on November 8 and 9 in Windhoek, experts lauded Namibia for its sound and stable democratic system, though much still needs to be done to create a conducive environment for investment.
Graham Hopwood, the director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said the country needs to know what its competitive advantages are over other countries.
“Having peace and stability and a nice climate is not enough. The government has the right approach by presenting Namibia as a potential export base and as a logistics hub, but we need to develop our infrastructure, particularly rail and our links with neighbouring countries to really make this work,” he pointed out.
Hopwood stressed the need to reduce the amount of red tape and delays that hamper would-be investors.
“This should be a no-brainer for Namibia, yet we have not really got going in the last decade while other countries have moved much quicker than us to make it easier to do business,” he said, adding that the hope is that the Harambee Prosperity Plan will help spur the process on since.
The one-stop shop for investors will open in 2018 under the Harambee Prosperity Plan.
Roman Grynberg, Professor of Economics and Management Sciences at the University of Namibia, said Namibia had endless investment attractions, especially in the mining sector.
But he says the government should clarify the position on foreign equity in the wake of the New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) proposals.
The NEEEF proposes that white-owned companies should sell a 25-percent stake to previously disadvantaged blacks, although it is facing hostility from white monopoly capital and big business.
“NEEEF is overshadowing everything. The government needs to give clarity on the NEEEF and where we are heading. Things on the policy front need to improve,” he said.
President Geingob’s government has called on white people, who still control the country’s economy and remain the biggest land owners, to be willing partners in the government’s policy of addressing historic inequalities.
Grynberg further predicted tough uncertain times ahead for Namibia, given a widening budget deficit.
Namibia recently announced a massive cut of R6 billion to the national budget and the credit rating agency, Fitch, painted a bleak outlook for the economy and warned of a possible credit downgrade.
Notwithstanding, Grynberg said that Namibia has good infrastructure; it is not land-locked and has good access to central African markets.
“So far, despite years of drought, Windhoek stood up well, electricity is still available from Eskom, but we need another source of energy. The difficulty is far from worse,” he added.
Carlos Lopes, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said 2015 and 2016 were a perfect storm for most of Africa, especially due to drought and the fall in commodity prices, but it was for the short term.
Speaking at the Investment Conference, Lopes said foreign direct investment (FDI) attracted US$580 billion worth of manufacturing goods from Africa and contrary to popular belief, Africa does not only have natural resources.
“We are moving into industrialisation. The Afro-barometer shows an indication of satisfaction for Namibia because of democratic values. Namibia is number one,” he enthused, calling on the country to take advantage of industrialisation opportunities.
However, he said that there was a lack of regional integration and although Namibia fares well in terms of governance, stability and diversity, that cannot be said of many other African countries.
“We need to create solid institutions, restructure characterisation of economic fundamentals. We need to go deeper into structuring economies,” he stressed.
Wolfgang Tiefensee, the Minister of Economy, Science and Digital Society of the German Free State of Thuringen, drew attention to the growing youth consumer market in Africa and Europe.
He added that it was important to create cooperation and equal partnerships. “Africa is the continent with the best future with unbelievable growth in GDP,” he said.
Sven Thieme, President of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), said that Namibia has done a lot of things differently to improve ease of doing business here.
He added that the NCCI has a close relationship with government, has created a conducive environment to foster business and has built an “incredible house” – a gateway to southern Africa market.
“We have a small, smart, sexy country. We take SMEs very seriously with infant protection. We are open to new horizons as a gateway to Africa.
“Tourism is underrated but it is a big employment creator,” he said.
The Invest in Namibia Conference’s objective is to mobilise potential investors from the vast investor pool in the country for business to business (B2B) matchmaking with foreign businesses and enterprises, including government institutions and national and international chambers of commerce.