Namibia’s NEEF drawing regional comparisons

By Tiri Masawi

Windhoek – Namibia is set to pluck a leaf from South Africa and Zimbabwe by tabling the Namibia Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEF) Bill that seeks to force predominantly white owned companies to sell 25 percent of their stake to previously disadvantaged Namibians, this year.

The NEEEF Bill, if passed into law, is also seen as a way of creating equal opportunities in the mainstream economy and redressing colonial imbalances which marginalised a largely black population from the means of production, including industry and land at the expense of the minority white populace.

However, despite President Hage Geingob hinting through his State of the Nation Address that NEEEF will soon be tabled in parliament for debate, it has not been without its drawbacks, with those against the move saying just like in Zimbabwe where affirmative action was driven in the 1990s and South Africa where Black Economic Empowerment was pursued at the same time, the policy might not entirely address broad based economic empowerment.

“Despite progress made, Namibia remains one of the most unequal societies in the world and it is for this reason that we have proposed the introduction of an economic empowerment framework. Public consultations on the framework have been completed and the Office of the Prime Minister has consolidated the report, which will soon be tabled in Cabinet.

“However, I have followed public discussions on this matter and have observed that while NEEEF maybe imperfect, most commentators are avoiding the inequality question wherein NEEEF is located. Despite the self-regulation approach adopted in some key economic sectors, such as the mining, financial services and tourism, we have not seen significant transformation in the last 27 years of Namibia’s independence. The majority of Namibians remain structurally excluded from meaningful participation in the economy and as we established earlier, inclusivity ensures harmony and exclusivity brings discord,” Dr Geingob said in his state of the nation address on April 12.

Critics of NEEEF believe that not all Namibians have the financial muscle to acquire shares in large conglomerates serve for a few affluent black nobles who have already created their wealthy.

On the other hand, the affected white industrialists spearheaded by the Namibian Manufacturing Association (NMA) already voiced their concern and dissatisfaction in ceding their supposed hard earned riches, while some analysts in Namibia feel the policy might favour a few affluent previously disadvantaged Namibians with the means to acquire shares in the targeted firms at the expense of Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) that will benefit all Namibians.

Although the minority white population in Namibia constitutes a meagre less than 10 percent of the total 2.2 million inhabitants, they control the means of production while the largely dominant previously disadvantaged black population has been excluded from the mainstream economy despite the country basking in the glory of 27 years of self-rule.

In fact, Namibia has one of the most unequal distributions of resources although significant progress has been made to date to emancipate the livelihoods of the previously disadvantaged.

While the NEEEF  Bill is expected to be heavily contested in the Namibian parliament when it is tabled, it comes close to the same black economic empowerment policies followed by both Zimbabwe and South Africa in the late 1990s to mid-2000s in a bid to drive the emancipation of the previously disadvantaged in the mainstream economy.

Although in Zimbabwe the deliberate affirmative action and indigenisation policies gave birth to formidable black businessmen in that country while in South Africa the BEE policy also created wealthy for some previously disadvantaged, critics believe those two countries succeeded in replacing a few affluent white business people with a few black people and did not achieve broad based economic emancipation.

But proponents of the policies argue that a significant number of previously disadvantaged people in Zimbabwe now participate meaningfully in the economy, particularly in the financial and telecommunications sectors.

“Our economy is not immune to our social realities and therefore reflects and perpetuates the lack of inclusivity and social disparity at shareholding, board and senior management levels. Without deliberate policies, the economy on its own will not be able to correct for structural imbalances.

“This underscores the notion by Joseph Stiglitz that inequality is a choice. This is not our choice and we require the support of all Namibians to fix the obvious, and dangerous, flaws in our social structure,” Dr Geingob argued.

He also added, “There are similarities between the redistribution of land and wealth, which have both become emotive but topical issues.

“I therefore believe that just as we have decided to engage in a second national dialogue on the land question, we may consider doing the same on inequality, where we can better examine the market place of ideas.

“Namibia has the advantage of enjoying positive race relations which lends itself for a frank, difficult and necessary conversation on the solutions to reduce inequality.”

He also added that, “Namibia has the opportunity to lead and set the model on how to redress wealth redistribution in a pragmatic, sustainable and orderly manner and I have no doubt that we will rise to this challenge.”

Pundits also believe that despite the obvious critics from those who do not look at NEEF with the same lenses, the proposition by Geingob might a better way of setting the empowerment wheels in motion for a country that is also in overdrive to rid of poverty and improve standards of living for the masses.

April 2017
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