Windhoek – As Namibia celebrates its 26th independence on Monday, March 21, the nation can rejoice over many achievements like the stable political climate, economic growth, human development, rise in the literacy rate and more in this short span of time.
But Namibia is also faced by many challenges, especially when it comes to the staggering high rate of poverty and inequality, unemployment, lack of decent shelter and the slow pace of land reform.
Despite this, many experts believe that there are many reasons to celebrate independence as it was Namibia’s most major achievement in 1990 after a long and bitter struggle to liberate the country from the yoke of colonialism.
Namibia or South West Africa as it was called while a German colonial territory was placed under the South African “protectorate” by the League of Nations after the First World War.
But after the United Nations was established following the end of the Second World War, the South African apartheid regime incorporated the than South West Africa as one of its provinces.
Labour expert Herbert Jauch believes that in general, independence was a major achievement for Namibia and there is thus a good justification to celebrate independence every year.
“The particular focus and expectation this year rests on what measures will government take to eradicate poverty and to build a more inclusive and egalitarian society.
The huge levels of inequality that we maintained for 26 years are simply unacceptable and it is time to take deliberate action to redress this situation,” he said.
Jauch is of the opinion that the central focus of the anticipated Harambee Prosperity Plan by President Hage Geingob and government should serve its purpose, otherwise everything will remain the same while most Namibians hope for visible changes.
The ‘Harambee towards Prosperity for All’ is aimed at reducing poverty at significant levels in the country and is to be implemented from the period 2016/17 to 2020/21 and its implementation commence April 1, 2016.
Jauch further stated that there were many achievements since independence, such as the regular and generally peaceful elections that the governing Swapo Party has emerged as the dominant political force.
“Economically, we have seen modest economic growth over the years but no systematic diversification of the economy to create a large number of additional jobs. Inflation rates have been kept at modest levels of around 4-6 percent in most years and social grants were expanded to reach some of the vulnerable people in our society,” he pointed out, adding that the introduction of a universal social pension was a major step in reducing poverty and guaranteeing at least a minimum income for all the elderly.
“In terms of legal changes, women’s rights and protection against discrimination and harassment were entrenched in the Constitution, the Labour Act. Affirmative Action (employment) Act and the ruling party adopted a 50-50 policy in its structures.
Thus progress has been made in terms of moving towards formal gender equality but the question of substantive equality still remains,” he said.
The labour expert said that in terms of youth, there was much talk about the challenges facing the youth and both the National Youth Council and the National Youth Service were set up to address some of them.
However, majority of the youth still face major challenges, such as mass unemployment, poverty and a lack of housing that need to be tackled systematically.
Jauch further noted that high levels of inequality remain unresolved in terms of income and access to resources.
“The careful economic reforms and the hope of a “trickle down” effect did not manage to deliver greater levels of socio-economic equality.
Instead we are still basically a “rich country with poor people,” he maintained, saying that bold steps need to be taken now to make social and economic rights a reality for all and to eradicate poverty as the President set as one of government’s key aims.
Jauch spelled out that making adequate housing a right, providing access to quality education and health care for all, limiting housing speculation and multiple ownership by the rich, introducing a wealth tax and a capital gains tax and introducing a basic income grant as some of the measures to bring about economic equality for all.
“Expectations are high and 2016 will be a year for government to show that it can deliver and that it is willing to take bold steps of redistribution in favour of the poor.
Without addressing the huge levels of inequality, there can be no peace and stability in the years to come,” he said.
Mandela Kapere, the executive chairperson of the National Youth Council (NYC), said that the Independence Day was about celebrating the freedom and an opportunity for Namibians to determine their own future.
When it comes to youth empowerment, Kapere said that a lot has been achieved from the policy perspective and Namibia was one of the 15 first African countries to adopt the African Union Youth Charter.
He said Namibia is one of only five African nations that has youth development institutions created by law and the country can also boast as being one of few countries that has expanded its youth framework budget towards education.
“A big chunk of the national budget goes towards youth development,” he enthused.
However, the NYC chairperson said that the system was not adequately responsive to cater for the young entrepreneurs, innovators and other business development initiatives by young people.
This is the main reason why Namibia’s youth development is lowly ranked when it comes to youth entrepreneurship and support for sound enterprises, he said.
Dr Omo Kakujaha-Matundu from the University of Namibia’s Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences said he was equally elated to celebrate independence every year as it is not about a specific year in point but about the achievements in 26 years.
He said that it was Namibia’s government policies that unleashed potentials in the economy that were denied to black people during apartheid.
“Namibia made huge economic strides, whether it is our infrastructure, roads and the deepening of our harbour (at Walvis Bay),” he maintained.
On challenges, Kakujaha-Matundu said that Namibia still has a narrow economic structure, which relies heavily on industries such as mining and agriculture.
This means that when the world economy slows down, we suffer as a mineral exporting country, he said.
He said that drought was posing a serious challenge to agricultural produce, which will affect the GDP of Namibia.
“We need to see how to add value through manufacturing, such as (producing) leather products, add more value to fish before exporting.
We have serious challenges and government needs to pursue policies that will promote value addition,” he added. (Reported by Magreth Nunuhe)