• August 10th, 2020

Elite capture and state neglect in Namibia

On 15 September 2019, twenty-three functionaries of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) undertook a self-paid trekked trip by bus to Cape Town, in search of knowledge at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) hosted under the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The delegation attended a weeklong training on core issues related to poverty, inequality, natural resources management, land and agrarian reform, and fisheries management. 

The other highlight was a field trip to Robertson, the town of Robertson’s spice and exotic wine cellars, where the delegation shared experiences and best practices on urban land struggles with radical movements such as Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim The City.

In August last year, a similar trip was undertaken by fifteen LPM functionaries to Plaas, which puts the total number of beneficiaries at thirty-eight. Plaas offers amongst others a Postgraduate Diploma in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, MPhil in research and PhD in poverty, land and agrarian studies, and this served our delegation well, as we could tapped into the wisdom of world-class academics. LPM Leader, Bernadus Swartbooi, attended a short course on the Political Economy of Land Governance in Africa last year at Plaas, and recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies. As LPM focus on poverty, land and agrarian reform, it is critical that its leaders equipped themselves with theory and practice on these subject matters. 

The time and space provided by Plaas accorded us an opportunity to reflect on what are the critical shortcomings we face in agricultural and urban land struggles in Namibia and what sort of evidence-based policies we could craft for implementation. The critical element was to draw the vicious link between poverty and land. 

Increasing poverty levels leads to widening gaps in inequality. The four drivers of inequality could be identified in our case as, colonial land grab, spatial economy, overdeveloped core, and unskilled/semi-skilled human capital. The history of land dispossession and resultant genocide led to the vicious cycle of landlessness in urban settings, and thus created poverty traps and concentration of cheap labour in rural areas, which the current government is failing to rectify. Whereas, beef farmers rake in huge profits in the over-developed core, small-scale farmers struggle in the under-developed periphery. 

This rings true for South Africa also. For example, South African economy is extremely controlled by small and large corporations in the overdeveloped core, as 75 percent of food is sold through Pick n Pay, Shoprite etc, rendering small scale farmers hopeless. There is thus a huge disconnect between political rhetoric of spatial economy, wherein South African president Ramaphosa dreams about smart cities, bullet trains, and gentrification on one side, and what ordinary mainly poor Blacks hopes to be a better life for all. There is a need to imagine change driven from below, which calls for a broader, coherent vision of rural futures. 

Therefore, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and activists alike need to engage with research evidence for informed, sustained and better choices to make for action. It is important to understand the world, in order to change it. Equally so, rage is necessary but not sufficient, therefore, as social movements, we need to imagine alternative futures in this post-Keynesian economics. It is painfully clear where the neoliberal free-market prescripts have led our country in to: de-industrialisation, massive sector declines (46 percent youth unemployment, agriculture 28.1 percent, mining 20.2 percent, construction industry 5.5 percent) and increase in corruption. 

We should constantly expand our understandings of “development” in the current trajectory of governance model given the outright parasitical criminals at the helm of Geingob administration. Despite the early 21st century ravages of the post-financial crisis, which was largely caused by global financial meltdown and food price crises in the world, we are nonetheless yearning for a radical economic programme to build the economy and create jobs. Even in this current critical posture of neo-liberal developmentalism pursued by the ruling party, despite it referring to itself as “socialism with Namibian characteristics” to appease global capital, all what we witness is the criminalization of public institutions, public enterprises, and grand scale looting. 

But even without this, the current Swapo policies, which the government so actively promotes through Harambee Prosperity Plan and NDP5 as progressive, will not advance a meaningful socio-economic transformation. State and capital are mutually implicated in grand scale looting. The ruling party is objectively, and sometimes subjectively the accomplice of the merchant class. Most certainly, failure and impoverishment of the ordinary people will follow if Geingob administration relies too much on foreign direct investment by parasitic individuals like the Mexican Erindi farm fame. 

To rectify the wrongdoings of the past 29 years, we call for the crafting of an active industrial policy, which will unleash the full potential of the productive forces. An active industrial plan with teeth to reinvigorate production, giving rise to economic modernization with jobs, and redistribution, not merely relying on austerity. An economic plan is desired that would ensure that society takes control of the economics, which shall not be entirely based on private capitalism, nor on state capitalism, but shall include environmental and democratic imperatives. We shouldn’t continue, as was, as though, as if no nothing should happen!

*Henny H. Seibeb, deputy leader of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM)

Staff Reporter
2019-09-27 09:44:36 | 10 months ago

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