Can we just think out loud here? Firstly, since there are over 7.7 billion people scattered over six continents, we refuse to believe and submit that all good things can only come from Silicon Valley and China. If that were the case, I am sure God would have created us with wings to fly out to China and the Silicon Valley to find solutions to our problems, but alas. We don’t! Secondly, we are not too convinced that all of Namibia’s intellectuals only reside in Windhoek. But like we said, we are just thinking out loud.
The renowned Nobel peace prize laureate Mohammed Yunus with his incredible microfinance concept hails from Bangladesh, of all countries. Mo Ibrahim, comes from Sudan in Africa. Their stories would be told a little later. But what do these two men have in common?
An employable demographic
Namibia has a population of 2 746 745, and a large part of that population is unemployed but employable. Our nominal gross domestic product per capita, according to the World Bank, stands at US$4 958.00. Those who fathom economics would tell you that there is no justifiable reason why Namibia should be asking for bailouts from the International Monetary Fund, or auctioning off our natural resources to the highest bidder. But statistics are merely that, statistics.
In 2005, the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sports and Culture introduced and successfully piloted a microfinance programme titled the Namibia Youth Credit Scheme in the Oshana, Oshikoto, Omusati and Ohangwena regions. This programme was aimed at boosting youth enterprises and employment creation. As things stand, the jury is out on this programme and the story, like that of many other brilliant initiatives, would be told some other day. The Savings and Credit Cooperatives, and agricultural Cooperatives in Kenya, are among many success stories.
What would have happened if the N$762 million was allocated to the youths and the employable in all the 121 constituencies, instead of the emergency income grant conundrum? This would mean over N$6 million per constituency for development as opposed to consumption. A sizeable number of the currently unemployed people could have been trained and equipped with general business skills and business plan development skills to secure funding for their envisaged businesses. Just imagine the world of a difference it would have made if such funds were allocated sustainably with value-addition in view. We couldn’t help but think that capacitating constituency councillors and their village headmen to monitor and evaluate an employment creation programme of this magnitude and supervising the collection of loan repayment activities is of great importance since their current job descriptions seem to be limited to never-ending meeting attendances and reading out messages of condolences at memorials of the elderly departed in their respective constituencies and villages.
When the employable are trained and capacitated to establish enterprises and afterwards provided with seed capital to embark upon business development, not only are we creating employment and reducing poverty, but we would also be addressing urban migration and the proliferation of Twalolokas and Otweyas.
It has to be said that the unnecessary loss of life and property by shack fires is avoidable. According to the Harambee Prosperity Plan 2, there are 113 Twalolokas/Otweyas locations throughout the country. This number is increasing daily, and the inhabitants in these settlements are able-bodied citizens. Quintessentially, rolling out a microfinance programme that would equip people with lifelong skills and income would not only ensure self-sufficiency, but prevent urbanisation leading to citizens losing so much of their hard-earned belongings in shack fires, which has become quite an epidemic of sorts. They would run their small enterprises in their villages and proudly contribute to the GDP of their motherland.
We know of communal farmers who want to produce and sell their crops and livestock, the aspiring poultry farmers, university graduates and vocational training centre artisans who wish to produce for the market, but they lack financial support and mentorship. Investing in our human capital, in our opinion, is the only strategy that is sustainable. We have experimented with ‘’fishroting’’, the auctioning off of our natural resources, which was our latest guinea pig. I’m sure we can afford to take a gamble on our employable demographic. Poor people are bankable and trustworthy, according to the Grameen bank founder, Yunus, while in the words of the Amazon great Jeff Bezos, it is not an experiment if you know that it is going to work.
Sustainability, economic growth
Our main employers are tourism, agriculture, mining and the fisheries sector. If youths are modelling and aligning their business concepts around these four sectors, they will be sustainable. Maybe, just maybe, this intervention will boost our GDP, which has been stagnating at around N$177 billion forever.
Of course, through the annals of history, no country has effectively alleviated poverty. If it is any consolation, there are Twalolokas/Otweyas in the United States of America. China with its US$10 260.00 per capita income has many pockets of poverty too, notwithstanding the rosy picture they consistently flash in front of us. So, poverty is a global problem. The point here is, urbanisation and the proliferation of Otweyas/Twalolokas in Namibia is circumscribable, and no rocket science, neither empirical evidence from a press briefing from State House is required for this realisation. A microfinance programme is sustainable, along with a revolving loan fund, and with some the best business trainers and business examples whose experience to tap from, we will succeed.
It could, however, be proposed that for good governance, village committee members must report to their headmen, and in turn, headmen reporting to their constituency councillors, councillors reporting to their respective governors, who report to the line minister, and finally to the president ensures sustainability. It may be a costly undertaking in the first year, but exponential growth in revenue can be expected by way of repayments at the rate friendly to the employable. Covid-19 is not the first nor the last of pandemics. On our shores, we recently had swine flu, malaria, Ebola, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C/E, to mention but a few. Hence, we can’t rest on our laurels. Sustainable strategies and workable plans should be devised to save mankind, livelihoods and secure the future. Paraphrasing another adage, a drop in the ocean, however insignificant, is nonetheless a drop. Professor Yunus has a net worth of US$10 000 000.00 thanks to his microfinance initiative. His brainchild, the Grameen bank raked in a total revenue of US$150 000 000.00 in 2010, and it has a total clientele of over seven million people, over 2500 branches and 20 000 employees across more than 78 000 villages in Bangladesh. The unemployment rate in that country of over 160 million people stands at a healthy percentage, while in Namibia, we are at 43%.
Membership and financial contributions to the Social Security Commission would increase dramatically should we provide funding and business opportunities to those who are employable in our society.
Equally, they will have more buying power, which will increase spending in the economy, the creation of further employment in different sectors of the economy from Katima Mulilo to Oranjemund, a Value Added Tax boost, and the circulation of the Namibia dollar within the country. There is an adage that if everyone cleaned where they are standing, the whole place would be clean.
While the only notable achievements of the food bank are a dependency syndrome and the boosting of the bottom lines of Pick n Pay and Shoprite, we need to propose viable, feasible and sustainable solutions, among which a well-coordinated, fool-proof and incorruptible microfinance programme might just be the panacea to our country’s unemployment woes.