There is doubt Namibia is under siege from economic stagnation and consequently the resultant high unemployment being compounded by massive retrenchments in mining, retail, fishing and other key pillars of its fragile economy. Also, thousands of university graduates and even unskilled school leavers scramble for the few job opportunities whenever such opportunities arise.
Experience has shown how susceptible Namibia like most African countries are to global economic shocks and subsequently to commodity prices. Naturally, some African countries are more vulnerable than others to global economic shocks because their economies are more reliant on the export of one or just a few commodities. African countries have for decades been characterised by mono-economies. Typical of its politicians they have done too little to diversify apart from the usual talk.
Nigeria has for ages leaned too heavily on oil and so has Angola. Zambia has since the Kenneth Kaunda era of one-party state been stuck in its comfort zone of copper and the list is infinite.
Namibia’s main exports are several of its minerals namely diamonds, uranium and zinc beef and grapes. But its mainstay remains extractive in nature. In light of the current challenges there is a great need to get out of our comfort zone and diversify our economy in a big way to create jobs.
The time for talk is over. We have Vision 2030 that supposedly will see us become an industrialised country by 2030 but at the pace at which we are moving there is very little to show for this brilliant idea apart from our politicians fleetingly talking big about Vision 2030 whenever the occasion arises.
Africa in the words of renowned Kenyan academic Professor PLO Lumumba produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does not produce. It imports everything from flip-flops, t-shirts, underwear, clothing, toothbrushes, vehicles, electronics, guns, rice, wheat and the list is endless.
One of the main reasons African countries continue creating jobs and wealth and continue lagging behind other global economies is the continent has invested in science and technology on a cosmetic basis. This despite science, technology and innovation create wealth and jobs. Talk is simply cheap.
The secret behind industrialisation is simple in that to these nations ideas mattered.
And Namibia unlike other African countries that are strife and disease riven has political and macroeconomic stability, a vibrant and free press and most importantly it has a smaller population.
At times like this, we need to do an honest assessment and say what have we done? And how could we have done it better in our march towards prosperity where the majority have decent jobs?
We have one of the best roads on the African continent and there is peace and stability, but why have we been unable to create even low-tech industry. Just the other week we were told we have even failed to establish a small factory to make toothpicks that we have to import at a great cost.
It is very shocking that tooth-pick making machinery costs less than N$150 000 but not a single Namibian has seized this opportunity to venture into tooth-making and thus creating jobs.
We believe there are numerous other opportunities apart from making toothpicks that could be exploited. Some of these industries are low-tech and are not capital-intensive. Otherwise Vision 2030 and other national development plans such as NDP 5 will continue being a dream deferred. We need to innovate big time.
Namibia should move out of its comfort zone and initiate and innovate while making the most out of its natural resources and get maximum beneficiation. We should industrialise and there is no harm copying how other countries became industrialised even after they emerged from wartime.
Otherwise we will continue being saddled with the growing army of unemployed youth which could be a source of social strife that has the potential to cause instability on a scale never seen before.
It is a shame that almost three decades after independence we still import toothpicks and have failed to invest in industries that could create jobs and generate wealth.