On the eve of Namibia’s 31st independence anniversary, New Era’s Kuzeeko Tjitemisa caught up with information minister Peya Mushelenga to reflect on some achievements and challenges facing government after 31 years of freedom and democracy.
KT: Honourable minister, Namibians across the country will on Sunday celebrate 31 years of independence, why should young people, born after independence, celebrate Independence Day? And what has been there for them to celebrate? PM: Thank you very much. Independence Day is for everyone. It is to celebrate the freedom of Namibia from the yoke of colonialism that has taken over a hundred years in Namibia and came to an end on 20 March 1990. Many of the young people that you are talking about were not born by then, yet they will have to celebrate independence in order to give meaning to what we sing in our national anthem – ‘glory to their bravery whose blood waters our freedom’ and to pledge their loyalty as they sing the anthem ‘we give our love and loyalty together in unity’ in the country.
KT: But honourable, young people are saying they haven’t really tasted the fruits of independence. What is your message to them?
PM: It depends on which angle they are talking; not tasting the fruits of independence in what context? There are a number of projects or benefits that benefited young people after independence, starting with the provision of education, health services, social grants – to orphans and the provision of vocational training. All these have benefited people who were born after independence. One may not have benefited individually but if we look at where we were at independence and where we are now, there are obviously remarkable achievements in various sectors.
When we talk of the provision of employment, I know we have a lot of unemployed youth, but also provision of employment doesn’t mean that one needs to be necessarily be employed in government services. When you, for example, work for a road construction company that receives tenders from the government to construct roads, you have been availed job opportunities by the government; when you are in the housing construction sector and these houses were constructed at the request of the government, you have been availed job opportunities by the government.
We can mention a number of sectors that heavily depend on the government and we have seen it, for example, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that depleted most of the resources; we have seen how the government is important to employment creation.
It is true we have graduated to the streets; first, as I said, the government is not there as an employment agency. It has a limited number of intakes it can take, and it has a private sector to which it avails opportunities for job creation. Well, they may not also be enough because it also depends on the field of study – that also plays a role.
KT: Since independence, most of the wealth of this country has remained in the hands of only a small number of the population, while the majority has nothing or is struggling to make ends meet. What do you have to say on this?
PM: Well, it is a fact that at independence, we inherited skewed economic circumstances, whereby the wealth was in the hands of the selected few; however, there are many programmes being rolled out by the government to address the inequality between the rich and the poor. Currently, the government is busy with the broad-based equitable economic empowerment framework bill, aimed at addressing those inequalities. Another intervention is made through education; we have created opportunities in terms of funding for vocational training because we believe people who have done vocational training will not only be self-sustaining but they will be able to employ three or four people, thereby contributing to employment creation.
As it stands, we also have the SME sector, aimed at empowering our SMEs, as most of our previously disadvantaged are found in that space. Also, there was a mini-credit scheme at the ministry trade those years to address inequalities.
KT: The number of urban squatters living in informal settlements is going up. As it stands, it is estimated at almost a million people – 40% of the country’s total population. Should the young be hopeful of ever owning homes in urban areas?
PM: Yes, young people should; when I was the minister of urban and rural development, we had various housing schemes under the ministry: the Build Together Programme; we also avail funds to the Shack Dwellers Federation, which is meant to cater for ultra-low income.
The subsidy that has been received from the government has really helped quite a lot of people; you can talk to members of the Shack Dwellers Federation about what it means to be assisted by the government.
Currently, we have programmes that are ongoing in Windhoek and Swakopmund; 891 houses have to commence and are not yet completed – government is busy finalising completion.
The Windhoek municipality, the urban and rural development ministry as well as the regional council last year started a housing initiative, targeting informal settlements – and they are targeting about 1 200 houses. All these are efforts by government to address the housing crises.
KT: How does government intend to fix poverty-related challenges that have seen the country becoming one of the most unequal societies in the world?
PM: Well, poverty eradication and reduction of inequality is a complex undertaking; it needs a multi-sectoral approach: the government and private sector.
Now, we will be adopting policies to address this; one of them is, for example, to expand the sectors in which most of our people are found, mainly the agricultural sector.
As you know, about 57% of our people live in rural areas, and 80% of this depends on agriculture. Indeed, agriculture offers an interesting opportunity for economic growth and it has the capacity to reduce inequality when we pay attention to it. But the only problem is that when we are trying to focus on this sector, we also have unfavourable weather conditions – one year, you have drought; another year, you have excessive rain – and it damages crops. That is the dilemma we always find ourselves in.
Another thing is to broaden the revenue base to have funds available for social services – be it education, health and so on. Another thing we can encourage is to increase the shareholding base and ownership.
Additionally, we are also looking at microeconomic stability by having more foreign direct investments coming to our country for the purpose of job creation and economic growth – not just to come to extract our resources and leave.
All these are measures the government is looking at to address inequality. Also, another thing we are looking at is industrialization. As you know, we are not an industrialised economic country – industrialisation creates job opportunities.
KT: Namibia is endowed with a rich variety of mineral resources. Do you think Namibians are benefiting immensely from the country’s natural resources?
PM: Yes, they are benefiting but perhaps not to the extent they should. We need some target interventions; one of these interventions is that when we negotiate with investors that are coming in our country – before we give them the mining prospecting licences, we need to talk to them to say we must have this number of local ownership before we go out and start mining. That’s one!
Secondly, revenue from the mining sector largely comes via diamonds in terms of tax and royalties. So, it is all over 70% in this sector, which shows you that the rest of the mining sectors only contribute to the rest. But is this realistic? Perhaps that is what we have to look at. We may have to lower corporate tax and increase royalties so that those companies can start paying royalties to enable us to fund some programs in the social sector.
KT: Unemployment is another serious challenge befalling the nation. What mechanisms are in place to ensure a conducive environment is provided by government for the private sector to create the much-needed jobs?
PM: As per the private sectors I told you, part of it largely dependents on the government; we have established CPBN, which is a bit more transparent and gives more opportunities to everyone, instead of which each ministry was doing things on their own.
The idea is to have an institution that will provide opportunities to everyone but also to look at what are you bringing to the table. You want this tendered, where you are going to source your materials – where are you going to obtain the goods and services. They should be able to say we are going to source materials locally to create much-needed jobs in the country.
KT: Now 31 years after independence, how does government intend to strengthen constitutional democracy, including building trust in the system for future generations?
PM: We have institutions that are in place to strengthen democracy. We also have legislation in place. For example, I have last introduced the access to information bill; we have established institutions such as the ACC and the Office of the Ombudsman – all these are institutions that strengthen democracy – and our courts of laws ensuring that human right is adhered to.
KT: What is your Independence Day message to Namibians out there?
PM: Let us reflect on where we came from 31 years ago and try to focus on where we are going. Every Namibian should ask themselves what positive contribution they have made or will make to benefit others in society.