Namibia is rated a high middle-income country, whose economy is largely based on agriculture, tourism and mining industries, among others. This means that Namibians should not be swimming in the sea of abject poverty, at all. At independence, however, Namibia inherited an income inequality of enormous proportions, second only to South Africa, its former colonial master. The inequality between the rich and the poor has for the past three decades continued to rise and there is no sign of narrowing. For instance, despite spiced political rhetoric of how much the income has narrowed over the years, undisputed evidence shows that a colossal gap between low-income earners and the average employed Namibians continue to grow.
A senior executive’s salary in the public sector in Namibia is now estimated to be more than hundred times higher than that of an average paid employee monthly. This is, however, just a tip of an iceberg, because while income distribution is unequal, the distribution of wealth is even worse. Data show that while the wealth of the country is concentrated in about 5% of the population, three quarters of households continue to languish in the bottom half of the purgatory of poverty and despair.
Most economists believe that the poverty and economic inequalities Namibia experiences today is the result of the misapplication of the principles of the market economic system. Recently and somewhat surprisingly, the present government has suggested that Namibia is unequal because of the wrongful choice and application of the socialist ideology adopted at independence. These two assertions are devoid of any truth. Reality check shows that every Namibian, perhaps except some politicians know that Namibia adopted a capitalist market economy at independence. Also, all Namibians, including most politicians know that the Namibian government never adopted a socialist philosophy of economic administration. It is thus suspicious of any political figure to suggest that the economic difficulties Namibians face today resulted from the left-wing economics that the country adopted at independence. Such a conclusion is not only incoherent but is also equal to ‘moral dishonesty’. The government of Namibia neither in theory or practice adopted a socialist economic order at independence. Although Article 95 of the constitution characterises Namibia as a welfare state, it distances itself from a socialist economic thinking. In fact, none of the 12 sub-articles of the said article openly or indirectly promote the collective ownership of the means of production, which is a key tenet of the socialist wing of economics. The market economy system has neither been perfect. Three decades of the market economy experiment has only rewarded millions of Namibians with untold socio-economic miseries.
Critics, however, suggest that inequality in Namibia is a man-made phenomenon and has increased during the past three decades through a three-pronged approach proverbially referred to as ‘speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil’. In a nutshell, for the past 30 years, policymakers have found it useful to ignore the chilling data on inequality, as if to say, ‘mission impossible.’ For many decades, senior government executives chose to keep silent about the numerous wrongdoings that a small, tightly organised group of political party supporters committed. For instance, despite widespread public outcry of financial mismanagement and embezzlement of state property at different government offices, politicians wilfully ignored citizens’ exposés. Policymakers of all political persuasions have for the past three decades chose to cover their eyes, ears, or mouth with their hands, while living among hundreds of starving and crying children.
In most cases, evidence shows that while leaders failed to criticise those who were involved in impropriety, many alleged offenders were promoted into senior positions for doing wrong things or wasting public resources. History elsewhere on the African continent has shown that turning a blind eye to impropriety; tolerating and not actively ensnaring the real causes of inequality will never narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Policymakers should be willing to speak, see and hear the adverse effects of the evils of inequality as a first step of reducing it in Namibia.