The Harambee Prosperity Plan II, launched on Thursday 18 March 2021, provided Namibians with renewed hope and vigour – perhaps the future is bright. As the name implies, the plan intends to engender a prosperous Namibia. Indeed, HPPII continues with the HPP1 legacy – the Kiswahili word for ‘All pull together.’ At the launch of HPPII, successive speakers praised the successes of the HPPI. Whether the purported achievements are real or simply imagined, only time will tell.
Namibians are, however, divided about the successes of the defunct HPPI. While some claim that the first HPP fundamentally improved the Namibian people’s lives, others challenge the premise of that narrative and question the evaluation data on which the definition of a ‘successful’ HPPI was based. Personally, I find all the fuss a little surprising. Here is why – first, the concept of ‘prosperity’ does not have a common definition in Namibia. The government and citizens do not share a common definition of what it means to be ‘prosperous’ in Namibia. However, that can lead to inconclusive debates. For instance, when Harambee Prosperity Plan enthusiasts claim that the plan will engender prosperity in Namibia, what does ‘prosperity’ mean? What type of prosperity do they refer to?
Second, when the government declares that the first HPP contributed to a prosperous Namibia, does that narrative reflect the socio-economic realities of the ordinary citizens on the ground? The Oxford Dictionary (2015) defines prosperity as the state of being successful, especially in making money. This definition means richness and economic success are signs of prosperity. Indeed, the president observed that in the context of Covid-19, history is the best teacher. The key question, however, is what is the current level of prosperity in Namibia? A rich person in Namibian will honestly answer this question as follows:
First, Namibia continues to be one of the highly unequal society in the world. Did the HPPI reach its Gini coefficient target? Second, over the past five years, the gap between the poor and the rich has widened. Whom did HPPI remove from abject poverty? Where are the statistics to support the claims? Where in Namibia are those people? Can we use those best practices in HPPI? Third, official statistics on unemployment continue to increase unabated.
We all agree that it was not Covid-19 that caused the current unprecedented youth unemployment situation in Namibia. Fourth, learning outcomes are deplorably low at both primary and secondary school phases. How many learners were admitted to universities this year? How many grade 11 learners will be admitted into TVET colleges this year? How many TVET centres were built under HPPI as promised? How many of those colleges are functional today? Fifth, the digital divide continues to negatively affect Namibia’s public education system. How did HPPI serve the country during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Sixth, the rural electrification programme continues to benefit only selected communities in parts of Namibia. Seventh, clean potable water remains a challenge in many parts of Namibia. Eight, the public health system in Namibia is a nightmare for the poor and the majority of citizens of this country. Covid-19 exposed a systems failure of facts six to eight. Nine, corruption might not be systemic according to the Mo Ibrahim’s Perception Index; but it is endemic across the public sector, notwithstanding. One might argue that public perception influences the state of corruption in Namibia, but the fact remains ‘there is no smoke without fire!’ The litany of examples in the public domain says volumes. Supporters of the Mo Ibrahim’s Perception Index must verify the following facts about the study: How was it conceptualised? How were research questions formulated? What were the inclusion and exclusion criteria of participants? Lastly, what theoretical framework informed the study? Ten, service delivery at regional and local levels is profoundly shocking. Let, therefore, the Namibian citizens judge for themselves facts nine and ten.
Third, the problem with the HPPI was that it whole-heartedly promoted the economic notion of prosperity. But even that on its own account, the plan failed to live by its economic definition of prosperity. The HPPI has the same definitional weaknesses and is similarly heading for disaster. Any social study will show that Namibians are unhappy about the ten governance issues identified above. Many citizens countrywide are traumatised by non-financial issues, including poor service delivery at health facilities and police stations. Lack of timely provision of social services at different public institutions is among the top five issues ordinary Namibians complain about daily.
The HPPs were founded on the idea of economic growth, which followers parade as an essential element for prosperity. In the Namibian context, this capitalistic notion of prosperity is associated with greed and faulty. Evidence shows that during the implementation of HPP1, only the owners of capital and the political elite experienced economic prosperity. The 2019 United Nations World Happiness Report shows that out of 156 countries, Namibia was ranked 113 happiest country in the world. The average happiness value for Namibia leading to the launch of the HPPII was 4.57 (where zero is unhappy and ten is happy). This value suggests that even rich people in Namibia were unhappy leading to the launch of the HPPII.
Sadly, happiness as a social indicator of human well-being continues to evade three-quarters of the Namibian population despite the country’s sustained economic growth and prosperity. Most Namibians are disillusioned with every government plan launched and fear that their children and grandchildren’s future economic conditions will be worse amidst economic growth. George Papandreou of Greece once remarked that when economic growth happens it is always the ‘the figures that prosper while the people suffer.’
Thus, the answer to the question whether the ‘Harambee Prosperity Plan II is a prosperity project for all Namibians?’ raises many questions than answers. For most Namibians, the answer to this question is ‘We are tired of empty promises. Who eats a piece of paper?’ When politicians launch another plan, Namibians ask what happened to Vision 2030, previous Regional Development Plans, National Development Plans 1 to 5 and hundreds of other strategic plans developed and launched countrywide over the year? Namibians have a different meaning of the term prosperity that the political elite has deliberately chosen to ignore. For most Namibians prosperity means that:
children have access to qualified teachers; pencils, textbooks and papers to write on. How many children currently share textbooks across public schools countrywide?
access to a legitimate piece of land on which they can build their houses, or on which they can cultivate their vegetables.
access to clean water and sanitation.
Politicians must be reminded that Namibians like any other human being under the sun aspire to live a dignified standard of life. But as Jeffrey Sachs observes: ‘the greatest strategy of our time is that one-sixth of humanity is not even on the development ladder. A large number of the extreme poor are caught in a poverty trap, ... trapped by disease, physical isolation, climate stress, environmental degradation, and by extreme poverty itself.’
The Namibian government will claim later that it did not have the financial means to invest in poverty eradication projects and programmes, but the bottom line is that Namibians expect no less than a full implementation of the Harambee Prosperity Plan. And all Namibians are waiting for action.