So, before we blame apartheid, colonialism and neo-colonialism, let us look at what we have done the last 30 years. The outcry has been the same and consistent the last 30 years.
Despite a glowing picture of Namibia as a lower-middle-income economy with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) that is significantly above average for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the reality on the ground is that only one-quarter of all Namibians and only one-sixth of black Namibians have adequate incomes; up to two-thirds live in abject poverty with little access to public services.
True, the prudent fiscal policy instituted by the Swapo-led government after independence is commendable. However, such a policy had to be matched by foreign assistance commitments translated into large actual inflows and private external investment in mining, manufacturing and fishing or such segment of the GDP would decline exacerbated by a stagnant wage employment and the collapse of the local economy that arose owing to the presence of South African troops and later UNTAG units in the northern towns.
The domestic economy recorded a slow growth of just above 1.0% growth in 2016 and during 2017, the economy contracted on the back of weak performance in construction, wholesale and retail sectors.
On the social front and given the slow growth in 2016, unemployment increased while GDP per capita declined. In 2016, Namibia was ranked by UNDP as the second most unequal country in the world after South Africa. Females are generally lowly paid as compared to their male counterparts in the same industry. To the best of my knowledge no policy interventions have been devised aimed at addressing the observed wage differences.
Unemployment remains one of the country’s biggest challenges with Kunene region having recorded the highest at 62.8 % and Zambezi region at 58.3%. The country’s unemployment rate is expected to remain above 34% in the next couple of years with estimations placing it between 37.3% and 35.9 %.
So, let us have an honest conversation. Why can’t the economy provide jobs? The conventional narrative is that we blame the lack of jobs on leadership failure, corruption, waste of public resources and economic mismanagement.
But my humble opinion is that the critical shortage of jobs has something to do with the fundamental structure of our economy and the state of our education system.
With regards to the structure of our economy, the introduction of the free market and liberalized economic model, only helped to de-industrialize the economy, shut manufacturing and industrial sector in preference for cheap imports that has helped grow the trading sector.
I dare say that our economy is now highly informal because the number of workers in the formal sector has barely changed in the last 30 years when our population was 1.3 million people but now stands at 2.6 million people. Yet our graduates from universities, colleges and other institutions are well trained that they can work anywhere else in the world except Namibia. This is because the training and skills acquired cannot be matched with the jobs or lack of jobs available on the market.
Our education system creates and promotes people for white collar jobs that no longer exist in the market and this makes our people speak good English but without jobs. Despite fundamental changes that have occurred to the economy, the education system has stagnated and has not responded or adapted to the new structure of our economy.
To make matters worse, little attention has been paid to innovation, entrepreneurship and a robust technical and vocational education, sub-sectors that could create employers, who can employ themselves and others.
Further, sectors such as agriculture that have potential to create millions of seasonal jobs have proven unattractive to young people who are the most affected by the current unemployment status. This is because they are waiting for the quality jobs that they have been trained in and skilled for.
A disturbing trend is that lately, government has placed the most valuable natural resources, the mines, in the hands of foreign entities and foreign benefits, for exploitation. Without deriving rent from natural resources, which is the proven best source of domestic revenue for a country, the scenario creates a cycle of poverty and the resources benefit and makes millions of dollars for the few newcomers.
Take for example the case of the USA and China.
While it took 200 years for the USA to become the number one economy in the world, it has taken China a mere 40 years to lift about 500 million people out of poverty, industrialize its economy and make China a global manufacturing hub of goods and services.
Although considered a developing nation, China is now the second largest economy in the world. China ensured that the largest benefit for this state capitalism was to the country and its people and not to private entities or persons,
In conclusion, whilst the liberal economy and free market model adopted by Namibia promotes impressive economic growth and creates wealth, it leaves so many behind and promotes high income inequality.
Within the Namibian political context, the patronage system has created predatory offshoots such as high incidences of corruption, theft and fraud of state funds since 1990 to support and guarantee a place for such participants in the system.
Let us now face the monster and do two things.
First, let us design our own economic model that is suitable for our environment, that responds to the needs of our people and our country and let us abandon these foreign but failed economic prescriptions that have made us worse, each passing generation. Let us make SMEs as the centre and focus of government policy, provide fund support and nurturing as this is the biggest sector that will drive our economy and be a reliable future Employer.
Let us also take back our natural resources in a model that delivers the most benefit to our people and chart the destiny of our country. Second and lastly, let us decolonise our education system as the current one creates and promotes people for white-collar jobs that no longer exist in the market and does not absorb the huge numbers of graduates churned out annually.
We need to foster a system that promotes innovation, entrepreneurship, transformative, technical and vocational education.