From the outset, one has to understand what this means multifaceted, difficult and contested word, ‘development’. The Society for International Development defines development as a process that creates growth, progress, and positive change to the physical, economic, environmental, and social life of citizens. The purpose of development is a rise in the level and quality of life of the people, employment opportunities without damaging the resources of the environment.
Nevertheless, over the years professional and other researchers developed a number of definitions and emphasis for the term development. For example, Amartya Sen notes that development is a tool enabling people to reach the highest level of their abilities through granting them freedom of economic, social and family actions. In contrast, professionals such as Paul Colliers focuses on mechanisms that oppress development such as abject poverty, civil wars etc.
In theory, development is a process of economic, political and social improvement of the quality of human life. This article attempts to find a common ground of understanding of development, for a meaningful debate on whether there has been development in Namibia since independence in 1990. It has been observed, with keen interest, several writings in the newspapers and radio call-in programmes as well as enunciations by people claiming that there is no development in the country so far. Others have even gone to the extremes of saying, ‘they were better off’ during the apartheid period; ‘we need development – jobs and wealth’.
For the purpose of this discourse, development will be linked with securitization of issues such as poverty, inequality, deprivation, human rights, as well as the security of individuals and groups in Namibia. Development is a human security issue. Essentially, elements of human security are economic, food, health, security, environmental, personal security, communal security, and political security. If the above elements that are closely linked to development are not sufficiently addressed by a country, insecurity is assured to occur.
Development must be assessed in terms of its inferences for people, with an emphasis on the satisfaction of ‘basic needs’ such as employment generation, greater equity in income distribution, and poverty alleviation. Moreover, one could argue that development should be seen to fulfil human security needs of citizens which are: safety of individuals and groups from persistent threats such as hunger, disease, repression, and protection from sudden and harmful disruptions in configurations of daily life. Failure to fulfill the abovementioned human security needs of citizens, no development may take place.
Most of these indispensable elements of human security that is linked to development have relatively been realized since independence in 1990. For instance, Namibia has elaborate institutional frameworks: the National Development Plans, Vision 2130, and the Harambe Prosperity Plan, which are all action plans, that attempt to solve the socio-economic problems faced by Namibians.
Accordingly, much has been achieved to ease the lives of the ordinary citizen. Political participation of citizens in the affairs of the country is regarded as an element of development. Namibia has universal franchise with the right to vote and to stand for election at the national, regional and municipal levels. There is rule of law in Namibia, another essential element of development. The courts are independent and government respects the rule of law. An example that government respects the rule of law is the appointment of commissions of enquiry chaired by judges in the face of public outcry to investigate the abuse of public office. Nevertheless, most of the findings of these enquiries, especially on high profile corruption cases, have not seen the light of the day.
Civil liberties enjoy special protection under the Namibian Constitution. Breach of the law is punished by the courts. However, institutions responsible for enforcing protection are not very effective. An example, efforts by the police and the justice system to deal with a growing wave of crime so far has yielded inadequate results.
Compared to other African countries, Namibia is fairly developed, although there are striking differences in income and social disparities. Namibia has the biggest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in Africa. Arguably, the distribution of income and access to development remains unequal. The latest unemployment rate is estimated to be 28 percent and comprises of the adult majority population. In contrast, the GDP expanded 1.39 percent in the first quarter of 2018 over the previous quarter, yet due to an uneven distribution of income, half of the population of 2.6 million lives below the poverty lines. Poverty and marginalization is worsened by infections such as HIV infection and AIDS, especially as in many families it is the gainfully employed who succumb prematurely from this disease. The level of development as measured by the Human Development Index (HDI) accurately reflects this situation and illustrates the extent of social exclusion. Women are particularly hit hard.
Namibia has a remarkable pension system that pays N$250 a month to every citizen over the age of 60. This pension provides a vital basic income for a large part of the poor, especially those in the informal sector. However, compared with the average cost of living, this small amount is insufficient to bring about social stabilization, let alone reduce the gap between rich and poor. The country’s health system is not performing well, particularly in rural areas, mainly because of inadequate facilities and qualified medical doctors. Development programmes that bring foreign doctors to the country have not effectively succeeded to compensate for the shortage. In conclusion, economic growth does not necessarily lead to a rise in the level and quality of life of the people. There is need for government to place emphasis on specific policies that would serve as a conduit for resources and enable social and economic agility for various strata of the citizenry. Based on the aforementioned arguments, it is hoped that this discussion has laid a better informed platform for further debate.