With relative freedom to choose where to live or work in the world, many people leave their places of origins for better opportunities, mostly leaving their relatives behind.
Others are displaced by natural or man-made circumstances. Many of those people maintain ties with their relatives and make attempts to support them through remittances.
Remittances are described as financial or non-financial transfers sent by migrants to friends and relatives back in communities of origin. Geographically, remittances take place across international borders and within countries.
Given the lack of better opportunities in rural areas, many Namibians flock to urban areas where such opportunities are (or perceived to be) found. The urge for better survival makes it difficult to constrain human beings into unfavourable conditions, especially when they have relative freedom to settle elsewhere.
The increase in urbanisation places pressure on urban centres to cater for the needs of their inhabitants. For instance, the urban centres are unable to equal the high demands for urban land and other necessities such as water and electricity. However, policy-makers are found wanting in managing the pressure, or their proposed solutions, in particular and the rural-urban migration in general.
The processes of urbanisation and industrialisation have an influence on the identities of many. For Chabani Manganyi, the identities are mainly two types. First, the ‘townsmen’ who have no real important links with the rural areas. Second, ‘migrants’ who are rural-area oriented and have traditional outlooks.
The rural-area orientation and outlooks of migrants place an impulse on them to support their relatives in their native areas. Such remittances have important implications on rural development.
Evidence from Nigeria shows that rural communities’ development is positively impacted by the monetary remittances and the involvement of the rural-urban migrants in community development projects.
The evidence further illustrates that remittances are used as poverty alleviation mechanisms and through them access to healthcare and education is improved. Research also shows that remittances increase the incomes of rural households in Vietnam.
In ‘Ngele wa Faasuluka’ – When You Succeed, scholar Job Amupanda demonstrates how the Aawambo men (through their employment in urban centres during the colonial contract labour system) transformed northern Namibia’s economic landscape by making the development of their families/villages central.
He argues that such practices “cannot be understood outside the economic organising principles of the African traditional society.” It is thus apparent that urban migrants through their ties to the rural areas can make an impact in the development of such areas.
Should many urban migrants become rural-area oriented and emulate the example of the colonial Aawambo labourers, Vietnamese and Nigerians urban migrants by channelling remittances towards rural economies, the problems shaped by urbanisation could be lessened. Such practices are strongly encouraged especially for areas that have few economic activities.
Of course, the challenge with a rural economy supported by urban migrant, as also pointed out by Amupanda, is that the contemporary dominant culture turns urban population into townsmen. Consideration should also be given that many children who are born and raised in urban areas will not be motivated to establish connections with rural areas. It goes without saying that through urbanisation an assault on the sense of community follows.
Beyond friends and relatives, solidarity and a sense of community is high in rural communities. For instance, crowdfunding for funerals, weddings, school and church infrastructures are common practices of such solidarity.
It follows that urban migrants who are rural-area oriented are more likely to contribute to such efforts when compared to the townsmen. The spirit of communalism also fosters cultural heritage environment.
To accede to the narrative of rural economy supported by urban migrants it requires new responsibilities. Whereas the current practices of crowdfunding, for instance, appear to promote consumerism, the new responsibilities would require that the nature of support towards the rural economy be re-assessed.
The new responsibilities would require that we transform our economic activities from being mere consumers to producers of the goods we consume. The new responsibilities would require that rural business establishments get first preference.
They would require that instead of spending many days and a lot of money in tourist towns or abroad, one should accommodate the rural areas too.
The new responsibilities may require the urban migrant to initiate or support crowdfunding for business ventures by rural folks, and support ways to transform traditional way of doing things, such as the way we produce food or how we heal ourselves, into those that meet current circumstances.
The recognition to develop the rural areas through remittances from urban centres should not be understood as an attempt to relegate the inhabitants of the rural areas to be subjects of those in urban areas.
Supporting rural economies should be viewed as a solidarity towards reducing the indignities experienced by our fellows in urban areas’ informal settlements.
We should, however, be cognisant of possible unintended consequences for sustaining rural economies in such arrangement. Research indicates that members of ethnic minority groups stand to gain less in comparison to others. Another challenge is that due to low levels of incomes, sustaining such lifestyles might induce people to live beyond their means which might result in them getting involved in undesired acts such as theft or corruption.
The proposed approach places the responsibility of rural investment or development partially in the hands of ordinary people and it differs from the mainstream thinking that government and politicians should be the only players in solving the rural-urban migration predicament.
*Johannes Ndeshimona Shekeni is a native of Onamutai village, northern Namibia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Era Reporter
2019-05-03 10:45:53 18 days ago