The celebration of independence inherently brings with it a need for reflection and assessment of what has been achieved over a given period. With Namibia having recently turned a year older as a sovereign state, the question that arises is quite simply; have we, as a nation, done enough to empower our people to be key players in our economy?
While plaudits should be given for the efforts made to include the marginalised into the mainstream economy, a country with one of the largest disparities between the rich and the poor in the world after 26 years of independence is not one that inspires much confidence with regards to the abovementioned preamble.
To give context to the precarious nature of Namibia’s position in creating wealth for its inhabitants, the 2016 edition of the Africa Wealth Report places the country as third on the continent with respect to respect to per capita wealth. The report goes on to say that the average Namibian has wealth amounting to U$10 200 (N$155 157.30). If anything, the Africa Wealth Report (AWR) outlines the extent to which Namibia is conflicted regarding wealth distribution. It is improbable that a country where the average inhabitant has wealth amounting to over a hundred thousand would still have its President declaring war on poverty. It is more probable that the affluence of the minority in the country is so vast that it creates an illogical average wealth estimate for the impoverished majority.
The disparity in terms of wealth for Namibians is a result of numerous factors. Prominent of these factors could be the premise that when we attained independence, there were very few people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds who became active members in key economic sectors.
A secondary reason for the disparity could be that we are yet to adopt the maxim of entrepreneurship in Namibia as most inhabitants still prefer to be employed rather than being self-employed. This is also evidenced by the significant percentage of the workforce employed by the public service. Based on the structure of our economy, a residual challenge for prospective entrepreneurs could be the lack of access to capital to fund their operations, however efforts have been taken by the government to address this.
The private sector has done a tremendous job of creating employment opportunities for professionals who do not find employment in the civil service, however, it has not transcended beyond this to empower people to branch out and become entrepreneurs once they have attained the requisite skills in the sector of their employment.
In terms of attitudinal impediments; the belief that government alone is responsible for enabling Namibians to be self-sustaining is perhaps something that needs to be addressed if the nation is ever to realise a Namibia where every inhabitant has equal opportunity to create wealth for themselves and ensure their livelihoods.
The transformation that has taken place in the education sector is laudable, however, a bridging focus is now required to turn the skilled individuals who are leaving the formal or vocational education systems to become entrepreneurs rather than relying on finding employment. This, while not a complete fix to the problem of wealth distribution, should prove at the very least as a tonic for the unemployment rate which is still placed at over 20%.
It is undeniable that we have a long way to go in making sure that ‘No Namibian is left out’ in terms of their ability to create and retain wealth so that when reports such as the AWR are published, they are written with figures that accurately portray the nature of wealth distribution within our country. It is thus safe to say that the tools for prosperity have been put in place and that as a result, Namibia is in a better position to realise equity in wealth distribution than it was 26 years ago.