Droughts, economic contraction, marginalisation and nationhood
17 July 2019 | Agriculture
Namibia is facing one of its severest droughts in years. Its severity is the culmination of three incidents of drought in the past 10 years, the impacts of which have been felt in the crop production and livestock sectors, nationwide. Sizeable numbers of animals have perished and crop production is virtually non-existent in many regions. Historically, incidents of drought were localised and the affected farmers could relocate to other parts of the country in search of grazing. This year, the affected farmers have nowhere to migrate.
Under normal conditions, a healthy economy could reduce the impact of drought by allocating resources to the importation of food for human consumption, and fodder for animals. Additional finances should be dedicated to improving access to, and the quality of, water supplies for citizens and livestock. Sizeable quantities of water, under controlled conditions, can also be availed for small crop production.
Unfortunately, Namibia is facing an ongoing economic crisis with consequences that impact basic service delivery. Namibians have little control over drought, but there is action that can be taken to mitigate or prevent the current crisis. Had the economy been healthy, with policymakers dedicating appropriate financial resources, the catastrophic impact could have been diminished. Uncontrolled increases in national expenditures have resulted in a situation where income from revenues are inadequate to meet the needs of the country.
For 30 years, Namibia has spent excessively on projects that generated negligible returns in the form of increased revenue to the state, employment, human resource development, efficiency and profitability in critical industries, or reduced our dependency on imported food, electricity, or petroleum products. These commitments were made in the absence of impact or risk assessments to measure their viability.
The decisions to invest in these projects were made by a team of individuals with 'shared values'; occupants of the 'House'. Interestingly, others who are perceived to have reservations and/or different views about some of these projects, were considered threats. State resources, in the form of expensive legal teams, have become tools for marginalising and purging them from the system. To date, some of these labour disputes are unresolved and the nation does not benefit from their skills and expertise.
Ironically, the state of the economy and continuous droughts do not discriminate. All Namibians, those inside the 'House', and those outside, are affected.
As we have witnessed in numerous African nations, protracted economic crises are root causes of conflict. As the competition for limited resources intensifies, so will tension along regional, racial, and tribal lines, accompanied by the erosion of trust in the government.
If communities become fragmented, it will be difficult to rebuild the nation. Economic crises can also lead to increased migration of skilled personnel in all industries, and can create unfavourable procurement conditions that discourage investment.
Within this context of economic uncertainty, it is important to identify solutions because Namibians deserve a healthy and robust economy built on a foundation of shared values. For Namibia to embark on the construction of the economic recovery road, it is important to address some critical questions:
Is it realistic to expect those who created these adverse conditions to provide adequate solutions to the economic challenges that the country is facing?
With such a history of institutionalised marginalisation and job reservation, what role can the outsiders play in resolving this crisis?
Should a marginalised individual simply say, “Let bygones be bygones, and let us move forward as patriots?”
What guarantee is in place that, after the marginalised groups have rendered their expertise and the economic crises are resolved, the practices of discrimination would not resume?
There are far more questions than answers.
*Kuiri F Tjipangandjara (D Sci Eng), is a former employee of NamWater, the University of Namibia and Rössing Uranium mine. He holds degrees from Lincoln University and Columbia University in the USA