Urban voters to decide elections

For the first time since independence, urban votes will outweigh less educated and older rural voters.

27 January 2020 | Politics

Namibia is fast approaching a tipping point where young, largely urbanised unemployed and relatively educated voters will outweigh less educated and older rural voters in elections.

This is according to the Economic Outlook report for 2020 by Cirrus Securities that says this trend was clearly seen in the 2019 elections, where urbanised voters showed a materially lower interest in the ruling party and its presidential candidate than seen at any time post-independence.

“It is our view that 2019 will be the last time that the rural and northern vote will carry the election. Going forward, as urbanisation continues, and as the voter base becomes more 'born-free' (born around or post-independence), the urban centres and the youth vote will be substantially more influential.”

It is estimated that approximately 65% of the population will be urbanised by 2024, while 54.7% of the voting age population will be 'born-free'.

“If one includes persons born between 1982 and independence, this increases to 65% of the population,” the report says.

According to the report, this swing is deeply rooted in a classic “crisis of rising expectations” where particularly aspirational younger people do not believe that “tomorrow will be better than today”, adding that this is a view reinforced by the country's current poor policy trajectory.

“At the same time that youth unemployment has risen, we have seen a dramatic urbanisation of the Namibian population, with the 2016 inter-census survey showing more of the population residing in urban areas than rural areas for the first time (55.2% from 28% at independence).”

This migration is to be expected as young, aspirational and educated people have moved to urban centres to search for economic opportunities to improve their lives, the report further reads.

“The major rural-urban migration trend, and inefficiency in provision of services in most urban areas, has meant that much of this youthful population ends up residing in informal settlements, often in dense and unserviced dwellings.”

The report points out that the election results were largely driven by this young, urbanised group, who are relatively educated but experience crippling unemployment and poor basic service delivery from government.

It says that as a result of the urbanisation and poor service delivery, 39.7% of the urban population lives in improvised housing (shacks), up from 6.4% in 1991.

For the population as a whole, 26.6% now live in improvised houses, up from 7.1% in 1991, while traditional dwellings make up just 32.6% of houses, from 50.4% in 1991.

“Somewhat alarmingly, a marginally smaller percent of the population lives in formal housing now (40.8%) than did so in 1991 (41%), illustrating the extent of poor service delivery, which is not only not able to keep up with demand for formal houses from population growth, but is woefully behind on providing access to and supply of this most basic service for the inevitable rural-urban migration.”

The report says that at the same time, and largely linked to the country's housing challenges, approximately 45% of the population has no access to toilet facilities, while 55% has no access to electricity.

“On the bright side, over 90% of the population has access to safe drinking water (up from 59% in 1991).”

ELLANIE SMIT

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