GDP and GNI (the value of all goods and service produced in the country) has tripled over the past 10 years from just about N$35 billion (GDP) to N$105 billion. Individual per capita income has pushed from above US$4 000 to US$6 000 since the 1980s, that’s close to N$35 000 per a year. Contrast that with a per capita income of less than US$1 000 for the bottom 10 countries with Burundi (US$605), Zimbabwe (US$515) and DRC (US$349) at the very end, according to the International Monetary Fund. Heart warming, indeed.
Within a period of 10 years, inflation is down from a high of more than 11 percent to 6.5 percent last year. On the United Nations Development Programme’s measurement of living standards called the Human Development Index (HDI) this country’s citizens have had improved status from 0.569 in 1990 to 0.625 [the closer the gauge is to one (1), the higher the living standards].
Impressive statistics these are until one goes to live with people on the ground and discounts the statistical averages with practical evidence. For instance, shacks that people call homes are going up like mushrooms overnight; high school dropout rates; poor state of health care, even for those on private medical aid schemes; the massive rise in the urban poor and a constant reliance of many rural residents on government handouts [no longer just during droughts and other emergencies]. More often than not, it would appear that the calabashes of many Namibians are often empty compared to even during the tough days of colonialism when the state didn’t care about starving Namibians. Malnutrition and child deaths are hard to hide.
The enlightened or well educated will question our conclusion that the rosy statistics disguise a worsening situation for most Namibians. They’d like to see data that will buttress our argument instead of calling on people to use anecdotal evidence.
Well, there are some figures we can point to: the UNDP’s HDI released a few weeks ago, for instance, reports that Namibia ranks poorly at 128th on the 187-country index despite having shown on average a rise in living standards. The country may have fared better than many in so-called Sub-Saharan Africa, but it is still below the average for nations with similar population and wealth. Where Namibia actually falls flat is when the HDI takes into account inequality among its people that the impressive 0.625 score plummets to 0.344, making Namibia a poor country were it not for the averages used in most statistical measurements.
About 40 percent of Namibians cannot scrape together US$1.25 (about N$10) a day, which internationally is considered the poverty line. In fact, according to some surveys, 15 percent of Namibians live in “severe poverty”, 23 percent more are categorised as “vulnerable” to poverty. Still we maintain the statistics do not tell the story of the majority of Namibians who struggle to make ends meet.
Sadly, the problem does not lie with unavailability of resources as the statistics and anecdotal evidence so vividly paint a picture of a wealthy country.
The trouble with Namibia is the political and economic system that is unfair and unjust towards many citizens who, through no fault of their own, are falling on hard times despite their hard work.
The country’s Constitution and the coat of arms seem to set Namibian values as those of unity, liberty and justice. But the political and economic system have failed to push the country towards achieving those values and the aspirations for prosperity.
The world-renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz says in his book ‘The price of inequality’ of his country, the United States of America: “The wealth given to the elites and to the bankers seemed to arise out of their ability and willingness to take advantage of others.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar to Namibia where an opportunistic few can take advantage of state resources and comfortably argue that they are entrepreneurs and no one should begrudge them their enterprising nature of “taking advantage of opportunities” that present themselves? Often forgotten is that our systems have failed to create equal opportunity for all and thus merely re-enforce the advantage for elites, an advantage that has little or nothing to do with hard work.
At 23 years of independence, seven years before the ambitious Vision 2030 of Namibia catching up with the developed world, Namibians ought to re-examine how to turn the tide that is dragging us all into the abyss.