Namibia 2024: Promises or Delivery?

Henning Melber

Listening to president Hage Geingob’s new year’s message, the question remains: Will 2024 be another year of promises or one of delivery?

To be fair, the verdict is pending. We will know more in a year from now.

But what we can predict with some degree of certainty is that the president will not shy away from singing his own praises.

Admittedly, comrade president, a lasting drought, a world market with unfavourable prices for Namibian primary commodities and the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic have created unforeseen challenges beyond your control.

But blaming only external factors is a weak excuse for crisis management, which has left the marginalised on the margins.

CONTRASTS

You confidently claim Namibia will be better off when you leave office. Let’s contrast this with a fact check:

• Namibia remains the second-most unequal society in the world

• The annual average per capita income has not yet returned to 2015 levels

• Government debt to gross domestic product rose from 25% in 2014 to the current 70%

• Unemployment, particularly among the younger generation, is higher than ever

Almost half of the population is fighting poverty, hoping to secure a decent daily life without fear of hunger.

Children face malnutrition and stunted development. Some have starved to death. This is a national disgrace.

High inflation rates have catapulted basic food commodity prices to exorbitant heights. Ordinary families battle to make ends meet.
Promises of a better future gloss over the harsh realities most people face.

Maybe, comrade president, you should take N$200 and a shopping basket, and try to buy enough items to prepare a decent meal for a five-person family.

With a daily subsistence and travel allowance – notably without any expenses required – exceeding multiple times the average monthly income of ordinary Namibians, you would be in for a surprise.

REALITY CHECK

You claimed N$3 billion was spent on drought relief between 2016 and 2019.

In contrast, more than N$10 billion a year is required only for interest rates servicing debt.

Without explaining where the money should come from, you confidently express the hope of increasing the monthly old-age pension to N$2 000, if not N$3 000, before leaving office.

You claimed the year saw “giant steps to collective prosperity”. You filled 10 minutes with a preposterously triumphant hymn.

Stating that under your 10-year Presidency the country will be in better shape means, in fact, it has recovered to some extent from the shocks since 2015.

You can legitimately claim some credit for this. But don’t invent more.

Namibians deserve better than an annual ritual of a self-appraisal out of touch with reality, bordering on a mixture of fantasy and wishful thinking.

Statesmanship requires modesty and a sense of reality about the living conditions of ordinary people – including those who cannot afford a TV set and have no energy supply to watch your televised speech.

The declared “march towards shared prosperity” will at best remain a long one.

‘GIVE IT A GO’

The stated commitment to hold hands should reach out to the poor, not the rich.

Rather explain how the expected long-term economic boost thanks to the exploitation of our natural wealth by foreign companies will trickle down to the people on the ground.

The ‘Year of Expectations’ as “a new beginning for the Namibian house” should lay the sustainable foundation for flat buildings providing shelter.

To allow all Namibians a decent, dignified and secure life, it should not be a gated community for the minority as a protected island in a sea of poverty and destitution.

Claiming “giant steps” have been taken under your leadership and guidance during 2023 borders on seeking to construct a myth.
Seeing is believing. You are sharing the lion’s skin before hunting.

If you deliver on your promises, the praise is well deserved. Otherwise, your speech remains just populist bluster.
Comrade president, please stop building castles in the air and get real.

You have 15 months to build a proper and reliable legacy based on a realistic assessment of your period in office.
Nobody will blame you for showing integrity by being realistically modest.

You may have wanted more, but be satisfied with what you have and what you have not achieved.

– Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974. He was the director of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit from 1992 to 2000.

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