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Democracy with a social content

By Paul T. Shipale
In view of the upcoming First SWAPO Party National Policy Conference in August 2012, I already argued that such a Policy Conference will be required to review progress with regards to the strategic objectives, review the policies, and assess the state of the organization in order to signal major strategic and organizational shifts and, in the process, taking the country to higher levels.

In this regard, taking a leaf from the just ended ANC's Policy Conference, I proposed that our vision for the next few decades should be informed by an approach that suggests that having concluded our first phase of the struggle that culminated with its focus on democratization and nation-building;

we need to embark on a deliberate and explicit second phase of the struggle for economic emancipation that must focus on the social and economic transformation of Namibia over the next decades in order to place our country on a higher economic growth path that benefit all.

We note that the building of a Democratic Society and the second phase of the struggle is a conscious construct (as was the case for the struggle against apartheid colonialism), dependent on conscious action and taking place in global and national conditions that are not of our choosing. As such, we have to master the science and art of assessing the objective conditions and subjective factors that, together, provide opportunities and threats that render particular preferred actions possible.

Against this background, it is worth reminding ourselves that our struggle was never only about freedom from political bondage. Political freedom was but only a point of departure and not a destination. From the onset, democratisation was inextricably linked with freedom from socioeconomic bondage, and hence, the second phase of the struggle for economic independence. This was addressed and articulated more clearly in our long-term vision 2030 as the key pillar of a Namibian developmental path: democratizing the state and society; meeting basic needs; developing our human resources; and transforming the economy. The far-reaching implications of the above mean that we have to apply our collective wisdom with rigour and robustness, but at the same time, in our time-tested approaches, we must avoid shortcuts to the solution of complex social issues, while seeking to seize a decisive moment.

To comprehensively give an accurate analysis of the state of the Nation, including of the recent inhuman demolition of shacks, we must start with the fundamental law; the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia of 1990 Article 1 (1) which stipulates that "the Republic of Namibia is hereby established as a sovereign, secular, democratic and unitary State founded upon the principles of democracy, the rule of law and justice for all".

The question here therefore is; how do our democratic institutions (National, Regional and Local Authorities of the Executive, the Legislatures, and the Judiciary systems) help citizens - irrespective of social status - to exercise their democratic rights, especially in view of the recent demolitions of peoples' shacks in urban and peri-urban areas? As reflected by a broader global approaches and defined by the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development: "...development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in the development and in the fair distribution of benefits of results resulting there from."

In this context, democracy with a social content means that people must be regarded as a fundamental resource that is central to the development of the economy, society and the nation as a whole. Our approach to social transformation must therefore be peoplecentred by involving people in their own development, through the public provision of a minimum package of publicly delivered transfers, goods and services known as a 'social floor', and by providing a safety net for the most vulnerable. This includes providing basic rights to shelter, food security, health services, education, water and sanitation, and a social security network. It also includes other programmes that promote the physical, social, safety and emotional well-being of all in our society, including through culture, and sports.

However, in order for this to happen, we require an economic development model that takes account of our natural endowments in the form of minerals and our strategically positioned coastline, as well as building on and expanding existing capacity in manufacturing and services. We need to use these endowments to usher in a new era of industrialization and development. Such an era should not only see downstream and upstream beneficiation of our mineral wealth, the expansion of the manufacturing sector through localization and sector strategies but also the growth of agriculture, an agro-processing industry, land reform and rural development to ensure food security and alleviate rural poverty, as well as building a maritime industry, and the growth of the knowledge economy.

How we will achieve the optimal mix in all sectors, but especially in mining and finance, must be part of our discussions on economic policy towards next month Policy Conference. Our Strategy and Tactics should go into considerable detail in our description of the socioeconomic character of the struggle for economic independence. Firstly, it is based on the resolution of an historical injustice. Our Strategy and Tactics should therefore call for 'corrective measures' beyond political rights, a systematic programme of affirmative action aimed at those excluded on the basis of race, class and gender in the process eradicating apartheid's production relations.

It should also recognize that the need for such affirmative action may decline over time as all centers of power and influence and other critical spheres of social endeavour become broadly representative of the country's demographics. Nevertheless, there are macro trends that may pose some challenges or may not necessarily be obstacles, depending on policy responses. The first is the demographic changes in the country.

We, like many developing countries, have a youth bulge, meaning that we have a large proportion of young people relative to the overall population. Unlike other developing countries where the bulge usually lasts one generation, as in many other African countries, ours may stretch over more than one due to the impact of the AIDS epidemic.

Developing countries have and can reap a 'demographic dividend', because the proportion of the population active in the labour market is large relative to those who are not. According to experts, a demographic dividend occurs when household dependency ratios are low, income per head rises, allowing for greater investment per capita in social development, the economy and in the household. The demographic dividend is only realized through policies that ensure appropriate levels of education, health and economic participation. If not, the opposite result may ensue - a large population of teenagers and young adults who are unemployed and alienated.

In this regard, the country's UN Representative is right when he said that "although Namibia's per capita income of U$4,820 places it in the World Bank's uppermiddle income grouping, Namibia's income distribution is among the most unequal in the world, with a Gini coefficient estimated at 0.58 by the latest household survey of 2009/2010 even with a N$44 billion budget for a population of two million. Such inequality can cause instability at a later stage if not properly handled". Thus the first priority of economic policy should therefore be to achieve rising per capita income, full employment, a Gini index target that demonstrate real and visible progress in reducing wealth and income inequalities, and visible progress in changing racial and patriarchal patterns of wealth and income.

Another macro trend is that of migration and spatial development issues, which brings us to our topic subject. The challenge of rapid urbanization is something planners and local and Regional governments deal with on a daily basis. Our focus has been on the challenge this poses to urban and peri-urban areas, we also noted other migration trends in rural areas, including considerable mobility, the expansion and densification of rural informal settlements which poses the challenge for both urban and rural development, and the type of policy tradeoffs that may be required.

There is therefore an urgent need for us, in addition to our strategies for the towns and rural areas, to also identify other secondary towns and settlements that we want to develop and grow over the next decades in a deliberate and planned fashion. Here, I concur with the suggestion of our young political scientist, Job Amupanda, who was advocating for this to happen.

We should commit ourselves to building a democratic state that plays a driving role in the social and economic development of the country which is people-centered and uniquely Namibian that leads and directs national development and mobilizes society around a common vision and its implementation. But for a truly prosperous society to emerge, and for the second phase of the struggle to succeed, we need a state that is developmental in its objectives and capabilities.

Taking in consideration that a developmental state is defined as a state that develops the capabilities to guide national economic development through fiscal redistribution, mobilization of domestic and foreign capital and other social partners, utilization of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), industrial policy and regulation, the uniquely Namibian developmental state should be defined as a state with capacity to intervene in the economy in the interest of higher rates of growth and sustainable development; with effective and sustainable programmes that address the challenges of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment with requisite emphasis on vulnerable groups.

Our Strategy and Tactics should therefore single out the attributes of such a developmental state such as (a) its strategic orientation premised on people-centered and - driven change and sustained development based on high growth rates, restructuring of the economy and socio-economic inclusion; (b) its capacity to lead in defining a common national agenda and in mobilizing all sectors of society towards its implementation; (c) its organizational capacity and macro-organization that are geared towards the implementation of this national agenda of economic and socio-economic development;

and (d) its technical capacity to translate broad objectives into programmes and projects to ensure their implementation. As we move towards the Policy Conference, we must therefore engage with these proposals as well as other questions. We cannot and should not avoid the discussions on these difficult matters. In the final analysis, we need to embark on "a democracy with a social content", which primarily draws from elements of the best traditions of social democracy, informed by our own concrete conditions and experiences. This is the only way we will stop the madness of demolishing people's shacks during winter without giving them alternatives and find solutions to a myriad of issues confronting the nation, including unemployment.

Against this background, the organizational renewal of the Party is therefore critical to its continued survival as a people's movement and an agent for change in order to consolidate and expand its character and values as a revolutionary peoples' party. Unless if some are truly gearing up for battle and laying the groundwork for the downfall of the ruling party in its strongest turfs with their underground campaigns meant to cause discontent. Our nation must not allow itself to be detracted from our efforts to achieve the goals of Vision 2030 by those who seem to have a clear agenda of sabotaging the peace, security and unity that we enjoy today.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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