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Policy reforms and socio-economic transformation

By Paul T. Shipale
I understand that the elective SWAPO Party Congress slated for the end of the year from the 29 November to the 2 December 2012 will be preceded by a National Policy Conference in August. In this regard, I propose, as the neighbouring ANC sister party, that in the context of the more complex reality we face today, it would perhaps seem important to initiate the absolutely necessary broad-based discussion to consider the vitally important question focussing on policy reforms relating to the role of the state in driving social and economic transformation as well as the vision of the party in the second phase of the struggle for economic emancipation as part of its preparation for the Congress. That said, we should do this 'the Namibian way' and avoid copying everything from our neighbours and sister party even if on a closer glance, we can learn a thing or two from them.

The first National Policy Conference of the SWAPO Party will be required to review progress with regards to our strategic objectives, review our policies, assess the state of the party, and elect the national leadership.

Thus, SWAPO Party Members must aspire to make this Conference a watershed one for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is not only a matter of celebrating the party's history of struggle and its ebbs and flows, but a time to pause and ponder on the future of the country and the party over the next years. The membership must ask and answer the difficult questions about the future of our country, identify the organisational renewal of the party as critical to its continued survival as a people's movement and agent for change. Besides, viewed the underground campaigns and the shelving of the succession issue as well as the latest utterances bordering on ethnic hatred, the Party has not succeeded in effectively dealing with factionalism and ill-discipline.

Thus, this year's conference must be a turning point to put a lid to ill-discipline in its rank and file, because unless the party halts the decay, it will soon reach a stage where it becomes irreversible. The Conference must thus adopt a programme of organisational renewal that consolidates and expands the character and values of the party as a revolutionary peoples' movement, while building its capabilities and its capacity for innovation.

The challenges which faced the country at the dawn of independence in 1990 were enormous: crafting a new political dispensation and polity; ensuring political stability, drawing a policy of National Reconciliation, building a non racial society, ensuring gender equality, embark on a nation-building project; tackling the all-pervasive socio-economic legacy of apartheid-colonialism etc. Despite the progress made, extreme income inequality, deep poverty, and lack of access to opportunities persist. Fault lines in our society also took on new forms, for example, the growth of poverty, unemployment and lack of houses in urban areas due to inward migration in search of work, and lack of opportunities. These key fault lines, if left unattended, will reverse the achievements so far scored.

To a large degree, the tasks of the political transformation- the democratisation of the polity (laws, institutions, policies, personnel) - have been achieved, and that the next phase should therefore focus on the consolidation and deepening of these achievements as well as recognizing that the task of nationbuilding will be more difficult and yet requires ongoing attention, especially in building consensus around a common national vision and the role that different communities and sectors play in advancing this vision.

Apart from the state-building and socio-economic aspects of nation-formation, the Party must also continue to pay attention to the role of social and civic activities such as arts and culture, religion, language, media, and sports as they evolve and contribute to an emerging and diverse identity. These too remain terrains of struggle, because aspects of each of these may well detract from or even counteract the democratic goals.

The progress made in setting the constitutional, policy, legal and institutional framework for gender equality is but the first step in building a non-sexist society. Therefore, transforming gender relations, the eradication of all manifestations and consequences of patriarchal oppression and gender violence, and the creation of material and cultural conditions for women's emancipation remain integral parts of the political consolidation towards an inclusive democratic society. All in all, there is the need to focus on Political consolidation towards an inclusive Democratic Society.

Nevertheless, for a truly inclusive and prosperous developmental society to emerge, we need a state that is developmental in its objectives and capabilities as a state that guide national economic development through fiscal redistribution, mobilisation of domestic and foreign capital, utilisation of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), industrial policy and regulation. The attributes of such a developmental state should be (a) its strategic orientation premised on people-centered and - driven change as well as a 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 organisational capacity and macro-organisation that is geared towards the implementation of the 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.

Thus the ongoing transformation of the state should ensure that these capacities are attained, as well as ensuring that the state institutions reflect the demographics of the country. This applies to the public service as a whole, as well as the judiciary, the legislatures and the security forces. In addition, the Party needs 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. Therefore, the question is; What is the domestic balance of forces today? Who are the motive forces that must drive this phase?

What are their strengths and weaknesses? What other forces in society should the Party mobilize, and how do we build national consensus around our national vision? What are the forces and tendencies opposed to the Party's programme of socio-economic transformation, and how does the party neutralise or isolate these? What is the global context in which the party operates and what opportunities and threats does this context present? Finally, are the subjective and objective conditions conducive for a qualitative leap forward in terms of an inclusive Democratic Society?

If so, what have been the major changes impacting on the working class since the attainment of our independence?

What role does the trade union movement play in the process of transformation, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

What about the unemployed, those in rural areas and women workers? How our democratic state should relate to the working class? On the rural poor; are we rising to the occasion of organising this sector of our people? What is the state of land reform in the country? How far are we in our integrated rural development programme which emphasizes the building of emerging and small- farmers?

How has the situation of farm workers changed over the last 21 years and what other practical steps are necessary to improve their situation? What other forces must the Party engage to take forward the programmes of agrarian, land reform and land redistribution as well as rural development?

On the middle strata which constitutes a critical resource of our inclusive democratic society and who are supposed to use their skills and sectoral location to advance socio-economic transformation; foster progressive intellectual discourse on the values, culture and challenges of our society; contribute towards equality, human rights and social justice, their ongoing engagement, and their deliberate recruitment into the party, should be part of not only influencing this strata, but also ensuring a constant flow of fresh and challenging ideas within the party and society. A section within this stratum that the Party should also pay particular attention to are students and young professionals, entrepreneurs and cultural activists. What should be done over the next decades to further expand this stratum? What role should the middle strata in the public sector play to advance the cause of social transformation?

What are the challenges faced by this stratum, and is the party organised to engage and organise them effectively?

What about the core of a patriotic bourgeoisie including emerging black capitalists, the nouveau riche otherwise known here as 'tender-preneurs' who are a product of democratic change and economic empowerment.

They must contribute towards changing the structure of the economy, adding value to: industrialisation and the development of national productive capacity; research, innovation, productivity, technology and skills development; job creation, labour intensive sectors and local economic development.

However, the dependence of this stratum on white and multinational capital and the state, makes some susceptible to pursue narrow interests, which may not always be in the interest of economic transformation. The last few years have seen fierce debates about black or broadbased economic empowerment strategies. Relevant to this discussion is the fact that many in this stratum may be wealthy, but it is wealth based not on involve ment in production and the expansion of productive capacity, but on holding shares in existing companies. The development of this stratum is therefore closely linked to locating our economic empowerment policies in the context of economic transformation and growth through building companies in the priority and labour intensive sectors, and contributing to localisation, technology and skills development, as well as fixed capital formation. Is this strata organised in a manner that will help take forward these tasks, and is the Party engaging them to play this role? What role should this strata play with respect to white capital and job creation?

Democratisation and the success of an inclusive Democratic Society are in both the short and long-term interest of our white compatriots. This is however not always reflected in their national consciousness or voting patterns, with many still feeling threatened by transformation, underpinned by skepticism about the capabilities of a black government. We are no longer locked in mortal combat, but engaging in legitimate discourse and electoral politics. The party must therefore continue to engage with various strata and interests within the white community on our national vision. On the global context, what are the implications of the shift in global production and consumption away from the developed western countries to the developing world and the long-term implications of this shift? What are the implications of the global balance of power for Africa and what prospects are there for Africa's re-birth in the new century?

What are the proposed amendments to the party's structures and constitution, if any?

Cadres that have come up through the ranks because of demonstrated leadership ability must be promoted to leadership positions. Nevertheless, the warrant for leadership's trust must be continuously proven before the party ranks in a periodic appraisal, in order to make readjustments from time to time in the leadership, to keep the organization alive, dynamic, and in touch with the times, by minimizing conflicts between the older and younger cadres in the party.

We should remain committed to a mixed economy with state, cooperative and other forms of social ownership co-existing with a vibrant private sector.

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. In addition, the debate on the mining sector should focus on whether our Mineral Development Acts make provision for the different types of ownership characteristic of a mixed economy with a Gini index target that demonstrate real and visible progress in reducing wealth and income inequalities, and visible progress in changing racial patterns of wealth and income. This will require an economic development model that takes account of our natural endowments in the form of minerals and our strategically positioned coastline and marine resources, as well as building on and expanding existing capacity in manufacturing and services. Such endowments should not only see downstream and upstream beneficiation of our mineral wealth, the expansion of the manufacturing sector through localisation and sector strategies but also the growth of agriculture, the agro-processing industry, land reform and rural development to ensure food security and alleviate rural poverty, building a maritime industry, and the growth of the knowledge economy. As we move towards the Policy Conference, we must therefore engage with the questions raised above and many others.

These are some of the pertinent issues we should ask ourselves and look at holistically and not the simplistic, ethnophobic discourse that some want to push through our throat. It is mystifying, puzzling, befogging, bewildering and metagrobolizing that some among us have made the choice to use their earned public platform to harm others. Their transition from thought provoking anniand analytic academic into shorttempered bomb throwers settling personal scores is indeed a tragedy. We should be able to candidly express our true feelings without slamming others and going "ballistic" and calling people 'loudmouths'. With personal attack on others, we have officially exited the arena of intellectual jousting that normally is focused on the merits of an argument and have entered into the realm of petty pot shots. Public intellectual of stature should be above infantile insults meant to belittle others publicly in an attempt to marginalize them based on engrained perception.

We should rather come up with strategies and solutions to tackle the challenges we face as a nation instead of attacking each other. On the question of who are the true revolutionaries, as Fidel Castro said, let history absolve you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


SWAPO Headquarters Mandume Strt
Windhoek, Katutura