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The national policy conference and bread and butter issues

By Paul T. Shipale
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." -Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, 1963. In view of next week's policy conference and now that the war rhetoric has abated and the angry chant has quietened, let us refocus the debate not on the most outrageous things said about adversaries to stroke the injured egos and satisfy the public waiting with bated breath for ripostes, howling exchanges, verbal venoms and sting but on bread and butter issues. Let us now fight the real enemy instead of each other.

After all, there is no real clash of values or of ideologies now, just a swirling and confused battlefield where contenders fight for turf and temporary alliances coalesce and break down.

The self-aggrandizing and victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in our discourse in short-tempered bomb thrower settling personal scores is a tragedy. We need a leadership that assemblies the best team and commands it to battle based on the skills and abilities of each member. We need leaders that talk to issues and not to emotions.

We are reminded that 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. 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, I once wrote on these pages. Against this background, for a truly prosperous society to emerge, we need a state that is developmental in its objectives and capabilities intervening in the economy in the interest of higher rates of growth and sustainable development.

According to economic experts, regarding the expressed concerns for accelerating economic growth, they say it is a well known fact that due to obvious reasons, any targeted intervention program on employment creation needs to be supported and facilitated by a complete picture of the economy in order to ensure that such interventions are logical, systematic, consistent and comprehensive towards the expected outcomes.

Currently, development planning in Namibia is taking place in a vacuum, since it is not supported and facilitated by a complete picture of the economy. In this respect, investment is taking place in different sectors without taking into account the inter-sectoral dependency of the economy. More importantly, the country needs to invest minimum 40 per cent of GDP in order to obtain 7 per cent annual growth, reduce unemployment level to less than 5 per cent and increase the current per capita income but we have failed to invest the minimum 25 per cent of GDP per annum to generate 7 per cent annual GDP growth. As a result, per capita income grew only by 2.81 per cent over the last ten years.

However, if we knew the inter- sectoral dependency or had a complete picture of the economy, any policy decision to intervene in the economy could be taken not only to maximize the utilization of limited resources, but also to quantify, assess and evaluate the expected outcomes of investment for accelerating economic growth.

In this regard, the NPC has decided that in order to achieve the overall goals of becoming a prosperous and industrialized nation, there are certain things that must be done first instead of the previous 21 unachievable goals. It is for this reason that the government decided that the recently launched NDP4 on 19 July 2012, will focus on three goals, namely achieving high and sustained economic growth, job creation and the reduction in income inequality based on four strategic areas, such as logistics, tourism, manufacturing and agriculture.

NDP4 has also set out strategic areas that need to be improved in order to move the country forward. Among these are the economic competitiveness, institutional capacity development, education and skills development, health, industry development and development of the economy. Nevertheless, we can, and should, debate why the economy has not become more dynamic, more equitable, and more capable of growth and employment generation.

Indeed, societies characterized by entrenched gender inequality or racially or ethnically defined wealth disparities are not likely to be socially and politically stable, particularly as economic growth can easily exacerbate these inequalities. For this reason, Economic Empowerment - or broadbased economic empowerment, as it is technically known - is not affirmative action, although employment equity forms part of it. Nor does it aim to take wealth from white people and give it to blacks. It is essentially a growth strategy, targeting the country economy's weakest point: inequality.

No economy can grow by excluding any part of its people, and an economy that is not growing cannot integrate all of its citizens in a meaningful way. As such, this strategy of economic empowerment is not merely the redistribution of existing wealth but an important policy instrument aimed at broadening the economic base of the country - and through this, at stimulating further economic growth within the context of a broader national empowerment strategy, focused on historically disadvantaged people, and particularly women, youth, the disabled and rural communities. Thus, I support the clarion call for rural development and youth empowerment by the SPYL. I also agree with the SWAPO Party Elders Council (SPEC) condemnation of the practice in which local authorities sell land through auctioneering to the highest bidder. We need to empower our people first.

Let me reiterate here what I wrote on the threat of Nihilism as suggested by Dr Cornel West, an African American director of Afro-American Studies at Princeton. Dr West says discussions about the plight of our people tend to divide into two camps. On the one hand, there are those who highlight the structural constraints on the life chances of our people or what I call the liberal structuralists- calling for employment, health, education, and youth programs.

On the other hand, there are those who stress the behavioral impediments on our people upward mobility or the conservative behaviorists-seeking to promote self-help programs, business expansion, ethics and morals etc. Unfortunately, these two camps have nearly suffocated the crucial debate that should be taking place and should have gone far beyond the liberal and conservative positions concealing the most basic issue facing our people: the threat of hopelessness. According to Dr West, to talk about the depressing statistics of unemployment, infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, and violent crime is one thing. But to face up to the monumental eclipse of hope and the unprecedented collapse of meaning, is something else.

The liberal structuralists fail to grapple with this threat with their focus on structural constraints relating almost exclusively to the economy and politics. They show no understanding of the value structures of meaning and forget that people are also hungry for identity, meaning, and self-worth. As for the conservative behaviorists, they talk about values and attitudes as if political and economic structures hardly exist.

They rarely, if ever, examine the innumerable cases in which our people do act on ethic and work hard but still remain at the bottom of the social ladder. Instead, they highlight the few instances in which some people ascend to the top, as if such success is available to all, regardless of circumstances. Such a vulgar rendition may serve as a source of inspiration to some-a kind of model for those already on the right track. But it cannot serve as a substitute for serious historical and social analysis of the predicaments of and prospects for all our people, especially the previously disadvantaged ones.

Conservative behaviorists also discuss our predicaments as if acknowledging one's obvious victimization by supremacist practices (compounded by gender inequalities and class condition) is taboo. They tell our people to see themselves as agents, not victims. And on the surface, this is comforting advice, a nice cliché for downtrodden people. But inspirational slogans cannot substitute for substantive historical and social analysis.

While our people have never been simply victims, wallowing in self-pity and begging for giveaways, they have been excluded. True, the government has put in place the necessary infrastructures and a conducive environment but we cannot forget the financial constraints and impediments as a result of a capitalist system of profits.( By the way, let me use this juncture to congratulate the SWAPO Party's SG Iivula- Ithana, for her election as the Vice President of the Socialist International for Southern Africa.) Therefore to call on our people to be agents makes sense only if we also examine the dynamics of this exclusion against which their agency will, in part, be exercised.

What is particularly naive and peculiarly vicious about the conservative behavioral outlook is that it tends to deny the lingering effect of our historya history inseparable from though not reducible to exclusion. In this way, crucial and indispensable themes of selfhelp and personal responsibility are wrenched out of historical context and contemporary circumstances-as if it is all a matter of personal will. This ahistorical perspective contributes to the threat of hopelessness in that it could be used to justify the cutbacks for poor people struggling for decent housing, health care, land and education. We should understand that how people act and live are shaped-though in no way dictated or determined-by the larger circumstances in which they find themselves.

These circumstances can be changed and their limits attenuated by positive actions to elevate their living conditions. In the context of the more complex reality we face today, it would perhaps seem important to initiate at next week's policy conference the absolutely necessary broad-based discussion to consider the vitally important question focusing on policy reforms relating to the role of the state in driving social and economic transformation and economic empowerment.

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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