Using the most recent figures, South Africa, Namibia and Haiti are among the most unequal countries in terms of income distribution – based on the Gini index estimates from the World Bank.
Ukraine, Slovenia and Norway rank as the most equal nations in the world. Namibia is a upper middle income country – a ranking our leaders regard misleading – with an estimated annual GDP per capita of US$5,828 but has extreme inequalities in income distribution and standard of living. It leads the list of countries by income inequality with a Gini coefficient of 70.7 (CIA) and 74.3 (UN). President Hage Geingob has been a leading critic of the classification of the country at upper middle income, saying the ranking overlooks realities on the ground.
“What this simplistic approach hides is the fact that the wealth is concentrated in the hands of just five percent of the people,” Geingob remarked in 2013, then as prime minister of the country. The President’s view on this remains intact to this day, and his push for key reforms, through initiatives such as the envisaged New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) policy, is testimony to his desire for change.
Namibia’s inequality must always be viewed in the context of history, which chronicles how designated groups, especially those of Caucasian extraction, enjoyed exclusive and undeterred access to means of production such as land, capital and labour. It is these groups – now joined by a few black elites – in whose hands the country’s wealth is concentrated, a fact that the Bretton Woods institutions often ignore when ranking our country. Consequently, many international donor organisations have vacated the country on the understanding that the boy that is Namibia is now a man who can stand on his own feet unassisted.
The immediate effects of such en-masse withdrawals of such donors has been laid bare for all to see. Factories that manufactured free condoms for the populace are closing shop due to their donors’ withdrawal, while, as reported last week by New Era, organisations such as the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) are begging for funds to pay salaries and other basic administrative necessities. But since the world has made up its mind about our supposed economic standing, we can no longer blame history or the rating institutions for our troubles.
And this is where development programmes, such as the Fifth National Development Plan (NDP5) launched this week, must be rolled out in such a way that they tackle thorny issues such as income disparities among citizens. By the end of NDP5 in five years’ time, it is our expressed hope that NEEEF would be fully functional, but in a manner that respects the supreme law of the land and basic tenets of human rights.
Our caution is against the backdrop of uncertainty about how NEEEF would be implemented, amidst talk that it targets white-owned businesses. This, of course, can’t be any further from the truth. It is a fake and unsubstantiated fear premised on attempts to draw international sympathy, solidarity and condemnation. NDP5 must produce genuine empowerment for the average Namibian, as opposed to cosmetic PR exercises seeking external legitimacy. While promoting entrepreneurship, NDP5 must ring radical changes to the Namibian development landscape, through not only providing skills to young people but also providing them with more opportunities to excel.