Poverty curse needs sober introspection

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HE World Bank’s latest report which documents that a shocking 1.6 million people in Namibia are living in poverty requires collective introspection in which the responsibility to end poverty is shared across the economic divide.

Indeed, the advent of the democratic transformation in Namibia during 1990 brought with it high hopes that income poverty and inequity would soon be significantly reduced from the very high levels that existed during colonialism. The reality has been sobering.

Despite steady economic growth and early success in adopting an exemplary Constitution, combined with the introduction of many progressive policies and laws, progress in poverty reduction has been slow and uneven.

This snail paced progress has been amplified by Covid-19 which has seen 200 000 more Namibians being pushed into poverty during the first year of the pandemic.

While it is easy to point fingers at the cause of this poverty curse which is laced with gross inequality, it is imperative that we all – government, private sector and civil society – find a role to play in reducing the unbelievable poverty numbers.

Strategically, the World Bank has already offered Namibia a compass on how to overcome this poverty in which it recommended the implementation of crucial structural policy reforms that it said will be a prerequisite to raise domestic growth potential.

These structural reforms are essential measures that ultimately change the fabric of an economy, including the institutional and regulatory framework in which businesses and people operate.

We thus call on responsible authorities to take up these reforms, cognisant of the notion that a successful strategy of poverty reduction must have at its core measures to promote rapid and sustained economic growth. This must be urgently done by combining growth promoting policies that allow the poor to participate fully in the opportunities unleashed and so contribute to that growth.

This includes policies to make labour markets work better, remove gender inequalities and increase financial inclusion.

Critically and particularly at this time, we should evaluate whether we have been innovative enough to create better livelihoods for everyone. Perhaps we have not. In essence, there should be a realisation that Namibia is too small a country to afford duplication of effort.

The current situation should be the clarion call for stronger collaboration and tightening of strings within our ecosystem of innovation. We ought to maximise and leverage the regions of confluence and complementarity among various entities in the country. At the same time, all avenues of commercialisation or industrialisation that exist within our system of innovation should be seized and capitalised on. This calls for an urgent relook at our developmental models which among a host of other critical areas must acknowledge that an environment must be created for industry or the private sector to invest meaningfully.

In sum therefore, it has to become clear now that in order to resuscitate our grave poverty reality, many things will have to change from how we have been approaching them over the past 32 years.