I visited Kenya in 2009, and I was quite impressed by the positively infectious energy exuded by the people of that country. Of particular interest to me was how they were pushing the agenda of rural development, which is a key component of any national development strategy.
In general, the poor economic conditions in rural areas push the people away and force them to seek refuge in urban centres, which are bursting at the seams, much like the proverbial idea of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Kenya has a Ministry of Regional Development Authorities (MRDA), whose mission is “To improve the livelihood of the people of Kenya through execution of participatory, integrated basin-based development programmes by providing policy guidance and capacity building for sustainable utilization and conservation of natural resources.”
There are six Regional Development Authorities (RDA’s) in Kenya, based on its major river basins. They are modelled along the same lines as river basin authorities in other countries such as the Tennessee Valley Basin Authority in Southern USA, and the Mekong River Basin Authority in Indo-China. The RDA’s are vehicles to implement integrated multi-sectoral programmes and projects in rural areas.
The RDA’s are State-owned Enterprises that are headed by Managing Directors appointed by the minister responsible for regional development. They carry out extensive natural resource mapping exercises in each region to determine the potential for economic exploitation, e.g. major rivers for hydro-electric energy and irrigation; large water bodies such as the ocean and lakes for fishing and other marine/aquatic activities; mineral deposits; rangelands, wildlife sanctuaries and wind corridors; etc. Unlike Namibia, Kenya has many perennial rivers.
In fact, while in Kenya, the Minister of RDA’s showed us how they empower villagers to farm with bees in order to produce honey which is packaged properly and sold in various outlets. I tasted it, and now I know the difference between the real natural honey and the romantic honey!
There is a lot that one can write about this model of rural development, and how it can help to reduce urban sprawl if managed successfully. Granted, the slums in Kenya are quite a challenge, but the government is doing something about it. The Kibera slums in Nairobi are said to be the largest in Africa, with close to a million people living in the most deplorable and dehumanising conditions. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the shacks packed like sardines stretching as far as the eye could see.
The Kenyan Government set itself the target to do away with the slums, as part of their Vision 2030, and so they have set up a Directorate of Slum Upgrading in the Ministry of Housing. This project is building decent roads through the slums, and is putting up massive blocks of flats to which the slum residents are relocated.
The Kibera slums make our informal settlements such as Ombili, Babylon, Sewende Laan, etc. look like posh areas by comparison, but this should not be reason for us to rest on our laurels thinking that we have the situation under control. We should actually move with great haste to nip the situation in the bud by prioritising rural development so as to stem the tide of urbanisation. It is a fact that the City of Windhoek (CoW) will run out of developable land in less than a decade from now.
The resources needed to address the problems of urbanisation all over Namibia are humungous. For instance, to build 20 000 houses and service 26 000 plots as part of the Harambee Prosperity Plan, will require at least N$10 billion over the next four years! That’s N$2.5 billion per annum. And the challenge is that, even after spending so much money, the housing problem will still not be resolved. The dilemma is this: as more and more resources are spent to upgrade the infrastructure in informal settlements, more and more people consequently flock to the urban centres in search of “greener pastures”, and so we get caught up in a zero sum exercise.
To a large extent, we are treating the symptoms rather than attacking the root cause of this malady. In view of the numbers above, there is a question that keeps bugging me: Will it not be more effective to take even N$ 1 billion per annum and spend it on developing the rural areas, e.g. by empowering our communal farmers through programmes that help crop and livestock farmers, as well as creating agro-based industries in communal areas, and by accelerating the land acquisition programme?
Of course, more research is needed to answer this question satisfactorily, but simple people’s logic, of two plus two equals four, tells me that this is very much the way to go. In due course, I shall generate some numbers based on a very elementary econometric model to show that agrarian reform is the solution to most of our urban ills.
The Kenyan model of mapping natural resources for purposes of rural development can be adapted to Namibian conditions. We need to identify all the resources in each village and hamlet, in every nook and cranny. The challenge will be to develop a formula for resource sharing, e.g. what percentage of the income from fisheries, diamonds, zinc, grapes, tourism, etc. in the //Karas region should be spent in that region, and how should the balance be split between the central government and other regions?
There is no need for rocket science to figure out that there will be major discontentment if it is perceived that a region that is abundantly endowed with natural resources is being neglected, while its massive income is spent almost wholesale in other less endowed regions for tribal-political reasons.