The edge of poverty

13 April 2017

We read with interest a news report about a local famer giving workshops on how to grow and harvest fly larvae. Over 800 people have spent their hard earned money to take these lessons. Some have even sold animals and taken loans to pay for this training.

This rather unpalatable business venture taken in tandem with stories of women in the North, creating opportunities for themselves by setting up coordinated efforts to catch fish in the temporary ‘lakes’ that result from the efundja and local rains, and then dry and cook them for sale to the public, speaks to their eagerness to earn a living.

There are other examples, but the point rings out loud and clear. There is a level of desperation in the society that has struck hard in this economic crisis.

Many people are searching high and low for opportunities to earn what little they can for as long as they can. They want to earn their way off the edge of poverty.

This speaks to a base level of disaffection in Namibia that is risky for our policy-makers, civil society leaders and business communities to ignore.

We believe that the current Government has wrongly shifted the focus away from job creation and fixed its speeches to programs like food banks and increased monthly grants to orphans and the elderly.

While giving support to those in need is important, we are not convinced that grants and hand-outs are a sustainable way to permanently reduce poverty – we believe job creation is the key.

Too many give-away programs can create a sense of dependency rather than giving the sense of self-sufficiency to those who are able, by offering support that can help them create their own job opportunities.

We believe funds used for building-up SMEs and supporting companies that hire local people only (at management and entry level) are a much lauded, and yet under-funded avenue for sustainable job creation in Namibia.

There is a Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development that claims to have SME development as its priority. We don’t see where that ministry is consistently and demonstrably working with SMEs as a priority.

We believe that the focus should be on helping Namibians to work themselves out of poverty using Government support as a starter pack.

There is much talk from politicians and Government officials about providing start-up capital or equipment for SMEs and development programs on communal conservancies in rural areas, but when it comes to the actual disbursement of grants or loans to those who want (and have the skills) to start viable ventures, the twin hammers of the need for security/collateral and bureaucracy (regulations, fees, permits, etc…) pound most small ventures into dust.

Our national rhetoric on poverty alleviation has back-seated job creation, and this is a mistake. It is now all about short term solutions rather than systemic changes that can give people who are struggling a chance not to fall off the edges of society, and a chance to earn their way up the ladder.

Namibia tried to focus on job creation some years ago with the modestly effective TIPEEG program. This created short term jobs and some permanent work, but did not crack the nut of cyclical, deep-rooted unemployment. Still, the idea had merit.

Years ago, we successfully created green scheme programs. Is there no space for opportunities to expand this program to create new job opportunities either directly with the particular programs or in downstream businesses supporting the green scheme operations?

Our mining and fishing industries, in many aspects are still controlled by foreign entities that buy quotas and EPLs from the handful of Namibian businesses and consortiums that win the contracts from the two ministries.

What further opportunities for permanent employment in those sectors are available using Government regulation of these industries?

Strangely, it seems that if you are destitute, there are food banks, church programs and development agencies available to assist on some level. But, we have concerns that programs that offer free food or cash tend to lure some who would ordinarily work for a living, to abandon their jobs in order to pursue the free handouts.

We think there should be more programs available for those on the economic slide to destitution; those who still have a few things, but are in need of a hand up (not a hand out).

Why not stop the slide off the economic ledge with programs that can add value to people’s ability to earn a living for themselves?

There are so many people struggling to get taxi fare to get to work, barely affording Tango cards, eating meat only a few times in a month, or living without lights for a few nights before the end of the month as there is no more money for AVM purchases of electricity. What programs are in place to keep the working poor off ‘the bottom?’

We feel there need to be more support for those struggling so that they do not fall into the economic abyss. Innovative programs should be designed with job creation in mind so that those eager to work can earn their way off the edge of economic disaster.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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