Where is Brand Namibia heading?

07 March 2013

THE 2013 Misery Index, a rather opaque indicator adding unemployment and inflation to determine happiness in a country rated Namibia in the top tier of the 25 most miserable countries to live in.

More specifically we found ourselves in an unenviable 7th position, in a dangerous neighbourhood with Djibouti and Zimbabwe. Sadly, we fared far worse than strange bedfellows including distressed Haiti and war-torn Afghanistan.


We may question the methodology used. But it would be hard to debunk completely the reasoning behind the Index: ‘most citizens understand the pain of a high jobless rate and the soaring price of goods’. In other words, inflation and joblessness are key determinants in the level of misery a people are likely to endure.

Instead of us ranting and crying foul, drawing more heat than light in the form of questions around the methodology - there are obvious lessons for Namibians and the brand we carry as a nation. More specifically policymakers should draw lessons from this crude analysis and tabulation by the economist Arthur Orkum.

After all, notwithstanding the contentious Misery Index, Namibia is in the top three of the most unequal societies in the world. We have a high GDP per capita at around US$4,700. But the downside to this is that we hold the world record for the highest GINI coefficient at 70 percent.

Even if you are well fed and perfumed to question the methodology of the Misery Index, it ought to be sufficiently depressing for a fair-minded Namibian to live in one of the three most unequal societies in the world. It ought to be a scar on our collective conscience to be known as an outrageously unequal country.

What we ought to do as a people is to ask ourselves essential questions about our brand. More important, these questions should inform what we can and should do in order to correct some of the excesses that are part of our definition.

We may want to wish negatives away, but this is in part how others look at us as a brand. There are some gaps that exist and they devalue Namibia as a brand. Going forward, it should come down to the admission that there are a number of things that we failed to address as a country.

These have in turn had a knock-on effect on a country that started on a clean slate at independence. We should admit that over the past 23 years our brand has suffered reputational damage, which can only be corrected through a candid assessment of the limits of the assets we posses as a country.

We live in a crowded market. Peace, democracy and the relatively good governance – the stuff that made us special 15 years ago in Africa, are now becoming commonplace. Many countries in Africa are starting to experience peaceful political transitions.

Also, as peace and a stable legislative environment becomes a common denominator in Africa, investors have choices when it comes investments in natural resources and captive markets for their goods. Therefore, as a small country, without skilled citizens and a robust export base outside natural resources, we do not have many sustainable assets that we can show-off to the rest of the world.

Worse, we do not have a skilled population that distinguishes itself from the rest of the continent. Instead, we rely (oddly that is) too heavily on the materials nature has given us, and thus thrive if I have to put it coarsely on the state of nature.

We live on the hope that tourists will flock to Namibia because of our scenic beauty. We live on the hope that we will discover abundant oil or some precious natural resource, thereby solving some of the key challenges we face as a people.

Certainly, attempts must be made to explore our soil, and the stability we have should be an important selling point for attracting investments into the country.

However, other brands will overtake us if we allow inequality, corruption and poor service delivery to fester cancerously.Other brands will overtake us if we do not invest in a skilled population.

As a country, rebuilding the Namibian Brand implies understanding the sources of our failures.

I argue this way because we have not done particularly well over the past few years. We have been on the decline when it comes to the key indicators, including the World Competitiveness Report, the World Bank Ease of Doing Business and the Mo-Ibrahim foundation.

If we have not stagnated, we have been overtaken when it comes to government and business efficiency, infrastructural development and economic performance.

In order to reverse the downward trend, certain forms of government propaganda that seek to create willy-nilly proudcitizens are not sustainable in the absence of important inputs in a highly competitive global environment.

We should go back to the drawing board, reflect candidly and engage critically the downward trends over the past decade. This ought to be the starting point in rebuilding and recasting Namibia as a sustainable brand.

Alfredo Tjiurimo HENGARI is Head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.


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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