Poverty in Namibia
Namibia is today a lower middle-income country with an average per capita income of US$2,975. Despite an improvement in the Gini coefficient from 0.707 in 1993/94 to 0.6 in 2003/4, Namibia still has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world, with parts of society having standards of living equal to levels to be found in Europe with other parts of society experiencing levels of poverty to be found in any part of Southern Africa. Classed as a middle-income country, 30% of the population - mostly black - are considered poor.
High unemployment in particular among young people adds to growing discontent about the persistence of inequalities. Cheap manufactured imports from South Africa and Asia limit possibilities for job creation outside the civil service, farming, the growing tourism sector and the capital-intensive mining sector.
Namibia's economy relies heavily on extraction and processing of minerals as well as on processed fish for export. Namibia is the world's fifth largest producer of uranium and a primary source of gem-quality diamonds. Cattle and sheep rearing dominates agriculture, and the country has one of the richest potential fisheries in the world. Policies adopted since independence have aimed at sustaining economic growth, diversifying the country's productive base and attracting foreign investors.
The civil service employs 4.3% of the population, a share 2.5 times larger than the sub-Saharan average. The current wage bill eats 43% of government spending and is, in the IMF's assessment unsustainable, making civil service reform an urgent requirement.
Civil Society seeks programmes that improve the coverage, quality of and access to basic social infrastructure and services and take account of local needs and specific needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, thus reducing the inequalities of access to general services. In short, economic growth needs to be closely linked to the Millennium Development Goals.
For example, Civil Society has been lobbying through the Basic Income Grant Coalition for a national income grant to provide a basic income for all. Civil Society programmes of small business support are based upon clear evidence that encouragement of small businesses is one major tool in enabling the unemployed, marginalised and disadvantaged to gain access to economic activity; women in particular are able to gain a livelihood through running small businesses.
Civil Society notes and welcomes the fact that the economic growth targets set as part of the 2nd National Development Plan were exceeded. It also notes that the main source of that performance came from the private sector and believes that an important feature of this, in relation to Social and Economic Justice, was the growth of small businesses. Policies that advance small businesses need to be encouraged.
In addition, Civil Society believes that accountability and transparency are essential components for both economic and social justice. Namibia needs a Freedom of Information Act. But even without this, all sections of society need to work to the highest standards of openness and integrity. The government, in particular, needs to lead by acting upon the highest standards of public accountability and needs to challenge corruption wherever it is found.