Classification – Mapara Pas?

UNITED Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was probably confused hearing our complaints about Namibia’s classification as an upper-middle income country.

It’s been a long-term wish of our political leaders that Namibia be ranked among the Least Developed Countries (LCD).

It is understandable that our visitors and outsiders would be confused when we complain that we are poorer than we appear to be. For, who wants to boast about poverty?

The numbers are lying, we protest. Looks can be deceiving, we insist. After all, those classifications by international organisations like the UN, World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) miss the point about the massive damage caused by colonialism and apartheid to the majority of Namibians. The upper-middle income classification means we are relatively well-off as a country and cannot therefore be extending a begging bowl.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba, like other top government leaders in his Cabinet and those before him, could not help himself by hammering home the point to the visiting UN chief.

Pohamba was adamant that his government could have done more to improve the living standards of Namibians if only Namibia was classified among least developed nations. The Namibian head of state, rightly so, told Ban that his country has high levels of poverty, unemployment and pervasive under-development. The last part is not easily believable because many people will see Namibia’s infrastructure and notice how far aanced it is compared to most other under-developed nations.

Still, the President was right when he said that the per capita income – one of the measurements that led to the classification – is misleading. He was correct, indeed, that per capita income does not take into account the skewed income distribution. But that’s what averages are all about. And he was on point that the income inequality was (originally) inherited from apartheid and colonialism.

For the rest, our President is off the mark and, we suspect, he is being misled by his leading officials who have failed the ruling party in addressing the core problems facing the country.

For starters, income inequality, or more crudely the gap between the rich and the poor in Namibia, has grown much bigger and much faster since independence and thus cannot simply be attributed to colonialism. It cannot only be attributed to colonialism because after Namibia’s independence in 1990, a few blacks joined the ranks of whites who have been “creaming it”.

That song about unfair classification has outlived its purpose. In fact, the LP and CD on which it was initially recorded are scratched and it is now being transferred to a memory stick or another modern format in that damaged form, so much so that it jumps and gets stuck every time the song is played.

Really now, how can we be poor simply because someone out there decided to classify us as rich?

Hence our question, “mapara pas?” It is slang mix of Khoekhoe gowab and Afrikaans, which means “where does it fit?”.

Indeed, how will classification of Namibia from upper-middle income to a least developed country take most Namibians out of poverty, or reduce high unemployment and general lack of development? It might get the international community to push more funds to Namibia, but it will not help even-out the distribution of wealth created within the country. And no country that depends on handouts has gotten out of the poverty trap but evidence to the contrary is commonplace.

The gap between the rich and the poor requires serious leadership on both political and business levels. Better salaries for the lowest paid workers, a reduction for those paid excessively (not only state-owned enterprises but in private businesses as well), high quality education and generally improved standards of living for the majority is what will take us out of our troubles.

How others classify or view us is incidental.

Source : The Namibian