Sucking the Urban Sprawl Dry! [opinion]

I watch with fascination and indeed almost admiration as our politicians show their indubitable skills at keeping themselves in power, adding to their already magnificent levels of wealth and positioning themselves and their chosen successors to continue their good work.

I watch as their doublespeak promotes aancing the poor up the wealth ladder while in reality the cash flows from the poor into their own pockets in the majority of cases. I watch with even more fascination as we are told how our economy is growing at a rate where growth exceeds inflation and we are all, especially the poor, becoming better off.

I watch as we keep aising how economic growth through manufacturing is our future but a look a the figures shows that despite some heroics within the sector, the reality is that we remain dependent upon a slowly expanding primary sector, almost all mine based, a stagnant fishing industry and an agricultural environment that expands at a snail’s pace, despite buckets of cash seemingly only expanding pre-independence operations apart from some minor local brilliance. And where financial growth is evident it is usually due to price increases, not volumetric growth.

Sure, our financial and property sectors are booming largely driven, not by local capital but by external forces on the residential sector and a well set up financial environment, which despite well-conceived intent to prevent “dubious activities”, like many other developing nations, appears to be driven by “faceless financial heroes” in the world of “confusing and secretive” large movements of money.

However, I will give credit to our established banking sector and new rules for addressing this problem, but numerous not so reputable players appear to be hiding behind their skirts of their protectors in high positions and playing a different game. Of course proving this is almost impossible but the rise of several players in the political domain to instant wealth opens the gates of necessary suspicion. As an international disease it would seem unlikely the scourge has evaded us but the massive increase in seemingly pointless and over expensive projects and programmes has to raise doubts!

Neckertal Dam, (NS2.8billion, initial estimate), new government offices and parliamentary infrastructure (NS 2billion?), TIPEEG (NS14.5billion, the sudden action on KUDU gas and the 800MW power generation (NS1bn) when cheap “fracking gas” is on the horizon and now the trans-Kalahari rail line (NS100billion initial – with much funded through Botswana admittedly and the 10-year formal housing plan at some fabulous number, all may have a simplistic logic behind them but .

I accept that governments have to take financial risks to aance the nation, but so many of the above have risk levels that exceed reasonable motion, especially when all ongoing together with little local oversight capacity to control excesses and financial irregularities. Having said this, if such risk is acceptable, realise that while major capital projects may have the capacity to take the nation forward economically. And, of course, those in the political world, especially in an election year need actions to crow about on their trail to retain power, especially when final outcomes are way into the next political term.

However, this is the easy and probably one of the inevitable roads forward in our development where high risks, which are unlikely to attract the private sector, have to be taken to show action on the ground. Indeed many national successes worldwide have emerged from seemingly crazy government projects and it is easy to criticise from the outside.

Thus in a nation fighting for economic growth, unemployment and social insanity, as most nations, high risks have to be taken to find avenues to progress. And this is the point in that while massive infrastructural and other capital projects inevitably fall under governments wings and have to form part of the way forward there is a parallel route, equally risky but also equally necessary, to drive progress from the bottom up.

We have to find a way to capitalise on our major wasted resource, the multitudes who are excluded from the direct benefits of capital programmes, the poor and especially the large numbers of unemployed or badly paid youth, who survive increasingly, due to urban drift, in an almost separate world of the informal sector. Despite all the criticisms, sometimes well justified, this sector of society, both youth and “the survivors”, even at low spend rates, operate a dynamic informal economy driven by the desperate need to survive.

Somehow many of these Namibians at the “bottom” of our social ladder drive a dynamic but almost invisible social economy, an economy that is divorced from the statistical and rational world of the formal sector. But it exists and I suggest, offers a parallel economic way forward if those hidden, but real talents can be harvested. No, they are not driven by master’s degrees or formal financial systems but by sheer innovation and the forces of survival.

They progress from the increasing and inevitable dynamics of urban drift, raw competition and innate talent. They represent the opportunity to progress, unlike the formal sector, from the bottom up. They exist in the apparent chaos of settlements without formal toilets and piped water, they exist in a world where life is lived day to day, or even hour to hour!

The sheer fact that they survive is testament to their talents an incredible pool from which economic growth can be stimulated with comparatively small inputs. Our towns are surrounded by informal settlements that the formal government appears to want to destroy without any thoughts beyond “moving them on”.

Is it not time to accept the tin shack, the lack of flushing toilets and similar utilities as an inevitable stepping stone on our road to urbanisation and growth rather than constantly harassing this pool of innovation, creativity and latent skills?

Major capital projects involve risk. Let’s take a social risk and stop sucking the urban poor dry and view them, within their current social systems, as potential, not the enemy.

Source : The Namibian