Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

PRESIDENT Hifikepunye Pohamba all but gave himself and his administration an A+ pass rate over his two terms of office when he delivered the “state of the nation” address in parliament yesterday.

His speech suggested that the challenges that the country is facing are not as bad as critics would have and that the future was indeed rosy.

To a large extent, the President was correct, especially if one listened carefully to his emphasis that macro data gave a positive outlook. The country’s economy has been growing at about five percent every year over the years. The gross national income more than doubled to N$120 billion during his term of office. More and more taxpayer money has been pumped into public works and other governmental activities. He boasted inflation has been low enough to provide some relief to citizens.

Moreover, Pohamba, rightfully, reminded Namibians that the country has maintained peace since independence, earning international accolades for the freedom of the media, economic performance and on matters such as the management of HIV-AIDS. The entrenchment of democracy is one area he felt not to over-emphasize.

He thus made a bold statement that encouraging strides were being taken and that there were clear signs of poverty alleviation.

However, the proof is always in the eating.

In the same week that the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) released impressive macro economic figures, it also announced employment figures that all but suggest that this country is sitting on a time-bomb.

Let’s us digress a little: the NSA has done a good job collecting and publishing information and that can only help the policy makers and implementers target areas that need their attention. The latest employment figures were published two years in a row for the first time, instead of every four years as was the case before. We trust that government leaders see the value of such an institution and thus fund it adequately as well as leave it to do its job. For too long the cabinet has had a tendency of stifling the gathering and publication of data, especially when they believe the information as painting government in a not to flattering light. Fixing the problems will be the way to go.

Back to the grim statistics: Unemployment has grown 2.2% from 27% over the past year, but that is probably not too alarming for a country that is used to unemployment rates in their higher 20s to even 50% of the population.

Most worryingly is that the future of this country bears the brunt of the hardships. About 42% of Namibian youth are unemployed. If that is not worrying, consider that more than a third of Namibian youth (age 15-24years), or 260 000 young Namibians, are not in employment, education or training. That is disconcerting information about a category that is supposed to be the gem of society.

Beyond that, the latest labour force data tell us that, by far, the majority of the employed Namibians (89.1% to be exact) have low to no level of education.

The situation is compounded because more than 50% of the 690 000 employed Namibians earn less than N$2 000 a month or that 283 000 actually make less than N$1 000 a month. The statistics also tell us that though the number of people dependent on the ones who are employed has been dropping, the fact that an employed person still has to look after six others is onerous.

For all the positive signs, Mr President, the most concerning issue is that on an individual level poverty levels are not coming down for most Namibians. In fact, only 1.2% percent of Namibians earn more than N$10 000 a month, an alarming figure that confirms that our country is the most unequal society in the world.

On the whole, Namibia is a ticking time bomb despite that macro-economic data and the general atmosphere may point to growth as well as peace and stability. It is time policy-makers seriously start to tackle inequality.

Source : The Namibian