Windhoek Versus the Rest [opinion]

“WHY MUST development only take place in Windhoek? Why only there, where there is so much crime? Why not in Tsumeb, which is the gateway to the neglected north?

The people must not be brought to the bright lights of Windhoek, the bright lights should be brought to the people.” – Tonie Botes, former Tsumeb Major, while addressing a Tsumeb Investment Conference back in 1992, said. I covered the conference for Namibia Review.

In any case, that sounded much like a desperate cry of the denied, but a cry in the wilderness it was not. Today there are many people like Botes, who are peeved by the disproportionate development of municipalities and frustrations of seeing their towns go to seed, turned into ghost towns, as jobless people drift to urban areas to seek employment and what they perceive to be a better life.

Here, I am not so overly concerned about the much discussed ‘rural-urban’ drift or migration – a lopsided development that characterised much of the African development planning and ideas about social change. The thrust of this piece is to look at how the ‘problem’ of Windhoek is a consequence of our own narrow understanding of development.

We don’t seem to understand the inter-relatedness and inter-connectedness of developmental issues. We hear so much about the lack of housing in Windhoek, which in turn, is explained in terms of lack of land. This is the popular explanation by positivist economists who are actually driving the planning process in this country. Gone are the radical thinkers of the 1960s and 70s.

The question to pose here is why should someone travel from Okamatapati, from Bukalo, Okahao or Orumana and pass through Otjiwarongo, Katima, Rundu, Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Outjo, Okahandja and end up in Windhoek? The same can be asked for people coming from the south or east of our country.

The answer is, of course, obvious. But as Botes aptly put it: “We haven’t taken the bright lights to the people.” We have been too pre-occupied developing only one city. Everything is located in the capital. There are so many government institutions that do not need to be in Windhoek at all. My humble request to our government is that it should put a moratorium on the building of any new government institution in Windhoek and instead spread the development budget to other towns and eventually to other rural centres.

Windhoek’s pre-eminence has profound implications for the development of the capital as well as for the rest of the country. Thus, infrastructure planning and construction also contribute to the lop-sided expansion of some bigger towns at the expense of smaller towns. There is a relationship between town-size and the total demands for goods and services and this inevitably gives Windhoek the leading edge. There are some key areas we need to consider: how to improve the economic base of regional towns how to improve social conditions on the ground how to improve urban services and, perhaps more importantly, how to allocate resources and responsibilities among all level of government, given the various local conditions existing in all towns.

Undoubtedly, if these policy issues are approached diligently, the country should be able to influence the urbanisation process, which would hopefully contribute to much better even population distribution, instead of having people flocking to the bright lights of Windhoek and Swakopmund (I’m targeting these two because their administrators keep complaining about population influx, which then justifies the bloated land prices).

At the 1992 Tsumeb Investment Conference, the then Prime Minister and now the new-again PM, Hage Geingob, said: “Windhoek has been the economic growth point of Namibia for decades. Now we would like to see other areas of Namibia become economic growth points as well. Only then can we bring about equity, with opportunities dispersed throughout the nation.” Fine words indeed, from the number one civil servant, but retrospectively, there is no action 22 years later.

Sometimes people do not want to learn from mistakes. The economist Veblen developed the concept of ‘the aantage of the late comer’. By that he meant that countries that join the bandwagon in the development process have an aantage and an opportunity to avoid the mistakes made by other countries and nations. Looking at our country today, it seems to me that we are repeating mistakes that other countries on the continent have already made.

I’m here reminded of the example from our sister country Nigeria. They have for years concentrated on the development of their capital Lagos with all the petro-dollar. Given the population size of Nigeria, Lagos became an ‘urban jungle’, so to speak.

And in a typical jungle, you are bound to get bruises and scratches. The solution was to move to a clear ground – set up the new capital of Abuja. Does Windhoek risk becoming an ‘urban jungle’? I visited Windhoek recently from Opuwo where I have been living for the past four years and I could not believe what I saw – a jungle in the making.

The point is that Namibia is not Windhoek and Windhoek cannot be Namibia.

Source : The Namibian