A Nation of Consumers [opinion]

BY THE time a Namibian reaches office from home, heshe probably would have used more than five things that are neither made in Namibia, nor would they have a clue how these items are made.

Those could be toiletries and towels in the shower, the clothes you put on for work or leisure, the plates used for your daily meals, and the coffeetea you drink every morning.

It could also be the car you drive to your destination, your mobile phone and the computer you use in your office or home.

To state it differently, we (together with other fellow Africans) collectively are the only people on earth who use about 98% of stuff that are made elsewhere but in our own countries. In that sense we are increasingly becoming a consumer nation in that our culture of consumption not only is destroying our centuries-old relationship with nature and the environment, but also our creativity, productivity and the opportunity to innovate.

Instead of the label ‘made in Namibia’, we largely depend on other nations for the production of most of the goods we consume. We are also a nation that, instead of developing our own infrastructure, skills and expertise in the oil and mining industries, we sell the right to do so to others.

To be sure, Namibia, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is actively involved in exporting Namibian goods to the international market. Equally, Namibia is also heavily involved in trade negotiations.

But what exactly are we trading or exporting, if we cannot even make a simple thing like a toothpick (to borrow from the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Tjekero Tweya)? Raw materials?

Namibia does not, for the most part, add value to its raw materials. Instead, it largely exports these natural resources for processing, only to be returned to us for consumption at hefty prices.

Enter the importance of a manufacturing economy. This is another way of saying ‘make it in Namibia’ and ‘buy Namibia’ too. The failure to manufacture our own goods is also a failure in engineering know-how and technological innovation, and that’s a situation in which we do not want to be because it presents a great danger to our national security and national well-being.

Also enter the importance of knowledge, skills and manufacturing infrastructure. A robust manufacturing sector would require infrastructure needed to maintain a supply chain of higher levels of production and consumption of domestic goods. This also would demand that we boost the education of the manufacturing workers – from high school, vocational training, tertiary education, and on to the factory floor – through seamless training programmes.

Now, in this day and age of globalisation, does it really matter where something is made? The conventional wisdom would probably also aise against venturing into manufacturing economy because today’s global economy is more service industry-oriented than manufacturing.

For our case, however, where products are made, should matter. This is because manufacturing our own goods is central to the strength of our economy, and probably a solid foundation for achieving Vision 2030.

It also means, among others, more jobs for Namibians, and reliable and safe products in terms of the environment, the health and the well-being of our people. In a nutshell, manufacturing is the place where we could be the driver of our own economic innovation and a place where we could turn ideas into products and services vital to our lives.

The ‘made in Namibia’ label, presently, would be a workable model to realise because of the country’s low labour costs and abundant resources. In addition, we also have the aantages of duty-free and quota-free access to US and EU markets, especially for light manufactured items, under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the Cotonou Agreement.

Moreover, there is also one thing we need to do as a nation in order to ensure that Namibia develops a broader set of manufacturing capabilities. For that, we need supportive policies aimed at boosting demands and promoting the export of Namibian goods enhancing investment in infrastructure training a manufacturing workforce and developing a national manufacturing strategy that includes the establishment of national manufacturing institutes.

Doing so, would provide us with the opportunity to channel our energy in the designing, engineering, and production of goods, and also making sure that our tax dollars are helping fund the creation of amazing products we can call our own.

The author is a lecturer at Unam in the Department of Human Sciences-Social Work. The views expressed are entirely his.

Source : The Namibian