16 November 2012

Namibia: Putting Rural Namibia to Work


THE Pohamba administration is on record about helping people find jobs through huge investment in TIPEEG, rural development, and agricultural development, but where are the jobs for the unemployed in rural Namibia?

Why do job-seekers have to travel to uushimba (I call it a modern day migrant labour system) in Windhoek and other urban settings of Namibia in search for employment? Why 22 years into our independence do we still have a generation of rural young people, we might as well call them generation zero-earning, who never in their lifetimes held a job where they could earn a salary?

Official statistics, contested by some, indicate that 51.2 percent of Namibians are unemployed, but we still don’t know the extent rural unemployment plays in this figure. Certainly, however, the dynamics of urban and rural unemployment are markedly different.

Rural unemployment is unusual in the sense that rural people’s access to employment is limited. Besides rural people are expected to generate their own income or live a subsistence existence. Apart from the reality of traveling long-distances in search of jobs, most rural Namibians are typically undereducated with no or limited skills to compete fully in the Namibian labor market. Even in the situation where they have had some schooling, many lack necessary skills, exposure, and job experience to compete in an urban-biased economy.

In addition, with the rural area’s inability to attract new industries and employers, rural area families face the situation of having one or both of the wage earners without employment. Even those who want to set up their own businesses not only have no financial means but also lack access to loans or financial resources available to urban area communities.

But most importantly, the burden of migrating to urban areas in search of employment falls heavily on women, children and the elderly who are left behind to take care of the village homesteads. This very same rural migration to urban centers is also what is at work with regard to the instantaneous shack cities which have come to characterize most of Namibian urban towns, as people move from rural areas to the cities in the hope of finding jobs there.

Yet most of our employment policies and rural development programmes fail to take into account the particular needs of rural people or the fact that developing and creating employment for the rural population has its own challenges and dynamics. To date, our approaches towards rural development and employment have mostly been linear, in the form of shopping centres, electrification, tarring of the main road and some piecemeal agricultural activities. The trouble with this model of development is that it encourages consumerism as opposed to investing in people’s productive capacities to produce goods and things we need.

They say that policy is an art of the possible, therefore when it comes to rural employment, we need, tapping into rural Namibia’s centuries-old strengths of survival, resilience and ingenuity, to be a little bit entrepreneurial in order to revitalise the rural economy.

For example:

• Investing in road infrastructure improvement to link rural areas internally instead of merely following the main road, like what we have seen with the rural electrification and the tar road, which in some cases have by-passed many villages just to get to a councilor’s or another elite’s house.

• Expanding rural areas job market by investing in innovative projects that create jobs or make rural areas more sustainable, focusing on local resources, knowledge and technology – a strength perspective of using what is available in the community.

• Helping rural entrepreneurs navigate the sometimes complex process of starting their own businesses, including access to loans and financial means.

• Rewarding through the working of tax systems companies social missions and those companies wanting to do business in rural areas or that commit to employing rural area people, especially in areas that utilise local and indigenous resources.

• Investing in projects that maximise opportunities for rural areas to acquire necessary job skills to gain and keep employment.

These, however, would require, bold leadership, problem-solving, and collaboration between the government and the private sector. Please note what I am not saying here: I believe the government mean well with its development and employment agenda (and is trying its best under the circumstance of resource constraint), but let’s also acknowledge that the rural development programme (including employment programmes such as TIPEEG) have been operating at a general and broad level without a clear road map.

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