18 December 2012

Namibia: Aim for the Stars in 2013

Yes, it is that time of the year (again), where the whole country is caught up in the frenzy of planning and anticipating the festivities of Christmas Day.

This day falls next Tuesday, a week from today. But most have already departed for holiday destinations, ancestral villages and other spots where families, in their varied definitions, will gather to spend this day and following days before the final denouement on December 31, which will consign this year to history. This is also the period where budget discipline takes the back seat and profligacy takes its place, as, somehow, the expenses of January will, magically, take care of themselves or we rely on the biblical exhortation as in Matthew 6, verse 25: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them."

To continue my recent narrative in this column about how influences both from within and without our borders impact on who we are, our celebrations, in recognition of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, are a nod to the culture and religion of those who came to our shores, with the Bible in one hand, in the not too distant past. For, as the Good Book commands us in John 8, verse 32..."ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free..."

And since we are not Mayans, life must continue beyond the indulgences of the Christmas week. The sobering facts, however, are that whilst a tiny minority continue to hit the jackpot repeatedly, most of the two million Namibians do not have a reason to cheer as 2012 recedes. Their lives continue to be dreary, brutish and miserable. But we must want to - and believe - that it is possible to soar; to beat the best. And the most outstanding example of the year drawing to the close is Johanna Benson's brilliant performance on the global stage. To rise against all odds and win must be an allegory for our nation and people as we move into 2013 and beyond. Johanna is not only receiving national recognition but has been nominated for the prestigious Laureus World Sports Award. She is nominated in the Laureus World Sports Person of the Year with a Disability category. She is the only athlete nominated from Africa. Other sports personalities shortlisted for recognition include the likes of Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps, Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Sebastian Vettel.

With little support and on shoestring budgets, our sportsmen and women have generally competed against superior competition in boxing, rugby, netball, cricket, swimming and other codes and distinguished themselves. They certainly can do with more support and better training to take on the world. But the singular lesson from all their successes is to make the point that we can take on the world and win. We need to translate this "can do" spirit into our national economic and social agendas. Come 2013 we must, as a nation, return to the coalface with renewed energy and single-mindedness of Johanna and her comrades in order to win the fight against the debilitating social and economic challenges - against poverty - for our nation of little more than 2 million souls. With a nimble, focused and competent administration so much can be achieved as the wonderful example of the government's world-class programmes in the area of environment demonstrate. The hosting of the international Adventure Tourism Conference next year in Swakopmund is recognition of this excellent work. So with leadership and drive Namibians can apply themselves to be among the best.

Countries with small or manageable populations elsewhere - Switzerland, Mauritius, Singapore - have shown the world what is possible with sound leadership and proper incentives. We must, therefore, work collectively to make the year 2013 one representing a break between our bleak past and prosperity for most. But this can only be achieved with a national effort and a changed mindset which accommodates all - particularly the small man. This involves too regular and periodic review of policy to test its continued relevance as the environment constantly changes around us. 2013 must also herald the golden period for our youth as we lay the basis for the country's future. The "comprehensive and Holistic Review and Reform of Higher Education System in Namibia" and others must serve as bases for developing a world-class education to prepare the young to take this country forward.

The much-vaunted economic revolution will continue to be a mirage if we do not consciously plan to achieve it and reduce it to a club of few to the exclusion of the overwhelming majority. The challenges which hamstrung us are self-evident just as they are in the case of Johanna Benson. But Johanna's fortitude also more than demonstrates that rising to the top is within our reach. And we must commit to this higher ideal next year and beyond.

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