Windhoek — Namibia should think about developing a second commercial city in an area where there is an abundance of water to supply 'wet' industries, which could in return create both skilled and unskilled jobs, in order to stop migration of people to Windhoek. Political analysts feel such a development could decongest Windhoek that has in recent years seen an upsurge in slum dwellers and the proliferation of shacks.
Windhoek has experienced significant rural-urban migration in recent years as people continue to migrate from different regions to Windhoek in order to further their education and look for employment prospects that elude them in rural areas.
According to the Population Projections Report from the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), the City of Windhoek's population was expected to have increased to 431,000 last year from the 342,000 recorded in 2011.
The Namibian Constitution guarantees freedom of movement. Article 21 (1g) says, "All persons shall have the right to move freely throughout Namibia", and Article 21 (1h) says "All persons shall have the right to reside and settle in any part of Namibia", however such freedoms have placed a burden on the Windhoek municipality as the authority can no longer cater for all inhabitants' basic needs.
This has resulted in the lack of sanitation and water, people settling illegally on unserviced land, the mushrooming of shacks and of late disease outbreaks.
President Hage Geingob while on his familiarisation visit to Havana informal settlement, one of the areas hit hard by hepatitis E, expressed his concern over rural-urban influx, stressing that it needs to be controlled.
In an interview with New Era, Graham Hopwood, the executive director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said it's impossible for the country to control rural-urban migration in a legal sense due to the fact that the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement. He suggested that developing existing towns such as Tsumeb and Grootfontein, where there are plenty of underground aquifers, could be one alternative to address the migration of people to Windhoek.
"The political capital could remain in Windhoek while the commercial capital could be further north where there is enough water to supply 'wet' industries. It's an ambitious idea but could be looked into in the long term," he said.
Hopwood listed under-development in rural areas, caused by persistent droughts and climate change, as well as misplaced beliefs that there are more and better-paid jobs in urban areas, as the major contributing factors to urban migration.
"We need to plan for increasing urbanisation. This means making more areas available for people to settle with adequate services including sanitation. The problem is not going away - much of the land in Namibia is extremely marginal in terms of agricultural potential and without alternatives young people, especially, will move to towns and cities," he said
He therefore advised that Namibia needs to come up with strategies that promote development in rural areas, especially in areas where there is water and the potential for irrigation schemes.
"But at the same time there will be a pull towards urban areas - as there has been since independence - so we have to factor this in to our development planning for urban areas, particularly areas where the population is increasing rapidly such as Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Rundu," he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Andrew Niikondo, the deputy vice-chancellor of academic affairs and research at the
University of Namibia (Unam), said: "In a country such as Namibia with high levels of poverty and unemployment, and where all development is happening in urban areas, controlling migration of people to cities will be a doubting task. People in rural area believe that all best services, education, health, employment are in the cities and it will be difficult to stop them."
Niikondo is of the opinion that development of the local urban economy may also lead to a reduction in rural-urban migration to the larger urban centres and the cities.
While the two analysts agreed it is probably impossible to reverse urbanisation, they both say there are plenty of countries seeking to slow down urbanisation by investing in rural areas and by developing green, sustainable cities.
One country that has made significant progress in controlling rural-urban influx is Peru.
In Peru, the growth of informal settlements in Lima and other cities in the country picked up significantly in the 1940s. According to studies this was a result of the increase in rural-urban migration, especially in Lima where the city population grew from 600,000 people in the 1940s to seven million in the early 2000s.
This influx overwhelmed the government to the extent that authorities could no longer repress migration to cities. Subsequently, authorities started to get involved in the provision of services to such settlements - in part to gain political support.
Studies further reveals that Peruvians, in accepting informal settlements as an inevitable reality, promulgated Law 13517, which stated that informal areas should legally be integrated into formal methods of urban development.
The law gave individuals property titles and the right to improve existing informal structures, amongst others.