Namibia will celebrate its silver jubilee this month, amid calls for the previously disadvantaged community to play a proactive role in the economy.
Although a lot has been done since the attainment of independence to encourage the new black entrepreneur to exploit the opportunities offered in the economy, be able to create jobs, and improve the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), few previously disadvantaged individuals have penetrated the economic strata in a manner that is beneficial to all.
So what is it that has kept the previously disadvantaged at the fringes of economic participation while Government has been eager to open avenues for all? The answer is simple: STUPIDITY.
Since the early 1990s Government took a deliberate paradigm shift to adopt laws that are pro-black economic empowerment in a bid to improve participation by the previously disadvantaged in the economy.
At that time Government adopted a policy reminiscent of the one steered in South Africa where Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) was made a key pillar for poverty alleviation and job creation for those who are from the previously disadvantaged majority.
Where did we go wrong?
While South Africa did a tremendous job in creating a wealthy middle class and many other black entrepreneurs through their BEE initiatives, Namibia still lags behind, hoping for the opportunity when the beneficiaries of deliberate Government policy will become key stake holders in the economy.
South Africa managed to create a strata of entrepreneurs including multimillionaire business tycoon Patrice Motsepe, resurgent businessman like Kaizer Moutang, and politician cum businessman Cyril Ramaphosa to mention but a few. These are individuals whose companies are the major employers in that country.
Their influence in business has grown beyond the borders of South Africa; so much that their enterprises imports the much needed foreign currency into the their economy. And Namibia is their play ground.
However the same cannot be said for Namibia which has somehow created only a small strata of wealthy tenderprenuers from the previously disadvantaged and these have taken over the means of production. (I despise the word tenderprenuer. Why? Because it always has a negative connotation).
There is nothing wrong per se with the new group of wealthy businessman from the previously disadvantaged backgrounds living a flamboyant lifestyle (after all its their money); however- there is everything wrong when the tenderpreneurs who benefited from a government system do little to improve or grow the economy.
One would imagine that 25 years after independence those that benefited from deliberate Government policy of empowerment would be involved in entrepreneurship that has ability to create employment, drive the economy and also expand Namibian businesses beyond borders.
Alas, this has not happened.
Let me share with you my first business lesson. It came unsolicited when yours truly was still a teenager. The entrepreneurs of yesterday (Late Eliakim Namundjembo, Late Nangolo Jacob, Jonas Israel, Usko Nghaamwa, Malakia Lukas etc used to come together frequently to talk about their businesses and the challenges facing them. This time it was Israel Jona’s turn to host the same at his premises at Oluno. There was a sea of Ford 100 and 250 models.
A young man came riding (after a good tour of the dusty Oluno) on a horse behind two horses and a red Mercedes Benz with an open roof top with enough white models (at least that’s what we thought. It turned out to be our sisters from Rehoboth and Khomasdal). And a string of red Ford Cortinas both sedans and bakkies. He indeed made a grand entrance to an event he was never invited to. After he disembarked from the horse with a help of four of his body guards, he proclaimed that “aafyoona nye nweni ndee ta mu nu eshi mwa hala. Kamuna iimaliwa nyee.”
“Nghee ngoo mwa longa nale ndee fi yo opaife odo ashike eetuwa ta mu shingi edi?” Amazingly, with the exception of Nangolo Jacob, the elderly business people did not bat an eyelid. “Makaku ngwe ye. Nkee ngaa tu li otse ta tu ulwa aathigona ku ngwee. Uuwe mbu wa toola ohela hela mpano owo ta wu ku popitha? Wu wete twa sa ondjala nenge owa hala kutja ngiini?”, fired back Nangolo. At that juncture Eliakim restrained Nangolo who was charging towards the young man with an inflated ego. “Nangolo, tu nweni ndee hatu li ngaashi omukengeli ta ti. Nga ho Israel ha kwa ngeshefa iinima yoko mwedi mefiku limwee.” Literally both the bottle store and fish and chips closed as all the onlookers feasted like never before.
When all was said and done, Eliakim turned to the hero of the day. “Mumati wange, ondi wete kutja ino enda mofikola yonghala mwenyo. Opo wu shiive okulesha, te te owuna oku di lila ku aa (A) opo nee wu ka fike ku djeta (Z). Aashamane ava wa tala apa, omo mondjila veenda omo. Ove nee eshi nde ku tala ngaha, oko ngoo to ka shuna ku aa opo wu ye nawa ku djeta wo ngeshefa. “
The irony of it all is the fact that the two (Eliakim and Nangolo) were successful entrepreneurs up until their respective deaths, while the young man lived long enough to be ‘walking next to his shoes’. The sad thing is: this situation is still playing out on a daily basis in modern day Namibia.
Perhaps the middle class business man and the tenderprenuer who drives his fancy car bought from a quick buck generated from a public procurement system forgot that smaller city countries like Singapore today are thriving because of their own people. How many of us are aware that Singapore is a break away country from Malaysia? Ndi shi ondi mu we te ngaa ta mu gandja Namibian citizenship koo Chinese?
Even countries like China who are now the model of development are thriving economically because the local entrepreneurs in those countries managed to grow the opportunity they were provided for the betterment of their country. As a matter of fact the biggest contributors to growth at home in China are foreign based Chinese. Again, Namibia included. Forget the notion that “they also invest locally by building shopping malls.” It’s a lie. The reason why they are constructing these facilities is to be able to house their own people. The rest of the space is reserved for ‘China No Guarantee’ shops, which sell substandard, often counterfeit goods to our people.
The colonial South African government developed the road infrastructure where the objective was the smooth transportation of their military hardware. We should be wary of the same thing happening in Namibia, by the Chinese. The development of our airports, harbours and road networks by Chinese contractors should not be for the sole purpose of facilitating the exportation of our natural resources to China.
China is arguably one of the world’s largest exporters of skills and machinery because their industry boomed from home, driven by the few that were given the opportunity to practice their entrepreneurship skills in the economy.
Namibia could have the opportunity to move faster than the average countries on the continent economically if the many previously disadvantaged community that has been given access to the public procurement system dump a get rich quick mentality and focus on entrepreneurship that has ability to grow the economic cake.
While many could look beyond borders for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and also the much needed foreign currency needed to do business, these are facets that those who benefited from the Government’s empowerment policies could easily get. Namibian businesses could in the new era expand to other countries and play a proactive role in stimulating development.
Perhaps the notion of Vision 2030 is not far-fetched if the noble businessman who became rich within a short space of time recognizes the need to cultivate the wealth in the same economy that made them.
Entrepreneurship is not tenderprenuership
The very few business moguls that have been created by the Namibian empowerment system at times lack the needed business acumen. They lack the drive and instinct that pushed China to become the ‘factory of the world’.
Government needs to take the lead in making sure that going forward- Namibia creates entrepreneurs not tenderpreneurs. Entrepreneurs are those people who have a drive to grow the economy in tandem with their pockets. They are those people who would want to grow the cake from one opportunity granted to them.
At the same time, entrepreneurs are those business people who came from humble beginnings and realised the need to expand their business horizons in a manner that is beneficial to the larger economy. Those that have an insatiable appetite for powerful engines and fancy suits before their business empire has grown, cannot be mistaken for entrepreneurs but rather -self-centered businessmen who want their influence to grow by the day without ploughing back into the economy.
Has Namibia Ever Produced Entrepreneurs?
The answer is an emphatic YES.
However- all is not lost. There are still many business people worth emulating in Namibia, including the likes of Johnny Johnson Doeseb, Ranga Haikali, Sidney Martin, Twapewa Kadhikwa, Monica Geingos, James Hatuikulipi and Martin Shipanga, to name a few. The latter deserves a special mention, as he is probably the only Namibian to have developed a successful local franchise with his Mama Fresh stores. The next logical step would be to expand the network of these stores and roll out countrywide, before listing it on the Namibian Stock Exchange.
For the President-Elect Hage Geingob to successfully deliver on the mandate of prosperity, he needs dedicated and selfless patriotic entrepreneurs. Geingob needs to analyze the different sectors and deliberately place entrepreneurs in strategic positions in order to successfully push his prosperity agenda.
Russian president Vladimir Putin did it successfully. Once Putin realized that Russia was about to feel the pinch resulting from western driven sanctions- he personally went from door to door and met with local industrialists and made them recommit to Russia. Why? The cost of production went through the roof because of economic sanctions. Had he not done that, Russia was going to wake up one day and not have a single loaf of bread or drop of milk in the whole country.
What will happen if South Africa turned her back on Namibia? You may think that it is far fetched- given the relationship between the two countries. However- no one would have thought that the former Soviet Union would turn its back on Cuba either. Serious food for thought.