From Partners In Culture To Partners In Business

14 Nov 2015 10:00am
By Anna Tervahartiala

HELSINKI, 14 NOV (NAMPA) - Four per cent of the Namibian population has a master’s degree. In Finland, statistics from 2010 reveal that the percentage of master’s degree graduates lies at eight per cent. When one looks at the percentage of Finns who have received an education in universities, polytechnics or colleges, the percentage is close to 30.
This is an issue the Ambassador of Namibia to Finland, Bonny Haufiku, aims to address.
“There is no development without education,” Haufiku states.
Strengthening ties in the exchange of education is but one of the goals the Embassy of Namibia in Finland is working on.
“Our two countries have an excellent relationship when it comes to political, cultural and religious matters. But for a long time there was a bit of neglect when it came to economic and trade relations.”
The time of neglect is however over as both the embassy in Helsinki and the Finnish embassy in Windhoek have put economic cooperation at the top of their list of priorities.
“Namibia’s economy is based on minerals, and at the moment, Namibia is mainly exporting these as natural resources. Instead of this, we wish to start processing and adding value to the resources we already have.
“Finland is good in Information Technology (IT) and technology. This means that Finland has the skills and we have the resources. If we partner, it is a win-win situation.”
Economic development calls for both national and international investments and even though foreign capital means foreign ownership, Haufiku sees several reasons for welcoming international companies to Namibia.
“It is not only a matter of exploiting natural resources. It is also about building industries and gaining in terms of employment.”
Until now, Finnish exports to Namibia have consisted mainly of machinery and equipment. In 2014 the total value of exports from Finland to Namibia were worth over N.dollars 180 million (12 million euros). The value of Namibian imports to Finland stood at approximately N.dollars 15 million (1 million euros) and consisted mainly of fruit, nuts, vegetables, textiles and handicrafts.
Haufiku is aware that there is plenty of work to do, but emphasises that he is working. During the course of this year, the Embassy of Finland in Namibia has hosted several business delegations with representatives from the Finnish private sector. The delegations have searched for business opportunities in sectors ranging from health, agriculture and green construction to tourism, mining and electricity. Reciprocal delegations to Finland have not been as many, but nonetheless there have been some.
According to Elisabeth Kivimäki, the Deputy Ambassador of the Embassy of Finland in Namibia, the delegations are a clear sign that the interest of Finnish companies in expanding towards Namibian markets is real. The work done by both embassies is thus bearing fruit.
“Due to the long, but peaceful, history between Finland and Namibia, Finnish companies have a clear advantage when entering the market. Trust is already there,” Kivimäki elaborates.
In Kivimäki’s view, the biggest challenge between furthering cooperation has been the lack of knowledge regarding reciprocal possibilities. Since independence in 1990, Namibia’s economy has been growing at a steady rate of about five per cent. Entering the Namibian market does not only provide a passage to a single growing market, but also opens doors towards the whole of southern Africa, a market of more than 200 million people.
Some of the key issues that are of interest to possible investors on both ends are questions regarding safety and risks of investment. Even though an agreement on the promotion and protection of investments between Namibia and Finland was signed in 2005, one of the questions in the minds of possible investors is corruption.
According to the Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International in 2014, Namibia was ranked 55th out of 175 countries in terms of corruption. The ranking is based on surveys documenting how corrupt the country’s public sector is perceived to be.
“We have rule of law and transparency in Namibia,” Haufiku however assures, referring to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Namibia noting that corruption is a worldwide problem.
Even though work done by the ACC has increased the combat of corruption on the national agenda, the institution has not gone without criticism. ACC has repeatedly been accused of letting the “big fish swim free” while focusing on catching the small ones.
Returning to the question of development and education, Haufiku hopes that by the end of his four-year post he will see Finland having a quota of scholarships for Namibian students. In the 1980’s, such scholarships were given to several refugees with great success. Namibians who received university education in Finland include Vice President Nickey Iyambo and Ellen Namhila, the head of the library at the University of Namibia.
Looking at his goal in the light of the current economic situation in Finland, Haufiku admits that he is ambitious. Finland is currently coping with a seventh year in recession with dim views of economic growth ahead.
Due to budget cuts in education, the government of Finland is currently reviewing a proposal, which would implement tuition fees for university students from outside the European Union and European Economic Area. The proposed minimum fee would be 1 500 euros, or N.dollars 22 500. The tuition fee would only include courses conducted in English or another foreign language. Until now, education in public institutions has been government funded for all.
“I know it is very difficult now due to the crisis in Europe and Finland. But Finland has the capacity and ability to assist us, if there is a will,” Haufiku states.