Dr. Quinton van Rooyen
We as Namibians, not through something we did or did not do, experienced a life changing lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For months our country, like the rest of the world, has endured a lockdown and a state of emergency affecting businesses and individuals alike. Yet all things come to an end, and so too will this. What should happen then?
The 300-year genesis of traders and trading which bloomed into Namibian entrepreneurship via small- and family businesses and developed into the economic backbone of our society suffered the most. It is time for Namibia to return to its roots, which is agriculture, tourism and entrepreneurship. The thousands of small plots fields were the first to break the back of the prolonged drought. Subsistence farmers are now exporting surplus mahangu, beans and cereals to open markets in the urban areas of Windhoek and Walvis Bay. They should be the first to receive support to grow to its full potential once the lockdown ends. And it will!
We need to capitalize of their spirit of entrepreneurship if we want our economy to recover. The myth that Namibians don’t want to work is busted. Not only are thousands still working, but many more thousands are continuing with education.
Old and new Namibian businesses can no longer deny that their most valuable assets are their employees – no business can survive when their most valuable employees are sick. We’re going to have to focus on providing a safe and healthy working environment for our workers to protect them not only against a resurgence of COVID-19, but against any other pandemic or disease we might face in future.
Namibians should take advantage of the opportunities the market presents to embrace entrepreneurship – after all, every setback only presents another opportunity. With interest currently at their lowest level in a generation, the time is ripe for new businesses to start up across Namibia. The cost of funding is no longer an impediment. All we’ll need is capital.
To be able to get this capital to the new entrepreneurs, however, government needs to do its part as well. While it has handled the COVID-19 emergency reasonably well, the time has now come for them too to look forward, and set the stage for what happens afterwards.
We must change our international image to remain competitive in attracting foreign investments, by showing that the rule of law and government accountability remains intact by taking a strong stance and action against the corruption that has been exposed in our midst. We cannot afford a long, drawn-out process that damages our national reputation any longer. We must be seen to be serious about rooting out corruption in all its forms and on all levels if we are to move forward economically.
This is especially important as our country is once again incurring debt to stimulate our economy. The funds raised this way should be applied towards creating wealth for Namibia – it should be invested in growth and infrastructure assets locally, to create opportunities for Namibians. Raising debt to simply pay government expenses sets us back even further – government must show it is willing to invest in our country’s future!
It’s not only government that must invest locally – we must do so as well! A savings culture must be ignited with new initiatives so that what capital is available remains in Namibia. We cannot expect international investors to invest in our country if we are not willing to do so ourselves.
Once we have shown we’re willing and able to invest in ourselves, we can start to rebuild the investor confidence we have lost due to inconsistent public statements on policies. We have to reiterate the constitutional protection of property rights and assure them that their investments will be safe – and not being under threat of being unjustly taken by bills such as NEEEB, the Namibia Investment Promotion bill , the Rent Control bill and the Namibia National Reinsurance Act. Insecurity about investment protection is worse than no investment, as it leads to the corrosion of confidence on many other social, economic and political levels.
We’ve all seen the effects that COVID-19 has wrought upon us and our country. We’ve felt the effects. We cannot, however, simply accept that our current predicament is unchangeable, and simply complain with no end in sight. We must work towards rebuilding ourselves – and it’s going to need each and every one of us.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not going to end on 29 August – Namibia is still going to have to persevere a while longer. We got the bulk of our cases long after the rest of the world, so while they’re opening up, we’re still locked down. We need to be ready to re-enter a world already on the upswing, and make ourselves count!
Most importantly, the lockdown has proven the strategic location of Namibia as gateway. With the opening up of air travel in Europe, Namibia should use its geographical advantage to the landlocked African countries through its port and road infrastructure to gain a strategic advantage. More collaboration with developed economies that are in search of markets and trade should turn the curse of colonialism into the blessing of the new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. Namibia’s history with the frontline states – South Africa, Britain and Germany – is the yard ahead we need in the race towards the finish line.
In an irony of isolation, COVID-19 brought unity in an emergency and Namibians confirmed again that Namibians, in times of crisis, will come together, no matter our differences. We must take our country forward in these newly changed times. We, as a nation, never only persevere in adversity – we excel!