As Namibia focus on land conference from the 1st to the 5th of October, a report from the Namibia Land Statistics states that 70% of land is owned by Whites. The conference is set to address land policies and how the process of restitution and reclamation can be expedited.
The history of Southern Africa is replete with white settlers seizing land from the indigenous owners of the land; Africans, who were pushed to arid areas and confined in their movement. In South Africa, Zimbabwe, and now Namibia, the land question has been a major talking point, with calls and campaigns that the land should be returned to the original Black owners.
In a 48 page report titled Namibia Land Statistics the Namibia Statistics Agency announced that 70 per cent of arable land is owned by white farmers in Namibia. Despite gaining independence nearly 30 years ago, a huge population of indigenous Namibians still don’t own the land. A similar case applies to South Africa where 72 per cent of the land is owned by Whites.
As at independence, in 1990, Namibia had adopted the willing buyer-willing seller policy. The White minority which was less than 0.5 per cent owned nearly all the commercial land. The black population lived on communal land. With the government seeking to transfer 15 million hectares of farming land to Blacks by 2020, the process has been seen as a little slow. According to the Namibian Agriculture Union, only 27 per cent of the land was distributed in 2015. The land situation in South Africa is also precarious, and it influences the conversation in Namibia.
Black people make up 80 per cent of Namibia’s population, but the land is not equitably distributed. In recent times, the issue of land expropriation has crossed the South African borders and found root in Namibia. The quest for land reform has been premised on the national resettlement policy which deals with the redistribution of agricultural land to disadvantaged and landless Namibians. The country’s Ministry of Land is targeting to acquire 10 million hectares of land in the next two years.
Namibia was once a German colony from 1884 to 1915 and is still undergoing a slow process of decolonization. Unlike its neighbour South Africa that’s set on taking radical land reforms led by the voice of Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob has called for calm. He said, “It is true that they came and stole the land 100 years ago, but a white boy who was born on that land has Namibian blood.”
As Namibians seek to address the issue of land, a national land conference is set to take place from the 1st to the 5th of October, 2018. The conference is set to address land policies and how the process of restitution and reclamation can be expedited.
Twenty-eight years after independence, wealth in Namibia is still skewed along racial lines laid down in the colonial period. The level of inequality is one of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank.
Land distribution plays a big part in keeping this pattern of inequality in place, and the country is holding its Second National Land Conference in October to discuss reform. But many Namibians are unhappy with this approach – and new forms of inequality are emerging too. This calls for a more radical approach to distribute not only land, but wealth more evenly.
The October conference will focus on the fact that 48% of the land is privately owned (freehold), 35% is communal land vested in the state and administered by customary authorities, and the rest (17%) is state land link to (Namibia Statistical Agency, 2018), including national parks and restricted areas.
Over 70% of the Namibian population make their living from communal land, but fewer than 5000 individuals - out of a population of just over 2.5 million- own freehold farmland. The pattern of land distribution and ownership reflects class inequality and perpetuates racial inequalities.
This inequality is a direct consequence of land dispossession during the colonial and later apartheid eras and its division into the three categories.
Since independence in 1990, the land reform programme has focused on two ways of correcting historical wrongs. The National Resettlement Programme allows the government to buy freehold land to resettle landless Namibians. It has followed the “willing seller, willing buyer” principle. The Affirmative Action Loan Scheme allows formerly disadvantaged people to get subsidised loans from the Agricultural Bank of Namibia to buy land.
There is general discontent with the success of the programme and calls are growing for the land reform programme to be reviewed and for a new direction.
Since 1990, only 3 million hectares of land have been acquired through the National Resettlement Programme and 6.4 million hectares through the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme and private commercial banks. About 70% of the freehold agricultural land is still owned by white people. The previously disadvantaged (black and coloured people) own only 16%.
There’s a scramble among the previously disadvantaged for what little freehold land has been acquired by the government for resettlement. A new elite, often with close ties to government and international investors - rather than the most disadvantaged - tend to benefit.
As for communal lands, increasing demand and a variety of new uses of the land are posing a challenge to customary rights and systems. Emerging informal land markets in populated areas threaten people’s security of tenure and their user rights. What Namibia needs in these areas is a plan for thorough agrarian reform.
The land reform discussions don’t address the way land is being turned into capital, or who profits from it. Very few of the commercial farms are profitable agriculturally, and the most lucrative farm lands are now the ones with mining, tourism, trophy hunting, conservation or real estate potential. Many landowners have long since withdrawn the capital from their land and put it into these more profitable business.
To bring about redistributive justice, Namibia needs to analyse where the profits go that are gained through the capitalisation of land that was stolen in colonial times.
Urban land, much of it still owned by the old elite, is where real profits are made today. As in many other African countries, the profits made in Namibia by international conglomerates or the small Namibian elite no longer come directly from land ownership. They come from owning the capital to invest, from having the know-how and networks to link up with global markets, or from owning urban land paid for by selling private farm land illegally acquired during colonial and apartheid times. A national and international elite has withdrawn its capital from the land, while the majority of the people never had a chance to accumulate land or capital.
The shortcomings of the current land reforms suggest that voluntary, market-based transactions of land might not be a suitable measure to redistribute land, not to speak of wealth and power. The “policy” of national reconciliation has delivered one-sided benefits. The politics of national reconciliation are used to justify the status quo - an avoidance strategy to address the structural problems in Namibia. A more radical approach must be considered to redistribute land and capital. Only then will formerly disadvantaged people become equal co-owners of Namibia’s land and wealth.
Namibia’s economy will grow at 1.6 percent this year and by double that in 2018 as the mining sector emerges from years of contraction and the impact of recent severe drought eases, the finance minister said on Thursday.
“Growth will be led by recovery in the primary industries, particularly mining and agriculture,” Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein said in a mid-year budget speech in parliament.
Schlettwein warned that poor regional growth, particularly in neighbouring South Africa, remained a major risk. In August, Moody’s cut the southern African nation’s sovereign credit rating to Ba1, or junk, from Baa3 citing a negative growth outlook and large fiscal deficits.
At the time Schlettwein rejected the downgrade as premature and speculative.
Namibia's mobile phone network coverage has increased to 95 percent, while mobile subscriptions are at 119.16 per 100 people, the prime minister said.
Saara Kuungogelwa-Amadhila said this when she officially opened the 4th National ICT Summit in Windhoek. The information ministry is organizing the three-day summit with the theme "Leveraging ICT to Unlock Economic Opportunities for an Inclusive Society."
Kuungogelwa-Amadhila said Namibia's active mobile broadband subscribers increased from 1.5 million to 1.6 million people from June 2016 to June 2017. "Penetration of telecommunication services has improved rapidly due to the introduction of effective regulatory interventions aimed to ensure fair competition and consumer protection," she said.
The interventions, she added, resulted in the reduction of termination rates from one Namibia dollar and six cents (8 U.S. cents) to 10 Namibia cents (1 U.S. cent). She also said the introduction of the National Numbering Plan for mobile phones means that portability allows fixed and mobile numbers to move from one licensee to another without losing their number.
According to her, modern, reliable digital technologies and applications can significantly contribute to the economic strength, societal well-being and effective governance. "ICTs have brought new opportunities to people of all ages and in all countries, enabling them to achieve more in less time and to discover new ways of communicating and relaxing," she said.
Kuungogelwa-Amadhila, however, said that the benefits of ICT had not been spread equally as hoped. She pointed out that the failure to spread ICT benefits is a result of the unavailability of electricity in rural areas and the insufficient telecommunications backhaul infrastructure.
The prime minister added that the high cost of rolling out infrastructure as well as the low ICT literacy rate was inhibiting the uptake of e-commerce and internet access. "We are convinced that if all stakeholders work together, we can create new opportunities and leverage the power of ICTs to help people everywhere in our country," she concluded.
Visitors to “the land of wide open spaces”, as Namibia is successfully promoted to tourists, will be impressed by what they see. Besides the beauty of the nature and abundant wildlife, the urban face of inner cities appeals to foreigners who treasure security and comfort amid the wilderness.
Namibia contributes a positive image to Africa. It ranks among the continent’s top five in governance and other performance related surveys. But beyond the surface of the success story looms a different reality for most of the country’s 2.3 million people, as it marks 27 years of independence.
Independence was finally achieved on March 21, 1990 after a long and violent anti-colonial struggle. Since then, Namibia has shown remarkable signs of political stability. The former liberation movement Swapo governs with an ever-increasing majority.
It secured 80% of votes in the last parliamentary elections. The directly elected party candidate for head of state, Hage Geingob, scored almost 87%. Still representing the first generation of the liberation struggle, he personifies the smooth succession of three post-independence state presidents with far reaching executive powers.
Catchwords attributed to them by party propaganda include reconciliation (Sam Nujoma, 1990-2005), consolidation (Hifikepunye Pohamba, 2005-2015) and prosperity (Hage Geingob, since 2015. Geingob is the party’s vice-president and became acting president in April 2015.
But under his presidency the promised prosperity has remained the privilege of few. Namibia is a rich country with poor people. Redistribution of wealth is mainly limited to beneficiaries within a new black elite. These are office bearers, party stalwarts and those with close ties to the new inner circles of governance. They thrive through a policy of so-called affirmative action and black economic empowerment.
Namibia’s state-driven economy
Namibia’s state-driven economy is a paradise for parasitic and rent-seeking self-enrichment schemes. The creation of state-owned enterprises as troughs for embezzlement has flourished. State tenders have dished out large sums for projects bordering on megalomaniac elite symbolism, often without creating any meaningful productive assets. Nepotism is a striking feature of a society with one of the highest income discrepancies in the world.
The UNDP’s Human Development Report documents the gross inequalities. A commonly referred to statistical figure is the country’s Gross National Income distribution per capita. This categorises Namibia as a higher middle-income country. But this number is misleading.
The inequality adjusted Human Development Index shows that Namibia has one of the highest inequalities in the world as measured by a Gini coefficient 0.613.
Also, 23.5% of the population was classified as living below the income poverty line using 2013 data.
Namibia’s government claims to have achieved considerable poverty alleviation. This contrasts sharply with the data. If tourists would end up in some of the overpopulated shack settlements at the outskirts of Namibian towns, they would see a different world from the lodges and Windhoek’s inner city.
Namibia’s government is not shy of self-appraisals. It’s fond of blueprints, strategies and programmes, all claiming to solve the country’s problems. Under President Geingob, a new Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare had been established. But so far little has been achieved.
The country’s fourth National Development Plan has been complemented by a Harambee Prosperity Plan. It’s based on an annual economic growth rate of at least 7%. Given the (un)predictable insecurities such as global economic shocks, the effects of climate change, and the devastating consequences of the recent drought, this borders on wishful thinking similarly set out in Vision 2030. This claims that by then “Namibia will be a prosperous and industrialised nation”.
In reality, Namibia’s economy has been in recession since mid-2016.
The discrepancy between promises and realities suggests that President Geingob’s rhetoric borders on populism. The ritual of declaring the annual state budget as “pro-poor” has long lost any convincing effect.
Expenditure for army, police and security related portfolios have over the years proportionally increased more than other expenditure. So have debt services for local and foreign loans.
The hope for an economic recovery in the near future is pinned on a booming tourism sector and the full production of one of the biggest uranium mines in the world owned by a Chinese company. Such silver linings look rather bleak and faint. Sustainability would require other ingredients, not least a meaningful increase of employment.
But as of mid-2016, the state’s finances have faced a precarious shortage. The annual budget for 2017/2018 reflects the need to restore fiscal prudence and austerity to regain liquidity and some degree of credibility. Local trust and confidence in the state’s ability to deliver is at an all-time low.
A contentious issue is the bloated civil service. More than 20 years ago a wage and salary commission urged then Prime Minister Hage Geingob to stop recruitment in the public sector. But the expansion continued unabated.
The political elite continues to preach water and drink wine: a year ago President Geingob signed a 6% salary increase with immediate effect for all political office holders. His cabinet is by far the biggest since independence.
Grown up, but not mature
Despite shifting grounds, the party still mobilises along the heroic narrative of the liberation struggle, much to the frustration of a younger generation. But the number of born frees with voting rights will soon exceed the older generations. Inner-party rivalries and tensions, as well as ethnicity as a potential source of conflict are on the rise. An unresolved land issue, also manifested in urban and ancestral land claims, is adding fuel to the flames.
Dissenting voices, mainly articulated by vocal younger activists provoke government to consider plans to censor the social media. A whistleblower bill before parliament includes provisions to heavily punish “lies” and to prohibit any criticism of state institutions. It restricts public opinion, including intimidation of the remarkably free and critical independent print media.
The authoritarian if not totalitarian tendency is also documented in Swapo’s current initiatives to take disciplinary action against members who dare to criticise party politics. But this will not silence the growing frustration over the limits to liberation.
Nor does the close collaboration with North Korea add any positive image. A planned visit by the pariah state’s foreign minister was cancelled at the last minute after news about it leaked in the media.
A generation into independence, the country and its governance might be considered as grown up, but certainly not (yet) mature.
Over the last three decades there’s been some progress towards institutionalising multiparty democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this elections in the region rarely result in changes of government.
A recent survey by Afrobarometer – a non-partisan African research network – sheds some light on why this is the case. The survey, which involved 9 500 interviews conducted in 2014/2015 in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, found widespread support for multiparty politics.
But the results also show that opposition parties face major obstacles to winning majority support. These include the fact that they aren’t trusted as much as governing parties and that very often they aren’t seen as a viable alternative to the dominant ruling party.
All five countries are governed by parties that emerged from liberation movements and have been in power for decades since independence. Although some of these incumbents have lost some electoral support in recent years, opposition support has not been high enough to unseat them.
The trust question
The latest findings mirror the results of a survey in 36 African countries in 2014/2015 which found that opposition parties had the lowest levels of popular trust among 12 types of institutions and leaders. While trust in ruling parties was 46%, it was only 35% for opposition parties.
This was an improvement over the situation more than a decade earlier when trust levels in opposition parties was much lower.
Figure 1: Trust in opposition political parties| 5 countries in Southern Africa | 2014/2015
In Namibia and Mozambique levels of trust in opposition parties were found to be at the highest levels ever. But in Zimbabwe trust in the political opposition declined sharply after 2008/2009. Similarly, the proportion of Zimbabweans who said they felt “close to” an opposition party dropped from 45% in 2009 to 19% in 2014.
This dramatic reversal of fortune provides an important lesson for opposition parties in the other four countries. First, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, was unable to leverage its role in stabilising the country when it was part of the Government of National Unity (GNU).
Secondly, infighting and increasing fractionalisation may have further shaped public opinion about its viability as a party.
There’s a much more lopsided distribution of power and resources for opposition parties in countries with dominant governing parties than for those in competitive party systems. This, coupled with a lack of governance experience, makes it difficult for opposition parties to be seen as credible alternatives.
Take the example of Botswana. The Botswana Democratic Party, in power since independence in 1966, is the region’s most enduring dominant party. It has even adopted the slogan “There is still no alternative”. Although the party has been able to maintain a majority of parliamentary seats, its share of the popular vote declined to 46.7% in 2014, the lowest level of any of the dominant parties in the region.
Afrobarometer’s 2014 survey, which took place a few months before the election, showed that 44% of Batswana agreed that the political opposition presented a viable alternative vision and plan for the country (Table 1, below).
Table 1: Perceptions of opposition viability | 10 countries in southern African | 2014/2015
In Botswana’s “winner-takes-all” electoral system, a large part of the opposition’s success in the 2014 election was due to three parties forming a coalition - the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). This reduced vote splitting. A recent decision to expand the coalition to include the country’s remaining major opposition party, the Botswana Congress Party, has led to speculation about the chance of an opposition electoral victory in 2019.
Similarly, in South Africa, the opposition’s strong showing in the 2016 local elections has bolstered its optimism about its prospects in the 2019 national and provincial polls.
This success suggests that confidence in the political opposition may have grown since the 2015 Afrobarometer survey. It could also reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the governing African National Congress and political institutions, leaders and performance on a range of key policy areas.
But public dissatisfaction with government performance doesn’t necessarily translate into perceptions that opposition parties could do a better job, as Figure 2 shows. This is particularly so in South Africa and Zimbabwe. While eight in 10 citizens in the two countries report poor government performance on their top policy priority (unemployment, only 37% say that another political party could solve the problem.
Figure 2: Poor government performance on most important problem and opposition ability to solve problem | 5 countries in southern Africa | 2014/2015
Role of opposition parties
What role should opposition parties play?
Only a minority of citizens in the five southern African countries with dominant parties agree that the opposition’s primary role should be to
monitor and criticise the government in order to hold it accountable.
This is true even among respondents who are opposition party supporters (Figure 3, below). In South Africa there’s even been a decline since 2008/2009 in support for opposition parties playing a “watchdog” role.
Figure 3: Support for opposition ‘watchdog’ role| 5 countries in southern African countries | 2008-2015
This suggests that opposition parties might put off potential voters if they are seen to be constantly criticising the ruling party rather than contributing to the country’s development. Opposition parties might do better if they highlight their policy platforms and gain citizen confidence in their plans and capabilities.
This is a crucial insight for opposition parties in the region as it runs counter to the opposition’s conventional role in Western democracies.
Rorisang Lekalake, Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Sciences Research (CSSR)/Afrobarometer Assistant Project Manager for Southern Africa, University of Cape Town