Namibia as the Singapore of Southern Africa- Report by Jenik Radon
Namibia right now is at a crossroads. Its political, social and economic indicators put it solidly in the pack of middle income developing countries.
The government has mapped out a strategy for national development and made small but solid steps toward its implementation since the adoption of Vision 2030 in 2004.
If Namibia sticks with this measured approach to development, its people are likely to see a gradual increase in their quality of life over the next 15 years. However, this plan only scratches the surface of Namibia's true potential.
A more rapid and revolutionary approach to development that emphasises Namibia's capacity to become a world class logistics and transport hub for all of southern Africa, supported by a carefully designed natural resource fund, would allow Namibia to leap frog from its place in the middle of the pack into a new league among the most dynamic and prosperous economies of Africa and the world.
When I first visited Singapore in 1971, mosquito-laden swamps had not yet been drained in sections of the city and its socio-economic indicators were similar to those of Namibia now. Less than 45 years later, Singapore has become one of the world's most advanced economies with a highly educated population, one of the world's leading universities and impeccable infrastructure, serving as a logistics and transport hub for all of Southeast Asia. This transition happened so swiftly and directly because prime minister Lee Kuan Yew recognised the true potential of Singapore's prime location in Southeast Asia. He laid out a clear vision for Singapore's future as a regional hub, giving the population something to work toward collectively.
Vision 2030 already lays a foundation for Namibia's transformation into a regional hub. However, the image of Namibia as a centre for the region needs to be communicated more effectively and frequently to the population. Emphasis should be put on Namibia's unique potential. Upgrading the deep water port of Walvis Bay would cut out hundreds of miles that people and shipments need to travel to reach strategic locations in southern Africa. With upgrades to the rail system and port infrastructure, Walvis Bay can become a port for minerals from Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. This vision of Namibia at the centre of the region needs to not only inform all policy planning, but also to be constantly communicated to domestic and international audiences until it becomes a reality.
Namibia is blessed with natural resources. However, as we know, natural resources can become a curse if economies rely too heavily on them at the expense of dynamism in other sectors. Natural resources need to become the motor for development in the logistics and transport sectors. For natural resources to become the motor for Namibia's development as a world class regional hub, Namibia needs a smartly crafted natural resource fund that manages and reinvests the profits from natural resources. With a profitable natural resource fund, much like that of Norway, Namibia can both save money for future generations and invest now in health, education and infrastructure development that will facilitate its transformation into a logistics and transport hub.
Namibian officials are not only well educated and internationally minded, but they have adopted norms of business and professional etiquette that many in developing countries ignore. When I send an email to a Namibian official, I invariably get a timely, coherent response. Moreover, with English as the official language and a large segment of the population fluent in German, the language of EU's economic and commercial centre, Namibia can readily conduct business globally. These linguistic proficiencies and engrained norms of professionalism will help Namibia become a world class regional hub.
However, there is still more to do on this front. The influx of insurance companies, financial institutions and major international companies invariably involved in the logistics and transport industries will open up unprecedented employment opportunities in Namibia. But the population needs to be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities. Like the Asian Tigers of South Korea and Singapore, the Namibian government must make the further improvement of human capital through health and education a high-level priority.
Another factor that facilitated Singapore's dramatic economic success was its anti-corruption reform. Currently, Transparency International ranks Singapore as the 7th least corrupt country in the world. Namibia by comparison is ranked 55th. In order to transform the economy effectively and swiftly, the Namibian government needs to set the goal of being in the top 10 of the world's least corrupt countries. By cracking down on corruption at all levels in the government and society, particularly in the natural resource sector, Namibia will gain the resources and reputation to position itself domestically and internationally as a world class regional hub.
Change never happens overnight, but with clarity of vision and commitment to its implementation, Namibia is poised to become one of the most dynamic economies in Africa and the world. The only question is, will it decide to take this leap?
*The author of this article is Jenik Radon a lawyer who specialises in natural resource development on behalf of emerging nations. He teaches courses on oil rights and development and energy security at Columbia University's School of International Public Affairs.