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close this bookThe Courier N 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderNamibia: Meeting challenge of nationhood
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentConsolidating democracy
View the documentAn interview with Prime Minister Geingob: partnership with business to create wealth
View the documentAn interview with Vice-President Marin: the political and constitutional success of Namibia is now a model for change in Africa
View the documentAn interview with Dr Ben Amathila, Minister for Trade and Industry: added value equals greater prosperity
View the documentAgriculture and fisheries - managing the transition
View the documentMining - the economic foundation
View the documentWealth in the desert
View the documentEducation in Namibia - bridging the divide by Dr Ian G. MACFARLANE
View the documentProfile
View the documentNamibia and the European Community
View the documentPlanning for development - a man with a mission

An interview with Dr Ben Amathila, Minister for Trade and Industry: added value equals greater prosperity

Earlier this year, Windhoek played host to two important conferences. The annual consultative conference of SADCC, which took place in the Namibian capital at the end of January, brought together more than 600 official representatives from SADCC Member States, cooperating partners and international organisations. This was immediately followed by an ‘Investors Conference’ which exceeded all expectations, attracting upwards of a thousand participants. The latter event was masterminded by Dr Ben Amathila, Namibia’s Minister for Trade and Industry. Despite a very busy schedule, Dr Amathila found time during the week to fit in an interview with ‘The Courier’ in which he explained the Government’s priorities for developing the Namibian economy.

· Minister, it has been said that Namibia exports what it produces and imports what it needs. In the light of this what do you think are the priorities for Namibia in the field of trade policy?

- Your statement obviously characterises our current position. If you take the figures of what Namibia actually produces, you see that it is basically primary products, most of which are not processed locally. This is something which the Government aims to change - it is our intention to try and add value to our primary products, creating more jobs in the process, before we export them. Namibia is essentially a mineral-producing country and these minerals go either to South Africa or to countries overseas. We buy back the finished products from the very same countries and in the process we lose out on job creation for our own people. Unemployment in Namibia is estimated to be about 40%, so the policy of the Government is for value-added production which will create more wealth and more employment in Namibia.

· It is clear that Namibia relies on relatively few sectors - uranium, diamonds, minerals etc - to provide the bulk of its exports. What measures are you considering to diversify export-oriented production?

- Namibia is a country with a very small population and money circulation is limited. However, we see great potential for Namibia as a manufacturing economy and an exporting country. We know the history of most of the developing countries who depended solely on monoculture, and especially on the mineral sector. Their experience has not been very good. What we are trying to say is that whilst the mineral sector of our country is still very strong, we should utilise it to diversify to other sectors, especially manufacturing. Up to now, manufacturing has contributed about 5% of our GDP. That is very low indeed and we realise that there is scope for this to expand and to earn the country a lot of money.

Visitors who come here might look at the small population - the internal market of Namibia - and conclude that there is no point in investing heavily in this particular country. What we are trying to say is that as a sovereign, independent state, we now have access to a number of countries and markets. We are a member of the SADCC group, are within the Preferential Trade Area and have a trading relationship with the European Community through LomV. These arrangements put us into a position where we can obviously reach those markets with our finished goods, provided we make quality goods, which can be done. We know countries with considerably fewer resources than Namibia which have become manufacturers and producers of high quality goods and which dominate certain overseas markets. Namibia, with its infrastructure, its raw materials and an entrepreneurial population, can develop the manufacturing sector in order to yield a greater contribution to the country’s GDP. I see Namibia becoming more of an export nation.

· To what extent does South Africa’s continuing occupation of Walvis Bay affect Namibia’s trade and how do you see the issue being resolved?

- From a political point of view, we believe, in accordance with the view of the UN Security Council, that South Africa should not be in Walvis Bay. Their occupation is obviously illegal as well as being economically untenable. This is a matter that Namibia and South Africa will have to address very soon and our Foreign Minister has been given the task of taking the matter up with South Africa so that we can try to solve it amicably between the two countries. You know that South Africa does not need Walvis Bay and their clinging on to it is simply an attempt to coerce the young state of Namibia. But we believe South Africa will realise that addressing the apartheid problem will not, alone, end its isolation, if they persist in holding on to Walvis Bay. We also believe that within the context of Resolution 432 of the UN Security Council, which is the basis of the Namibian Government’s approach, it may be possible for the two countries to solve the problem without actually reaching international arbitration or the International Court of Justice. Walvis Bay is not only crucial to the economy of Namibia but also to the trade and economic links between Namibia and countries in the neighbourhood.

· On balance do you think that Namibia’s inclusion in the Southern African Customs Union benefits or harms Namibia’s trading position?

- Well there are a number of both positive and negative aspects. Being a young nation, obviously most of the arrangements were in place before we achieved independence. What we are trying to do is to identify those provisions in the Southern African Customs Union that tend to be negative to the strategy that Namibia is following at the moment. We intend to take this up not only with South Africa but with other members of SACU. It is possible that within the context of the Union, we will be able to address those issues and to make other members aware of the problems that we are encountering. If we find that the Union is not in our interest, obviously we reserve the option to get out of it.

· There is much talk of the dilemma you seem to be facing between your Broadly liberal economic policy designed to attract foreign investment and to maintain confidence, and the immediate expectations of many of your own supporters for a fairer distribution of the country’s wealth. Do you think you can reconcile the two?

- Well I don’t really like to see this in terms of a contradiction or conflict. It is true that the Government deliberately opted, after independence, for a policy of national reconciliation in order to prepare the majority of the Namibian people. National reconciliation means that everyone will have to make a sacrifice. This is the price that the country has to pay and we hope that our supporters and also those who are not necessarily our supporters, come to realise that their well-being depends largely on what we do to meet the high expectations of those who have nothing. Peace and stability hinges on those who do not actually own anything, whose expectations are justified and who expect the Government to do something very positive to alleviate the social pressure on them. As I mentioned earlier, we are talking of an unemployment rate of about 40% and that is pretty high. The beautiful constitution that we have could easily be eroded by the reaction of the 40% who are unemployed. The peace and tranquillity that we presentily have in the country could be disrupted if we fail to address this question.

What we are trying to do is to bring in investment in order to create wealth for the country. We are seeking to create jobs and we hope that it will be a partnership which will be very beneficial to both the investors and the country as such. I am very hopeful that on the political side, our supporters will understand the difficult situation the Government has taken over and that it may take some time to create the necessary jobs and wealth for everyone. They will also realise that the Government is earnestly trying to find solutions to these problems.

However, the solution will not be provided solely by investors, many of whom may wish to invest in capital intensive projects. On the other hand, the former apartheid system has caused such serious damage that creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs will not necessarily solve the problems. It is the intention of the Government, therefore, to develop the informal sector where most of those who are illiterate, and most seriously affected by the apartheid system will have better access to solving their own problems - through self-employment or by doing business at a level where they can participate. We believe strongly that Namibia has the potential in the long term to find its own development but we admit that in the short term, we need capital inflows from outside in order to address our particular problems of unemployment, poor health conditions, and poor housing.

· Following on from this point, how important do you think development assistance from overseas will be in helping Namibia? What role do you see in particular for the European Community?

- The European Community has been a partner to Namibia during the struggle for independence. It financed projects aimed at improving education for Namibians, notably through the United Nations Institute for Namibia which was based in Lusaka and that was a significant contribution. The EC also contributed to various programmes - food programmes and so on - to alleviate the plight of refugees under SWAPO care before independence. We are conscious of the fact that before independence, the European Community carried out and supported programmes here in Namibia, and that some of these programmes are continuing - long before the benefits of LomV actually materialise.

So we see, through various instruments, the very great role that the EC will play not only of the direct sort, such as food aid and programmes meant to alleviate the plight of the weak but also to help the weak help themselves through encouraging self-reliance. We believe that this is an area which the Government, in partnership with the European Community, will have to look at seriously. The syndrome of dependency which has been left by the South Africans where there is a tendency for people to expect the Government to do everything for them has to be broken, and we are looking for participation from the EC to help people help themselves, rather than to make them more dependent on the Government.

· The business conference taking place in Windhoek this week appears to have been a considerable success. What concrete benefits do you anticipate as a result of this event?

- What we have tried, in essence, to do is to inform would-be investors about the conditions prevailing in Namibia - all aspects which might be of interest to the business community, the business activities we already have and the fact that we have peace and stability. We have a very good constitution which has been heralded the world over, we have the appropriate environment and we have the necessary Foreign Investment Act which sets out the rights and obligations of investors in the country. In other words, we are trying to exchange information to make investors more aware of what is available. We feel that the quality of the information exchanged so far has been very good. Of course, not everyone who came here was an investor, but the sheer number of participants - more than 1000 - will certainly bring benefits to the country. We hope that from their own experience, those who came will be able to tell the world at large what Namibia is and what the Government’s intention is. I see them as potential ambassadors of Namibia to the rest of the world. We also think that having digested the information from the conference, many of the participants will come back while others will be attracted to Namibia to test the water and see if it is worth actually putting their money here.

I also see it as a prelude to expanding the tourist industry for which Namibia has very great potential. We think that as Namibia becomes more known internationally, more tourists will come and that will be very good for the economy.

One particularly significant thing which I think has resulted from the conference is the fact that those who have lived in this country for years and who have looked only to South Africa for protection from the so-called hostile world have learnt a very good lesson. It is their first experience since independence, of being part of the community of nations. Additionally, in a free economy, they will have to learn to compete with the rest of the world - competition is what a free market economy is all about. This means they will have to brace themselves to do things better, and Namibia as a whole will be the beneficiary. For these reasons, the conference, in my view, has been a very great success.

Interview by S.H.