By Alexactus T. Kaure
IN a classic essay published in 1963, the economist Dudley Seers bemoaned the inability of fellow economists to rise to the demands of their epoch.
“Economists seem very slow in adapting themselves to the requirements of the main task of the day – the elimination of acute poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America – just as the previous generation of economists failed to cope realistically with economic fluctuations until after the depression had brought politically catastrophic results,” he wrote.
Sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote that never in human history have people been so much in need of “sociological imagination” – a perspective on the world that would allow them to make sense of the relationship between the personal and the public.
It is thus unthinkable that in what was claimed as a brilliant new century with advances in the sciences and technology; economists and social scientists still have no answer to the most pressing issue of our time – how to eradicate poverty at personal and societal levels globally. Is it not perhaps time we examine the dominant economic systems that perpetuate poverty? With the exception of China, most nations are cocooned in the so-called free-market economy.
But as it is now widely acknowledged that the capitalist system is creating wealth for a few and misery for the majority. And as the British historian, E.H. Carr has argued, revolutions are not brought about by nicely argued philosophical ideas but by the literally hungry. And they are the hungry and angry not only here in the so-called Land of the Brave but also globally as witnessed by widespread workers’ demonstrations as if Marx had risen from his grave and is now urging workers of the world to unite, organise and challenge the rampant corporate/individual greed and corruption. What we are talking about is growing poverty and inequality around the world which is inherent to capitalism. With rising food, water, energy and land prices the world’s poor are now feeling the brunt of the capitalist system. These are real class issues in a Marxian sense. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “there are enough resources to satisfy the needs of everyone but not enough resources to satisfy the needs of the greedy ones.”
Here I revert back to my longstanding dissatisfaction both with how our economy is organised in practice and how it is conceived conceptually and philosophically. We have all, of course, bought into the capitalist agenda. But 28 years of Namibian independence, and more decades for other countries on the continent, have all but disqualified textbook capitalism as an appropriate economic strategy for Namibia and elsewhere too.
I think it was a serious oversight, if not a deliberate move by our leaders, to just willy-nilly inherit an economic system that had exploited Namibians and other Africans on the continent for more than 100 years of colonial rule and material plunder. The point is that capitalism seriously lacks a theory of social responsibility and justice.
But one cannot just blame leaders and politicians because this situation came about as a result of the absence or dearth of critical intellectuals/ scholars in the tradition of Marx, Luxemburg, Arendt and others. Thus un-critical intellectuals or scholars buy into whatever ideas are on the menu – usually put forward by politicians with the assistance of IMF/World Bank economists and other scholars – they set the agenda. One just hopes that Geingob’s envisaged team on the economy is not going to be the same tired faces and positivists economists.
The point is that most of our major programmes such as Harambee, Vision 2030, the various five year development plans and even the global Millennium Development Goals, (which have failed and the indignity of poverty has not been ended for all) and its successor, the Sustainable Developments Goals, for example, do not come close to addressing issues of economic injustice, equality and rights, the constant talk about poverty eradication.
In fact, nothing concrete is done to address the perennial question of poverty – except some piecemeal interventions like the food bank etc. There are many pointers to show that the conditions of many Namibians are worsening. One of the glaring signs of increasing poverty in the country is eloquently expressed in the number of people without proper shelter those that are creating shacks which have mushroomed in our major cities and towns. This issue speaks to the exorbitant land prices in our urban areas.
Previously I posed the question: ‘whose land is urban land’? In that piece I argued that there is inverse relationship between lack of land and lack of housing. And in a review article by John Mendelsohn that appeared in last week’s Namibian Sun, he cogently argues that there is a need to ‘shift focus from housing to tenure’. He put it this way: land ownership, then basic services such as water, sewage, waste removal and then electricity. I can’t agree more.
This is doable. But our leaders at various municipalities and councils being an un-imaginative bunch have turned to selling public land at neck-breaking prices as their main source of income. But that is the logic of capitalism. In any case, all our programmes such as Harambee, the NDPs and Vision 2030 are thoroughly encapsulated in the capitalist programmatic agenda.
But most of our scholars keep on writing/speaking about these programmes in the most glowing terms without taking on a critical stance and deconstruct them in the tradition of some of the greatest scholars like Archie Mafeje and others in order to lay bare their viciousness and hollowness.
I know it is no longer fashionable in this age of globalisation to point out the historicity, specificity and contestability of capitalism as an economic, social and moral system. So everything is given – capitalism is timeless. But it is not. In essence, these programmes have hegemonic functions to
perform. The function of hegemony is to protect the elite from “the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd” (the masses). Thus the bewildered herd is always promised some paradise in the future, not the present – Namibia Vision 2030, AU Agenda 2063 etc.”
Quo Vadis war on poverty? We are told that one of the promises of HPP is not only to reduce poverty but to eradicate it by 2025.We can fiddle with stats as by much we have reduced poverty since independence but the fact of the matter is that this country remains one of the most unequal in the world only second to South Africa. Poverty and inequality are basically two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps if we had seriously started addressing the issue of inequality and poverty two decades ago then we could have made a great leap forward. The point to make here is that one cannot address the issue of poverty and inequality in the midst of rampant corruption and criminal waste of resources. But no one in this country is prepared to fight corruption.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015