By Alexactus T. Kaure
FORMER President Bill Clinton adviser, James Carville, famously quipped, was “the economy stupid?”, and Team Clinton hazarded that the sluggish economic recovery from the 1990-1991 recession would loom largest in the minds of American voters. They were right in retrospect. That is perhaps the same question that Namibian opposition leaders should be asking about the economy in anticipation of next year’s general elections. We have to be true to ourselves. Our economy is not in the best of shape. The presidential economic advisor, John Steytler, can pontificate about the health of the Namibian economy. Last year he said the economy had improved meaningfully and fiddled with stats on a range of issues to make his point, but the reality on the ground speaks of different a story. Take this overly rosy picture: “Namibia shows that even countries which start with serious disadvantages – extreme racism, colonialism, inequality and underdevelopment – can chart a path towards shared prosperity. Its achievement deserves international recognition – and emulation.”
That is the idealistic conclusion reached by two American scholars – Joseph E Stiglitz and Anya Schiffrin in an article: “Learning from Namibia”, published in The Namibian, June 2016.The article reads like a commissioned report for government or the World Bank, rather than a scholarly analysis. The point is that positivists’ economists are giving us a confused picture about the state of the Namibian economy. Last year international credit agencies (Moody’s and Fitch) downgraded Namibia’s credit ratings to junk status, citing weak fiscal conditions and a rising public debt among other issues. The agencies also raised concerns about the government’s inability to pay service providers. Namibia was also blacklisted in terms of endemic corruption and illicit financial flows by the European Union. Now that was not an enviable status for a country to find itself in. During the SONA, President Hage Geingob said he will appoint a high-level panel on the economy to help the country address current economic problems (crisis?). The panel will comprise 12 eminent figures drawn from diverse constituencies, of which two will be international. This to me is a clear admission that there is a problem with the economy and that the current crop of economic advisors including the former minister of economic planning, Tom Alweendo (who was also the director-general of the National Planning Commission) and his team, have not been up to the challenge – hence the need for a new economic team. Alweendo now has been replaced by Obeth Kandjoze (clearly a wrong choice).
If the President is looking for a substantive minister of economic planning then I would recommend Dr Fanuel Tjingaete. An episode named; “It is The Economists Stupid”, featured two economists voicing strong criticism on the role economists play in modern decision making and explaining how modern mantras on the economy limit our choices and shut down civic debate. I cannot agree more. Because when we thought that economists have the answers on issues of economic development, one of my former professors at the American University in Cairo, Archie Mafeje, said that’s not so. For him real economics is made by the producers and economists only rationalise and systematise what is already done and cite many of the development plans that have failed to bring about development in Africa. As an example, at the time of Ghana’s independence, Kwame Nkrumah had the services of some of the world’s best economists – Dudley Seers, Nicholas Kaldor, Arthur Lewis, Albert Hirschman and Tony Killick but no development happened in Ghana. Currently Africa is awash with highly qualified economic advisors from the West but there is no ‘development’ in sight. And Mafeje would argue that those who believe that agriculture is the backbone of African economies are at a loss as to what the best solution is. Economists are not any wiser and have nothing significant to say about the prospects for agrarian transformation, he argued. And yet, the new neo-classical economists with their supposed technology, linear programming, all they can do is to wait and see like most of us. The cases of China and India make for an interesting contrast. India is endowed with some of the best economists in the world yet its economic development has been tardy while China which doesn’t boast of any internationally recognised economists has made spectacular economic development to address large-scale poverty and in-equality. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discounting the role of economists or social scientists in economic development and societies at large. Because as far as social democracy is concerned, governments stand to gain from critical thought in order to avoid blind spots in their own perception of reality. Social sciences, properly understood, should serve as the social consciousness of society and as a reflection of its reality, no matter how ugly. Critical social science insights are indispensable for social development and enlightened governance. All I’m saying is that the alternative to positivist social science is normative social science, that is, a social science that does not only acknowledge the fact that it is not “value-free” but is willing to confront and objectify social and moral issues such as poverty, racism, and global inequality. These are not natural phenomena but social phenomena that are subject to change through human agency. This is implicit in the concept of “social development”. First and foremost, social development refers to development of human capital i.e. increased human awareness and capacity to improve the human condition as Hannah Arendt would remind. Thus, one just hope that President Geingob will not appoint the same old faces and positivists economists on his economic team; people who have been recycled and circulated in government and parastatals’ circles and their boards – those who would sing ‘hallelujah’ while Rome is burning.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015