Namibia battling, 2 decades later

2010-03-19 09:30

A YOUNG Namibian woman in jeans and T-shirt carries her textbooks

and a laptop bag, her headphones connected to a mobile phone in her pocket,

looking like a university student anywhere in the world.

But Mvula Ikela was born in exile in southern Angola weeks before

Namibia’s independence on March 21, 1990, to parents who were freedom


“Through me their own dreams, which they sacrificed for the

liberation of Namibia, came true,” Ikela said.

But she’s a rare success in a nation still battling widespread

poverty after two decades of freedom.

Her parents fled northern Namibia in 1981, when the former German

colony was known as South-West Africa and under the control of apartheid South


They settled in a refugee camp in Angola, run by the South West

Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), which now runs Namibia.

Her father joined the armed liberation struggle while her mother

worked with children in the camp.

Ikela was born in the camp, but her parents returned home just

weeks before independence.

Two decades later, she and the rest of her generation reap the

fruits of the decades-long liberation struggle.

Ikela won a scholarship from a local engineering company two years

ago after earning top marks in her school exams.

Her father serves in the military, and he is lucky as unemployment

is high – 51% of the working-age population doesn’t have a job, according to the

labour ministry.

About half of Namibia’s two million people live in poverty, on less

than US$1.25 (about R9.13) a day.

“Unemployment is a threat to our social cohesion,” said outgoing

Prime Minister Nahas Angula early this month, in a public lecture ahead of the


Since independence, government has united a fragmented population,

with about a dozen main ethnic groups making up the two million population,

spread over an area larger than France.

Despite the new schools, clinics, hospitals, houses and roads, many

Namibians feel disappointed by the economic gains since independence.

HIV has infected about 15% of adults. Its small economy still

depends heavily on South Africa, with its currency pegged to the rand.

And the country has struggled to adapt to the globalised economy,

still relying on exports of commodities, with mining accounting for about one

quarter of the nation’s income.

The economy has grown steadily at an average of four percent a

year, but economist Robin Sherbourne says Namibia must become more competitive

to curb poverty and unemployment.

“That means making sure we improve in a wide range of fronts from

tax and business administration, (fighting) corruption and crime and government

efficiency,” Sherbourne told the local Insight magazine this month.

Government will mark the anniversary on Sunday with celebrations in

a Windhoek stadium, where President Hifikepunye Pohamba will be sworn in for his

second and last five-year term.

He is expected to announce his new cabinet later that day.

In 2005, Pohamba took over from liberation icon Sam Nujoma, who at

80 is still seen as the power behind the throne, with a firm grip over the

ruling SWAPO even though he has officially retired.

While peace and stability prevailed over the past two decades, the

young generation is beginning to express dissatisfaction with the ruling party

and its ‘old guard’ leadership of the struggle days.

The ruling SWAPO won over 75% of the votes in 2004 and 2009, and

the opposition remains fractured.

“SWAPO politics clearly drive government and changes to a more

encompassing and modern, pragmatic approach will only come once the old guard

retires and fresh blood is injected,” said Mvula Ikela.

“We of the young generation see a need for this – but when will we

get the chance?”


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