(First appeared in New Era 11 August 2015)
During the past week I attended a consultative workshop by the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and SME Development in Windhoek on the National Policy for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. I was glad that the Ministry is revisiting the previous policy which is at least 18 years outdated. During the discussions I brought up the issue of whether this policy will clearly stipulate that it is to support Namibian owned businesses. This brought out differing viewpoints, with one side arguing that we cannot discriminate against foreign owned business while the other side argued that a policy should be put in place that specifically assists Namibian entrepreneurs to increase the size and scope of their business.
As consumers we are often requested by (mostly) big businesses to support Namibian products and services through the “Buy Namiban”, Team Namibia and other promotions. This is often at a cost that we as the consumers have to carry as these same businesses promoting these efforts are in fact asking us to do so at the expense of cheaper products from elsewhere. This type of infant industry protection is apparently aimed at creating local jobs and making it more profitable for a foreign investor to set up such a facility within the country.
Thus I must question not whether the Government should develop policies that allow more Namibian ownership, or perhaps even promote our own method of broad based economic empowerment, but rather; what affect would promoting Namibian owned businesses through preferential treatment have on a consumer?
First, we all as consumers would benefit as more Namibian ownership getting more benefits would allow for more jobs to be created. Secondly, it would mean that the profits of these enterprises would remain in Namibia and be available to uplift our own economy. Third, it would put a stop to unfair competition from foreign companies as they are already benefiting from export policies of their own country. We need only to look at what occurred in the construction industry when cut-throat competition was allowed in the construction industry. Economists argue that competition increases a consumer’s choice and lowers prices. Not so. The prices of houses have not gone down and neither has the quality for consumers. If we use this industry as an example, we also see how a local skill base has been reduced to sub-contracting or even closing down as even the lowest level of construction opportunities have been opened up to foreign owned companies.
We have seen xenophobic attacks happening in many African countries as consumers (citizens) become enraged by the number of foreign owned companies being allowed in all sectors without creating more jobs, or lower prices, but only an increase in the profits being syphoned out of their communities.
As a consumer activist and business owner, I cannot ignore that Namibia has one of the most liberal Constitutions that guarantee no discrimination. However, I must also point out that part of the preamble to this constitutions states: ‘whereas we the people of Namibia are determined to adopt a Constitution which expresses for ourselves and our children our resolve to cherish and to protect the gains of our long struggle…” Surely this means that we must ensure that our children remain the owners of our not only our land but also of our economy.
At the present rate we have already sold our birth right on the land issue where there is no control on foreign ownership. Is it not about time we take control of our economy and ensure that we the people also benefit from the profits of ownership?
I encourage you as a consumer to think twice before buying a product that you could source locally. Why buy that fake wallet when you can invest in a better product when you buy from the Namibian leatherworks businesses.