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Markets and skills: DBN CEO David Nuyoma talks about prerequisites for industrialisation.

A bag manufacturing plant established with DBN finance.

For more industries such as DBN-financed Quality Bag Manufacturers (above), to be established, DBN CEO David Nuyoma argues that skills and markets need to be considered.

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What is ‘development’? I think of it as better access to health, education and shelter. It includes improved availability of basic amenities such as water and electricity. It also encompasses movement of goods and services. Development concerns itself with a serious reduction in the prevalence of poverty and unemployment. It focuses on the essentials required for human beings to live with dignity.  

Once these basics are in place, we can begin to focus on the good life: having plenty to eat, having access to information and technology and enjoying a generally high level of satisfaction among the majority of our populace.

Time and again, I have thought about what the key contributing factor to all this could be. This has prompted me to look around, particularly at those societies with impressive ratings on the human development index. And it has brought me to one common denominator: industrialisation.

Industrialisation also brings with it challenges, but no society is perfect. There are pros and cons to every situation. We should concern ourselves with the overall impact, the net gain. The challenges of the cons, or the pitfalls, I believe, have to do with how they are managed under given circumstances.

When I look at our beautiful country and I think of our economy, I see mines, marine resources, the livestock industry, tourism and our services sector. With such abundance, the question of why we still have a backlog in attaining a better life for the majority of our people, becomes pertinent.

Among the many solutions, there are two key elements, which I believe are necessary, for Namibia to consider as imperatives.

Firstly, we need appropriate skills.

In order to produce anything; to add value to any resource, organise any production system or sell any product, an industry needs a diverse range of skills. Perhaps this is what our Founding President talks about when, time and again, he states the need for engineers of different sorts, be they civil, mechanical, chemical, electrical or other. He also talks about the need for agriculturalists, marine biologists, scientists, geologists, chemists, physicists and doctors. We need these hard skills. And we have no way around it. There is no short cut in this respect if we want to industrialise.

If we don’t have the skills now, we shouldn’t throw our arms in the air and sit with our hands in our hair. We should approach the challenge in a constructive manner. A combination of training and procurement of skills, wherever they are, has been the recipe adopted by those economies that have advanced significantly, and it still is. We should spare no effort in developing skill sets required for industrialisation.

Secondly, we need to develop Namibia's market.

This aspect has two dimensions to it and that should, in my view, be key considerations in our quest to address industrialisation.

The first dimension relates to the size of the market.

One of the important elements of the current census is to establish how many people are in the country and where they are. From an economic development angle, it will determine where businesses can locate themselves. This is particularly important as Namibia’s population is relatively small, and sparse, due to the vast size of the country.

The government has been fully aware of this challenge. To create further opportunities for industrialisation, it has negotiated bilateral, regional and international agreements to make our products access more sizable markets.

One of the key elements in addressing the issue of market size, is the state procurement system. I fully support the efforts underway to review the procurement system of the state through bodies such as the tender board. Considering the limited size of our market, the state procurement system should be designed not merely to provide goods and services for the state, but also with the primary consideration of stimulating industry in the country.

Bold steps also need to be taken to encourage value addition to our natural resources by placing appropriate regulatory frameworks in place, where feasible. What, for example, would be the impact of value addition to our gemstones and semi precious stones? What would the impact be if we had more livestock at processing facilities? What would the impact be if our hake, mackerel, tuna and other marine species were processed further locally? The list of examples can stretch to fill pages.

The second dimension relates to the fact that industries need space and time to take root and embed themselves.

Those countries that have advanced, have taken critical steps to protect their infant industries. Mature industries, which have greater economies of scale and the benefit of having grown, owe it to support given during their teething stages, when they were in their infancy.

In this regard, it may be worthwhile to give our developing industries a break. I believe there is a definite and a strong case for such action.

The case for industrial development is a case for improved welfare of the majority of Namibians. It should not merely be a debate, but is an imperative for decisive action. We need to take bold and concrete steps as a nation to bring about industrialisation in Namibia.

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