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Africa News of Friday, 21 January 2022


Namibia's presidency disputes World Bank's 1.6 million poverty figure

The government is said to have lifted more than 70% of the population from extreme poverty The government is said to have lifted more than 70% of the population from extreme poverty

Presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari is disputing the World Bank's poverty statistics on Namibia, saying the situation on the ground does not reflect the upper-middle-income tag.

In its country overview, the World Bank stated that a record-high 1,6 million Namibians live in poverty.

“The fact that it's a world bank does not make it absolute, because for you to live above the poverty line you must spend N$84,43 (US$5,50) per person per day. Looking at our rural households, they are living a normal, healthy life, but they don't live on US$5,50 per person per day,” Hengari argues.

On Monday, Hengari said the government has lifted more than 70% of the population from extreme poverty from the dawn of independence.

“One should understand these statistics and the criteria used to get them. When you look at the matter from 1990 to 2016, the government lifted over 70% of people out of poverty. Unfortunately, we do know that Covid-19 has affected our ability to fight poverty effectively,” he said.

Hengari said indicators and measurements should reflect the realities on the ground, adding that the president has established poverty eradication strategies, and a lot of progress has been made.

However, he admitted that this does not mean the Namibian government does not look at these indicators to improve and develop the country.

The Namibia Statistics Agency says the country's national poverty line is N$520,80 per person per month, which translates to 17,4 % of Namibians being poor.

“Hence, 396 663 poor Namibians, as compared to the 1,6 million. The 1,6 million is based on middle-income poverty lines, which countries generally don't use,” the agency's spokesperson Iipumbu Sakaria said this week.

Sakaria further said most countries use the cost-of-basic-needs approach, and not the middle-income approach, to measure poverty because of Namibia's inequality.

Meanwhile, on Monday, prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the government will review the report released by the World Bank.

She reiterated that the fight against poverty has been one of the core focuses of the government since independence and both the National Development Plan 4 and Harambee Prosperity Plan I and II have prioritized it.

“Government efforts to fight poverty, including emergency relief programmes and other welfare programmes for the vulnerable have been acknowledged and commended internationally, and local and international assessments have highlighted the progress realized in that regard,” she said.

University of Namibia lecturer and economist Omu Kakujaha-Matundu, however, says while the government is trying to eradicate poverty, the measures it takes are superficial.

He says no one, not even the president, is surprised by the statistics.

“We are not surprised by the statistics. That's why the president declared war on poverty and came up with strategies on food banks, transformed into conditional basic income grants, these are all efforts,” Kakujaha-Matundu said this week.

He said the government has tried to assist the poor and addressed the issue of poverty.

Kakujaha-Matundu said for the government to meaningfully eradicate poverty, it needs to address the factors that lead to inequality, which would need structural and radical economic transformation.

Also reacting to the World Bank figures this week, the Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition's Rinaani Musutua said they have been warning all along that the poverty levels in Namibia would become a humanitarian crisis.

“This provides evidence that Namibia's democracy is incomplete because it violates the socio-economic rights and needs of many of its citizens,” Musutua said.

Musutua believes that president Geingob continues to turn a blind eye to a universal basic income grant.

“The poorly planned and unsustainable Harambee Prosperity Plan II mentions in pillar 3 (social progression) that the food bank will be converted into a BIG scheme for which only the previous food bank recipients will be beneficiaries,” she said.

She further said Geingob still bases his poverty eradication measures and legacy on the food bank, which is not relevant and has made very little impact on the current situation.