By Ajong Mbapndah L
The African continent is on the march and there are many indicators to show that it is our time, says Calle Schlettwein, Namibia’s Minister of Finance. From its youthful population, to abundance of natural resources, agricultural lands, and improving institutional architecture, the African continent is stepping up its ability to host quality investments, says Mr Schlettwein. Interviewed recently in Washington, DC, where he was part of the Namibian delegation at the Corporate Council On Africa hosted US-Africa Business Forum, Calle Schlettwein said his country; Namibia was at the forefront of the economic opportunities that Africa offers.
“We, as Namibia offer a stable environment with good business opportunities not only in Namibia itself, but in, and on behalf of the African Continent,” Minister Schlettwein said.
In addition to marketing the investment and economic opportunities of his country at the forum, Mr. Schlettwein said the trip was also an opportunity to get a feel of what the new US Administration had in store for Africa. There is a very unclear picture on the African policy of the administration and it may just be business as usual, said Calle Schlettwein.
Discussing the Geingob Administration in Namibia, the Minister said it had succeeded in making economic reforms that kept the country stable in the face of global crisis. He cited a litany of areas where adjustments done by the Administration have kept Namibia surging.
PAV: Mr. Schlettwein, good afternoon and welcome to Washington D.C.
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: You’re welcome! I’m happy to be with you.
PAV: You are in Washington DC to attend the USA, Africa Business Summit and you are the Minister of Finance for Namibia. What are your impressions so far?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: Well thank you very much. I think we are happy to be here we have had an association with US/Africa Council so I think again it is a useful exercise to come up with basically two things. We came here to firstly to get and feel what the new U.S.A Administration has in mind when it comes to Africa, trade with Africa, cooperation with Africa, business with Africa. And then secondly, we want to of course also share with the U.S. business community here what opportunities we have, what systems we can offer and where we would be able to engage in a meaningful way to develop Africa, to deepen the partnership between Africa and the U.S. business community and I think that, that was the objective and we can say, yes we achieve what we came for.
PAV: With regards to the new U.S. administrations, what impressions are you taking back to Namibia with regards to its approach to Africa, are you enthusiastic? Are you happy with what you saw?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: What I think all of us saw, is that there is as yet an unclear picture of what the new administration has in mind for Africa. And therefore it, it appears as if it is business as usual! There is nothing that we could pick up that is dramatically changing. That’s the first point, the second point, I do believe that the notion of America first is not a new one; it has probably always been there but the nuance is shifting and it is that nuance where we have to get the details and see what the impact of that is.
Hopefully it is an opportunity for Africa also and not only, a more difficult situation that has created but we are positive and we do believe that there are opportunities coming our way and we want to utilize them.
PAV: President Geingob was expected and he isn’t here, any particular reason why he finally stayed away from the summit?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: President Geingob has a very close relationship with this summit. He would have wanted to be here but you know one of our big icons of the liberation struggle, Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo passed on and of course that created a need for our President to be there and that prevented him from coming here. So it was not that he didn’t want to, it was circumstances that dictated.
PAV: On opportunities in Namibia, you are here also to present economic and investment opportunities that are available in your country. Can you share some of the opportunities that are there? If American businesses are looking for opportunities in Namibia, what are some of the areas that they should lookout for?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: I think there are many but let me focus on the more important ones. First of all I think we can say that Namibia is a very stable economic climate to invest in. We are economically stable, we are politically stable, we have a good infrastructure, and we have a sophisticated financial sector. What Namibia wants to portray itself and that’s where the opportunities are. If we want to sell ourselves as a hub that provides access into Southern Africa, we can do that through our port, our transport infrastructure that links the hinterland of Namibia very well. Landlocked countries can also cross the whole Southern Africa. That brings about opportunities in investments in the Transport Sector, Infrastructure, Roads, Rails and also the Logistics Service Sector. So the whole transport orientated hub and entry into Southern Africa that’s one large opportunity.
We are at the same time, of course having, we have our Power Sector, our Electricity Sector, there, we want to put a lot of emphasis on alternative fuel sources and we believe it’s one of the driest places so solar is an option that offers tremendous opportunities. But even with wind, we have got wind regimes that are absolute top of the lots. We want to become a nation that is not only self-sufficient with electricity provision but being exporters from highest point of view, it would change our balance of payments situation. It would even affect to us being better you know, foreign currency. Our Current Accounts will do well, all the benefits are there.
The same as for water, we are a dry country but water provision is an important method so Desalination Plants are our only regards to be developed in addition to other Water Infrastructure they’re building.
Then on the social side, it is in mass housing. We believe that, we know our housing fall or has fall back. People need houses so there is a huge effort at the moment from government and also the private sector to provide housing and sanitation to majority of our people. That brings about a whole set of opportunities in the Construction Sector, in the Water Sector, in the Services Sector that would be needed to drive this initiative which will be long term, it is not a short term, one year only effort, but rather a big effort.
Education of course is so important a sector that we believe on the social side needs to be prioritized. We spend about a quarter of our budget year in year out in education, that must remain, we must beef it up. We must create, we must lift our standards of education, we must fork out into vocational training, get our skills needed for industrialization beefed up. So the Education Sector is in a sector where there also economic opportunities because we have an open system, we do not insist that the only education system would be the Public Sector, we do launch out into the Private Sector. So I think on the social side as well as the production side, there are big economic opportunities, business opportunities.
Agriculture is one sector that we need to look at; it is employment rich so all the aspects, whether it’s livestock, whether it’s grain, the types of production, whether it’s horticulture, they are significant options to trade with us and lastly Tourism.
Namibia is a strong country for tourism, we have very pristine areas. At the same time infrastructures lends itself to take tourists in a safe and comfortable way to these sites. So Tourism is sector, Service Sector that you want to push very hard and we need partners to unfold and make uses of these opportunities.
PAV: A few weeks back, Namibia launched its fifth National Plan. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: Yeah! The fifth National Development Plan is a long and medium term view of what the priorities are to address our economic, our social needs. It is supplemented with a prosperity plan, the Harambee Prosperity Plan, which is not replacing but rather enhancing it. It has the emphasis in the areas that I just indicated.
On the social side we have to address poverty, we have to address inequality in our societies and to do that we must be smart in where we allocate economic opportunity, what our conditions for investments are so that we make sure that our gains in the economy address inequalities and poverty. And equally our resource allocation when it comes to lifting, not just in poverty, lifting people out of poverty, addressing poverty, addressing inequalities would be guided by NDP5.
We have taken, because we think that those two areas the main economic hurdles that we have to negotiate; inequality and poverty but we cannot do that without economic growth and without addressing the needs of the productive sector and that’s where our infrastructural development programme comes in, and I believe that as it is true for many other African countries, that we have to upgrade our infrastructure. We have to be on par with the developed world leaders and there we talk about our water, but we should not forget I.T. If you haven’t got it, if you’re not connected you will struggle and lastly, as I also said, education will be the mainstay on the social side of skills that would create academic opportunities, be it vocational needs or other, a big push is needed to be on par, and that we can make Africa the giant that it wants to be.
PAV: If this is the fifth plan, it means there was a fourth plan, so if you’re trying to look at what the fourth plan achieved, where all the goals attained?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: Well the first time, no! Unfortunately we didn’t get the satisfaction that all our targets of the fourth plan were achieved. Now the reasons, a number of them, but mainly the fact that Namibia is a very open small economy so we’re very vulnerable to actually have used that thrust. The commodity prices thresh and droughts and concept opportunity had negative effects on Namibia so we couldn’t support from the resource allocation basis all the targets that we had set ourselves. So, but we didn’t do too bad, our growth rates were still, with the exception of last year are about five percent.
We were and we are one of the very, very few countries in the world that managed to improve poverty and lift people out of poverty and we were at the same time also successful in narrowing the gap so inequalities decreased and that was the main aim of NDP4. In that area, we are not where we want to be but we did improve and that is I think, a great achievement and that is why we maintained economic stability. Our democratic institutions are consolidated, we are safe and secure, and we’ve got no enemies so the Namibian story is a good story to tell.
PAV: President Geingob is in his second year in office now and if you were to cite a list of things that his government has achieved, what would there include?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: Okay, his term of office, he’s in the third year.
PAV: Thank you! Thanks for the correction.
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: What we have achieved is first of all to maintain peace and stability, macroeconomic stability and one of the great achievements I think that we can already book is that up to now Namibia is the only country on the African Continent that has an investment grade pleasant rating and is issuing Eurobonds and that gives great comfort to investors that Namibia is a small open economy that could dwell under storm and it was a storm not made by us but it was a consequences of actually induced factors and the fact that the Geingob government took the right steps to whether the storm and to maintain its great rating and investment grade, I think it’s a fantastic achievement!
I think the next thing that we achieved is that we realize that the resources that are to our avail must bring about a better quality of spending. So , for the last three years we have reallocated resources away from, nice to have, away from non-essential activities to activities that are focused on our main reliance and poverty alleviation, inequality and economic growth. So there are new projects that we have on the social side like the Food Bank to address hunger and poverty; that took off and had an immediate impact.
We improved our social safety networks, improving,and doubling the grants that we give to elderly people. That’s had an important impact on the most vulnerable group being lifted out of poverty and of course had certain effects in communities that were cash low, cash strapped. So on the social network side I think we improved Social Security and that one must remember is all done in a period of time where resources are scarce and limited. We also improved our infrastructure. We have a number of significant road projects that come to a conclusion, our rail is restructured and then maybe lastly, we are in the process of revamping our state of enterprises.
They was a drain on the budget, public sources were wasted to a certain extent in public entities and the President has taken the bold step to review them, bring about a better quality of spending and delivery of quality services to the people. We are as you know, only in the third year, these are important reviews because they are bearing fruit and we are very confident that in the next years when they come to the conclusion that we will be coming out better out of this hard times when we have headwinds economically. So we will be much fitter, much leaner to grab opportunities.
PAV: As we wrap up this interview, any last words to investors in Washington D.C and around the world who would like to come to Namibia as a destination?
CALLE SCHLETTWEIN: Yes, thank you! Well we believe that the African continent is on the march, it is our time. We have a number of indicators that are pointing into our favour. It’s the youthful population, we have an abundance of resources whether it is agricultural lands, or mineral resources or fishing resources, we have improved our institutional architecture. So we are now seeing that the African Continent has managed to step up its ability to be the host of quality investments.
Namibia, we believe, is at the forefront of that. We, as Namibia offer a stable environment with good business opportunities not only in Namibia itself but in and on behalf of the African Continent obviously focusing on to the Southern African part of Africa; that’s where we are. We have an open slate of talents, it’s a good place to settle your business and we welcome any engagements.
PAV: Mr Minister, thank you for talking to Pan African Visions.
CALLE SCHELLETWEIN: Thank you.