BY FRITZ-EARLE MCLYMONT
The Namibian government’s recent presentation in New York City on investment opportunities in the southwest African nation was a refreshing shift from the standard “bring your money” message at “Invest in…” shows to a genuine welcome to participate in real opportunities, such as finding markets for Namibian beef, meeting the 173 megawatt energy deficit with renewables, and exploring the 42 projects being promoted by a local university.
Organized by AZ Media Agency and held Sept. 21 in the 629-foot-tall skyscraper at 101 Park Avenue, the “Invest in Namibia” forum featured the country’s head of state, President Hage Geingob, Ph.D., as lead spokesperson for the senior government officials, heads of state-owned companies, and executives from more than 40 of Namibia’s top private enterprises who accompanied him. The forum also served as a platform to announce a trade mission from the United States to Namibia from Oct. 23 to Oct. 27, which will be hosted by the government of Namibia. Participants would be able to assess the investment climate, vet opportunities firsthand, and connect directly with local counterparts, President Geingob and his team assured attendees, citing the Embassy of Namibia in Washington, D.C., as the place to go for information on the mission.
The president and his delegation shed light on issues of importance to The Network Journal audience. They affirmed, for example, that the Namibian business community is ready, willing and able to embrace African-Americans as partners or collaborators in the development of Namibia, one of the world’s least densely populated countries, but which is rich in natural and human resources and boasts a strong economy with a solid financial infrastructure and per capita income of $10,600 in 2016.
Real estate is ripe for investment, they said, and U.S. investors seeking alternatives to New York City may find Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, a good option. With a population of less than 500,000, Windhoek has earned the distinction as Africa’s cleanest city in a country that is poised for growth. Given the political tumult and socio-economic uncertainty in the United States under the current administration, it could be a “safe haven” on a path less traveled, with a welcoming agenda for African-Americans. To further entice investors, the delegation included a young real estate entrepreneur who, although visiting New York City for the first time, chose to stay in Harlem, Black America’s cultural and political Mecca, saying he wanted to “learn” and “make contacts.”
The high incidence of obesity in the United States, with the severe health challenges it engenders, presents an opportunity to invest in Namibia’s health and wellness industry through indigenous botanicals such as Hoodia. Southern Africans traditionally used Hoodia to suppress their appetite during long exploits, quench thirst, and reportedly even to treat severe abdominal cramps, hemorrhoids, tuberculosis, indigestion, hypertension and diabetes. While the West’s scientific jury may still be out on the effectiveness of Hoodia in these areas, investment in other Namibian botanicals, from cultivation, processing, R&D and marketing, can be an exciting entrepreneurial journey with a low capital investment, but heavy reliance on relationship capital.
From a continent-wide perspective, President Geingob described the Organization of African Unity, predecessor of the African Union, as more of a transactional institution, delivering an Africa that now experiences good governance, democracy and peace. Under the African Union, a more transformational experience is expected, one that will provide the socio-economic architecture to meet the current demands of the African people, he said. These include the basic needs of housing, education, health, energy and food—all areas in which small businesses can be easily engaged.
Earlier this year, the Namibian government decided to rename the main street in Windhoek, known as Back Street, Marcus Garvey Street in honor of Jamaica’s Pan-African national hero, Marcus Garvey. Responding to my congratulations on this decision, President Geingob, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a master’s degree from The New School, immediately articulated the connection between Harlem, Marcus Garvey, and late Pan-African activist Elombe Brath, thereby reinforcing his reputation as a Pan-African. Garvey established a division of his United Negro Improvement Association in Harlem, which Elombe Brath headed decades after Garvey’s death.
Acknowledging African-Americans as part of the African Diaspora according to the AU’s Sixth Region Declaration, President Geingob encouraged private sector partnerships between Namibians and African-Americans. For small and medium-sized businesses, such partnerships, structured and managed carefully, can be a way to long-term wealth generation, while not ignoring the many short-term transactional opportunities for immediate cash flow.
President Geingob’s Harambee Prosperity Plan, launched in 2016, was introduced as a way to “fast track the process for investment,” while paying homage to the country’s elders and those with whom the president fought for the liberation of Namibia from South Africa’s apartheid rule. “Spurred on by these giants of our revolution and building on their legacy, I have declared all out war against poverty and embarked upon the path towards prosperity,” the president said of the plan. “Many heroes and heroines of our liberation struggle selflessly sacrificed their lives for the independence of our motherland. They never got to experience the peace, unity and prosperity they fought and died for and their blood indeed waters our freedom. It is for that reason that their inspiring legacies must never be betrayed.”
Successfully implemented, the plan is expected to yield a more transparent Namibia; a culture of high performance and citizen-centered service delivery; significant reduction in poverty levels; a reputable and competitive vocational educational training system; a spirit of entrepreneurship resulting in increased youth enterprise development; improved access to services land and housing; and guaranteed energy supply and sufficient water for human consumption and business activities.
President Geingob noted that in the meeting between President Trump and African leaders during the U.N. General Assembly in September, President Trump “actually listened.” Although President Trump struggled to pronounce Namibia, saying “Nambia,” it “could be a new beginning” for U.S.-Africa relations, he suggested.
The “Invest in Namibia” forum emphasized a welcome for African-Americans who are willing to take the risk in the development of Namibia. Just as the economic successes of China and India benefitted immensely from the contributions of the Chinese and Indian Diasporas in the U.S., so must Africa’s as commercial and institutional relationships evolve between Africa and its Diaspora. At The Network Journal, where an image of Garvey resides in the publisher’s office, the hope is that its 40 Under Forty Achievers and Influential Black Women in Business honorees of the past 20 years will find meaning in Namibia’s Harambee Prosperity Plan and a personal role in its implementation.
Shared innovations are driving new industries across Africa and Asia, such as robotics, genomics, and digital currencies, creating a bright future for countries such as Namibia that have created a solid foundation where peace and security exist and a steady hand points the way forward.
Fritz-Earle McLymont is a senior writer for TNJ. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org