It is becoming more doubtful when policymakers and political leaders announce how impactful certain proposed investments are to the country.
Especially when they come to a certain community and tell them to give up a piece of land, river, or forest to a particular investor or group for economic development.
This is because when they make these announcements, they barely give the community all the information about the particular investment and its environmental and socioeconomic impact.
All they do is preach about employment that is going to come to the community without even doing a skill audit.
The concerns are emanating from the community’s reaction to various projects planned or are taking place: Omaheke Uranium Projects, Phosphate Mining, Green Hydrogen, Oil drills in Kavango, Asparagus farming, Lithium Mining Erongo, Neckartal Dam.
This is not to say those projects are bad for the country or for the specific community where they are – or going to be – based, but rather on the information sharing.
I closely look at the comments coming from the community and their understanding, together with the explanation being offered by responsible ministries.
It equates to a sad reality of a concept called ‘information asymmetry’.One can use the sentiments to say a case of moral hazard can arise if the government continues to inform the affected communities inadequately.
A reference is the interaction between the southern communities and the Ministry of Water, Agriculture and Land Reform in Keetmanshoop regarding the next phase of the country’s biggest dam.
I have attended this myself and it was clear the community didn’t have much information on the way forward about the Dam. So many were throwing tantrums as they had no power to decide.
The second scenario is the proposed uranium mining in Omaheke. This case clearly shows information asymmetry between the community and the investors. Even the whole parliamentary Standing Committee on Economics and Public Administrationdidn’t know much.
While the third party, the Ministry of Agriculturewhich is supposed to be the custodian, has done a study but it did not share it with the community.
On the other hand, you have a parliamentary committee on economic matters asking the community to show proof of their worries- such audacity.
The community entrusted the government to act right, represent them on technical matters, and guide them on the best investment for them beyond just low-skilled jobs.
Another classical example of community versus investors and the absence of information is the lithium mine in some small villages in Erongo region.
Who is supposed to assist them in assessing the investment? Is it the environment impact assessment consultants or perhaps is it the Ministry of Environment, who is supposed to feed the community the critical information about the project?
With the right knowledge, the community can refuse to hand over their resources to a few individuals in exchange for a few low-paying jobs as investors export and dominate trade statistics.
Many of us do not understand the impact of phosphate mining, nor the impact of mining diamonds on our sea beds. We thus entrusted the government to act right to ensure environmental protection and sustainability.
Furthermore, to ensure the value generated is shared among the communities, not only through taxes. Government is the custodian of the country at the macro level. At the micro level, it is the communities themselves who give up a piece of land, or forest to investors.
To make it worse, community consultation is the weakest in Namibia as people are not well sensitised about their importance so they barely attend to raise their concerns.
Thus, I join those who are strongly against a development proposal for a certain village by someone in Windhoek, who has never been to that village, and with no basic understanding of their livelihood.
Another question on the EIA consultants, who pays them and who are they assessing the impact for?
Secondly, the capacity of the ministry that assesses the EIA ensures the implementation of Environmental Management Plans.
There are outcries out there from various communities who lost their livelihood just because MME and MEFT have given the green light to certain projects to be executed.
So who failed the community? Because our current economic structure is about destroying the livelihood of 1,000 people to benefit 5 investors.
Yes, investment is not bad but let the community decide based on the value they will derive not based on promised jobs.
The proposed solution here is, let us feed the communities the cost-benefit analysis done and impact assessment results, so they know what is coming and decide for themselves.
Secondly, the approach where investors or ministerial officials consult traditional authority in the absence of the community.
Most of our traditional authority leaders are over 70 years old, except King Shuumbwa and the majority- if not all – have no basic understanding of economic issues.
So why are you putting my future in the hands of 75-year-old traditional leaders who do not understand the modern economy and the value of what is underground?
He /she will agree to lease out 20 hectares of our future grazing land to 5 investors for some projects that promise to employ 500 people while the rest of the community loses their livelihood.
The suggestion here is to consult more of the young population in particular because they are the ones to be affected as they lose critical resources and move to Windhoek or Walvis Bay to seek employment.
Furthermore, the educated and wise youthful members of the communities need to represent their villages in consultation and the EIA process.
Advocacy for inclusive development should be enhanced to create value for communities but not for overrated investments that cause discomfort to communities and worsen livelihood loss.
In the absence of information, communities cannot stand up for themselves and say no to investment plans or projects decided by those who sit in offices in Windhoek
Let the communities decide if they will stick to their traditional ways of economics or existing livelihood or accept a project based on some quality empirical assessment done by third parties independent of the investors.
We stood up for ownership during our liberation struggle just to lose it in the disguise of investment and shallow development projects. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org