A Namibian House: Smile Smile Smile

Originally published in the Informanté newspaper on Thursday, 24 November, 2016. 

There’s this guy, right, a doctor of philosophy and a president. And he said he wants to build a house, you know? But not a real one. (Well, the plan includes real ones, but in the details.) It’s like a metaphorical one! One for all Namibians! Like a Namibian House! You see where this is going? It’s time again to talk about that house where we all belong, and where opportunity rains from the ceiling in much the same way that rain so regularly fails to drop from the sky. One where we can all catch these buckets of opportunity, and build a nation up, and no one is left out. But we like, need to be ready. We need to have these buckets in our minds, metaphorically, buckets we can share from, or this house will come crashing down around us. Or drown – we need buckets, is what I’m saying. 

Buckets of honesty, loyalty, kindness and generosity, that we can catch and share with those around us. But we need more than just those buckets – because while they are good, they all seem OH SO VERY SERIOUS. We need a bucket of fun! A bucket of laughter, of humour and joviality. We need, as a nation, be able to laugh and be jolly.

Because being serious all the time causes a lack of perspective. If you cannot laugh, it is likely that you also lack humility. Laughter brings us joy as we note a mistaken assumption – we see a simple truth in a new and unexpected way. It makes us examine and correct the assumptions we make daily – and expands our understanding of the world. Humour corrects social behaviour, as it points out mistakes in a public way, making us aware of them. And because it is done in such a jovial way, we do not consider it an attack upon ourselves, and thus find it easier to accept and correct our own behaviour. Humour, at its core, is humble.

Laughter itself, however, comes from a different instinct inside every one of us. As Larry Niven so famously put it, laughter is an interrupted defence mechanism. Laughter and mirth is the natural response whenever we have faced a fear, and overcome it. It releases the tension that built up inside us while facing a serious situation, and allows us to gain a new perspective on whatever fear we had just defeated. 

We should never forget that we are at our core emotional beings. We might consider ourselves rational beings, but as neuroscientist António Damásio showed, emotions are a crucial part of decision making – if you can’t feel, you can’t make up your mind. Thus, if you’re constantly serious, you will never realise that the emotion of fear might be irrationally founded, and never take a chance, a risk, to move forward. Laughter and light-heartedness is thus needed to prevent ourselves being trapped, and perhaps, inspire us with some lucidity in our own behaviour. 

Economically, companies have long known of the effect of laughter and humour in the workplace. Where in times past people were considered to be ‘not working’ whenever laughter was heard in the workplace, nowadays companies strive to create a happy and jovial working atmosphere. Without laughter, without the camaraderie, people work just hard enough not to get fired, and get paid just enough not to quit. 

Yes, camaraderie. Laughter promotes social bonding. Laughter, after all, is contagious, and when a group of people laugh, barriers are lowered. We instinctively bond with people who share our sense of humour.  We know they share our same, flawed worldview because they laugh at the same jokes as we do, and thus, they become part of our ‘in-group.’

When you thus contrast a starkly serious workplace, where seriousness is the order of the day, with one where the employees laugh, and build bonds, you’ll find other contrasts as well. The jovial workplace will be the one with creativity, where innovative products are built, where people are happy and perhaps even eager to come to work – a productive company. The other… well, you’ll find the status quo reigns supreme, people are cogs in a machine and are glad to get out at the end of the day. Which one do you think will show more growth?

As it is with so many things, what works for employees of a company, is also true for the citizenry of a country. The Harambee Prosperity Plan requires us to pull together, in camaraderie, to move forward, and to boldly go where no country has gone before! It will require of us to face our fear that this plan won’t succeed, and try anyway. After all, even if we fail, we would have put a smile on the face of everyone who we had helped. And as they say, if at first you don’t succeed… skydiving is not for you. 

A smile is the path to the light side. A smile leads to laughter. Laughter leads to joy. Scientific studies have shown laughter to have physiological, psychological, social and quality of life benefits. Side effects are limited to none. Consult your doctor if you think you might need laughter. Use only as indicated. I’m kidding – I believe you consult a comedian if you require laughter. Or a friend. And you can use it any which way you want. 

It’s true, some days are dark and lonely. But laughter will help to show you that it isn’t that bad. Why, they’ll ask you, should you smile and be jovial now when you know tomorrow could be worse? Why simply – because tomorrow could be worse. So let us strive to be a people surrounded by smiles and laughter, as we make our country a better place. How can we not, with our Founding Father’s jovial smile etched into our memories? Because while, yes, it is a very serious goal, and certainly one that inspires sobering thoughts, wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to do it this way? After all, why else did the chicken cross the road?

Viva La Revolution

Originally published in the Informanté newspaper on Thursday, 17 November, 2016. 

We here in Namibia are not quite as familiar with the concept of a revolution as some other African countries. When most of us hear the world revolution, we instinctively think of the revolutions that has happened in other African countries – the change of leadership and the violence that was associated with it. By contrast, we’ve been blessed with a stable democracy, and sound political leadership. And yet, we are nevertheless preparing for a revolution, albeit of a different kind. 

In 1760, this revolution started in Europe. Robert E. Lucas, Jr., and economist, noted that “for the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth. Nothing remotely like this economic behaviour is mentioned by the classical economists, even as a theoretical possibility.” The population increased – the first period in history where both population and income per capita increased. Production methods switched to machines, new chemical manufacturing processes were pioneered, and iron production skyrocketed. Water and steam power started to be used, and machine tools were developed. Factories arose. This was a different kind of revolution. It was the Industrial Revolution. 

The Industrial Revolution precipitated the start of per-capita economic growth for the first time in history, and as such, it should be no surprise that Namibia wishes to emulate that. In fact, in 2012, Namibia’s Minister of Trade and Industry, the Honourable Dr Hage Geingob, unveiled Namibia’s Industrial policy. The document outlined the specific principles, vision, aims and objectives that will guide Namibia’s industrialisation efforts over the next two decades.

Namibia’s Industrial Policy is anchored in Vision 2030, and thus, as a first principle, aims that the country’s manufacturing and services sectors constitute about 80% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), that the country largely exports processed goods, which account for not less than 70% of total exports, that we have an established network of modern infrastructure that includes railways, roads, telecommunications and port facilities, and that Namibia has a critical mass of knowledge workers, and the contribution of SMEs to GDP is not less than 30%, all by 2030. 

The second principle is, of course, macroeconomic stability, and the third economic openness – as a small country, we need external markets. The policy outlines the need for a targeted approach, given our relative lack of resources. But the government recognises that while it has some role to play in Namibia’s industrialization, it knows that industrial development can only be accomplished by partnering with the private sector – with the citizens participating. Hence the focus on SME development in the policy’s aims.

The policy, however, was just the framework. Government’s more detailed plan was revealed by the next Minister of Trade and Industry, the Honourable Minister Calle Schlettwein in Namibia’s Execution Strategy for Industrialisation. Called ‘Growth at Home’, it focuses on three strategic intervention areas, namely supporting value addition, upgrading and diversification for sustained growth, securing market access at home and abroad; and improving the investment climate and conditions.

Each of these areas, too, have specific goals, but since this is an execution plan, it has a shorter time span. Thus, for supporting value addition, by 2020 Namibia will have to achieve the following: Manufacturing and services should account for more than 50 percent of GDP, at least 10,000 new jobs have to be created in the manufacturing sector, private sector investment has to benefit targeted sectors under Growth at Home, and Namibia has to improve on the World Economic Forum Business Sophistication Indicators, in particular on the sub-indicators “Nature of competitive advantage” and “Production process sophistication”.

To secure market access at home and abroad, the following needs to be achieved by 2020: The volume of locally produced goods supplied to the public and retail sector has to be significantly increased, Namibia's ranking in the “Trading across Borders” category of the World Bank’s Doing Business Report has to improve by at least 5 ranks, the share of manufacturing within total exports has to increase to at least 30 percent, and Namibia has to improve on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Export Diversification Index.

Finally, to improve the investment climate and conditions, the following has to be achieved by 2020: Namibia has to be the most competitive economy in the SADC region, according to the standards set by the World Economic Forum, Investment climate surveys should show that businesses feel that the climate and conditions in which they operate are more conducive, in particular with respect to the availability of skilled labour and access to land, and Namibia has to improve by at least 10 ranks in the “Starting a Business Category” in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.

With the Invest in Namibia International Investment Conference just concluded, it appears we’re well on our way to improve the investment climate and conditions, although we still have several uphill battles ahead – our ease of doing business has not yet improved. The now Ministry of Industrialization, Trade & SME Development’s Export Processing Zones are already established, and is just looking for businesses to utilize them – although our widening trade deficit shows just how much work still needs to be done. 

It is obvious that now-President Geingob still has his Industrial Policy in the back of his head – the renaming of the Ministry of Trade and Industry certainly echoes that policy. The Harambee Prosperity Plan of the President certainly contains some shades of the Industrialization Policy, and, I would argue, requires it to proceed. If we want a revolution, this appears to be the one we’re primed for. What is now required, however, cannot come from government – it should come from us, the citizen-entrepreneurs and the private sector. The road ahead has been mapped – we only need to gather the courage to follow it. Viva la Revolution Industrial!

A Namibian House: With Giving Hands

Originally published in the Informanté newspaper on Thursday, 10 November, 2016. 

I’ve written before about how our President, Dr Hage Geingob, has spoken of ‘building a Namibian House.’ He has stated that “Namibians want a house where everyone feels a sense of belonging, where everyone is presented with a fair opportunity to prosper in an inclusive manner and by so doing, ensure that no one feels left out.” I’ve previously covered some of the values we as Namibians need in order to build a Namibian House – honesty, loyalty and kindness. Today, I’ll be covering another one – generosity. 

Our country was born of an adversarial relationship – we fought for our independence, and for us to win, someone else must lose. That, unfortunately, leads us as Namibians to fall for the zero-sum fallacy – the notion that our ‘economic pie’ is fixed, and that for someone to have more, someone else must have less. And yet, since independence, we’ve seen for a fact that it is not true. Our GDP has tripled since independence – our pie has grown bigger! 

Namibia also used to be known as the world leader in income inequality, which this growth in GDP has alleviated. Namibia’s Gini Coefficient (the measure of income inequality) has dropped from 70.1 in 1990, the highest in the world, to 59.7 currently, which places us seventh. Yet we still cling to errors such as the zero-sum fallacy in our hearts, and let it filter into our broader social spectrum. This can trap us as a society in a self-centred tunnel vision, where we assume that success cannot follow if we allow any room for generosity. 

The word ‘Generosity’ itself, however, shows that this is not true. It’s root, ‘gen’, means to beget, or give birth. It is the same root we find in genetic, and genesis. It means ‘to start,’ and for a nation such as ours that is still struggling to eradicate poverty, and needs to kickstart an ambitious plan such as the Harambee Prosperity Plan, it becomes crucial. We no longer live in a pre-revolutionary Namibia, where we need to secure resources from one another. 

The old way was based upon taking from others so that we can have more – accumulating money and resources. We live in a new society – where rather than just accumulating for ourselves, we need to create and share wealth. Wealth, however, is more than just money. Wealth requires vision and energy – a sense of identity and purpose that drives wealth creation. Wealth creation, however, does not mean wealth creation for you, and you alone!

Benjamin Jowett once noted, “The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit.” That is the essence of wealth creation as a society, and it is where the true essence of generosity flows from. Generosity is not charity – giving because you have been asked for something. Rather, it is something much more – it is giving because you can – because it can help someone on their way to success. It is giving something because the other person will have greater success with what you have than you will. 

It is not only giving from your excess – generosity is defined by the missing needs of others, not by your own wants and needs. Entrepreneurs understand this by their nature – they build their businesses on it. They identify the needs of others, and strive to help them overcome that need. Businesses can only thrive if their customers are successful as well – hence their desire to see their business, their product, help others out of a bind.

Even Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism, noted that, “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” The basis for our civilization, after all, has not been everyone for her/himself, but rather one of co-operation. We value generosity in our personal relationships – why not value it in civil society as well?

Generosity is in our genes (again, ‘gen’), as shown by psychologist Adam Grant. His research showed that those who gave their time and effort to others, and saw its impact, were less vulnerable to stress and exhaustion. Four other studies showed that those generous with their time – volunteering – made them feel like they had more time available than if they spent time on themselves. Interestingly, people gained delayed happiness from helping others – people’s happiness increased during the hours after helping, not when it was just completed. 

We all have something we can give – whether it be money, time or skills. We can all see where these can be put to greater use for someone else than for ourselves. We just need to realise that just because we’re helping someone else win, does not mean we are losing. From a purely economic perspective, you are putting your ‘capital’ to more efficient use. When an entire society does that, our collective ‘capital’ will grow faster. Not only because of your generosity, but because as research has shown, generosity begets generosity. Generosity spreads and persists with the person you impacted – who will act more generous towards others as well. 

A single act of generosity can cascade, and spread across a community, a society – each selflessly invested in the others’ success. A society such as this will surely be much more effective at pulling itself up from its own bootstraps than a collection of millions of individuals trying to do so alone. It will be a society that is Harambee. We, as Namibians, must thus not neglect that basis of Harambee – generosity – which is a critical piece to ensure the success of our very own Harambee Prosperity Plan. We must become a nation of giving hands, of helping hands, that can push ourselves to the success we so dearly want.