Namibia is one of just nine countries in Africa categorized by the World Bank as “upper middle income.” Poverty in Namibia, however, is still prevalent, and the country is rife with extreme wealth imbalances.
The Namibian economy boasts relatively high growth, with an average growth rate of 4.3 percent between 2010 and 2015. The economy is heavily based on the country’s mining industry, which accounts for 50 percent of foreign exchange earnings.
Despite its high income, Namibia has a poverty rate of 26.9 percent, an unemployment rate of 29.6 percent and an HIV prevalence rate of 16.9 percent. Poverty in Namibia is acute in the northern regions of Kavango, Oshikoto, Zambezi, Kunene and Ohangwena, where upwards of one-third of the population lives in poverty. Furthermore, the country’s status as upper middle income makes its poor ineligible for aid from the UNDP and other development groups.
The apparent imbalance between Namibia’s high income and simultaneous extreme prevalence of poverty can be traced to enduring income inequalities. Globally, Namibia has the third highest levels of income inequality, according to the World Bank. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed Namibia as having the highest levels of wealth inequality in the world in 2000.
Even though poverty in Namibia has declined significantly in recent years, down about 10 percent since 2003, the U.N. and other advocacy groups have pressured the Namibian government to do more to tackle the large wealth gap.
In 2012, U.N. human rights expert Magdalena Sepúlveda warned that “poor Namibians cannot wait any longer for benefits of economic growth ‘to trickle down.’ The Government must address the critical needs of the poorest and most marginalized as a matter of priority.”
Namibian President Hage Geighob has expressed similar sentiments about eradicating poverty. In March 2015, Geingob “declared war” on poverty in Namibia, with his first focus on the problem of hunger. He pledged to create a food bank with branches across the entire country.
– John English