Mr. Graham Hopwood
Executive Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)
JAPAN and the WORLD magazine sat down with Mr. Graham Hopwood to find out about the bright future standing before the Japan-Namibia bilateral relationship. Mr. Hopwood is the Executive Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), an independent organization based in Windhoek, Namibia, which delivers analytical and critical research on social, political and economic issues.
—In honor of Namibia’s 25th anniversary as an independent nation, how has the country progressed from where it stood twenty-five years ago to where it stands now?
I think one of the main achievements is the establishment of peace and stability. Namibia was at war for twenty-three years, but since 1990 it has been politically stable with no conflict and unrest. So that has provided the basis for developing a country with a record of good governance, democracy and freedom of press.
Today the country has programs to implement its Vision 2030 and the 4th National Development Plan (NPD4, 2012-2017) with a set of targets: to be industrialized and to be peaceful and stable with the main focus on economic development and job creation.
—On the most recent World Bank Group’s list of countries ranked on their ease of doing business, Namibia took the 88th position becoming the 7th highest ranked Sub-Saharan country. What do you think Namibia has to do to further increase its competitiveness in the region?
Economic and industrial infrastructure development, promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs, and human resource development are necessary for Namibia to break away from a monoculture economy largely dependent on mining, and accelerate economic growth. Bureaucratic obstacles to investment can also be removed.
The Government’s policy is to look for foreign direct investment (FDI) and, therefore, to be high on the competiveness ranking, which signals Namibia’s intention to be an open economy.
The Government’s policy is to look for foreign direct investment (FDI) and therefore, to be high on the competiveness ranking, which signals Namibia’s intention to be an open economy. The country’s market is quite limited due to the size of its population—2.2 million people. As a result of the limited local market, there is not much incentive for manufacturers to set up in Namibia. Consequently, Namibia has to position itself to allow companies to export to the region and beyond. For this to take place a lot of money is being invested in developing the infrastructure at the moment such as the expansion of the main port at Walvis Bay. The other problem is the country’s geographical location—on the western side of Africa—not facing export destinations and huge markets like India, China and Japan. Therefore, there might be some limitations there.
—What are the other challenges that Namibia is facing now?
Among the main challenges are education and health care. The education system is still struggling to produce people with the skills that Namibia needs to develop. One of the ways of speeding up improvement is to have more educational exchanges with, for example, Japan. There are already some programs developed by the Japanese government to support Namibian human development such as “The One Region One Initiative in Namibia” and “Agricultural Promotion”. These aim to improve the living standards and the income levels of the average Namibian citizen. The Government of Japan is seeking to train people and provide experts to improve policy implementation and administration in social services (basic education and health) through its volunteer scheme. In the education and health sectors, the assistance will be conducted under Japan’s Global Health Policy and Japan’s Education Cooperation Policy 2011-2015.
As for the health care system, Namibia is still struggling to meet several of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, particularly in terms of child mortality and maternal health, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB).
—Do you think the population size increases or decreases the competitiveness of Namibia?
The size of the population could be a problem in terms of implementing the Namibian government’s growth at home policy because of the limited domestic market. Namibia has achieved reasonable average economic growth of 4.5 percent per year since 1990. But it has been difficult for the government to make sure that kind of growth produces jobs for local people. The government wants to establish a manufacturing sector in Namibia, and the country is very rich in minerals, including uranium and diamonds. They basically want to make sure value addition, in the form of processing these minerals and other raw materials, takes place in Namibia as much as possible in order to create jobs. It has been a little difficult to do that for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is because of technical issues. For example, you can’t really process uranium inside Namibia because we don’t have a nuclear industry. So we actually just export semi-processed uranium. Namibia will need to attract new investors to undertake processing and to export finished products if the challenge of creating employment is to be tackled.
—How are bilateral relations with Japan?
Historically, Namibia doesn’t have that close a relationship with Japan. Japan was providing personnel for the UN peacekeeping force in Namibia in 1989. Since then, close links did not develop until 2010 when the Namibian Embassy was opened in Japan. Now the Japanese government is reciprocating by opening their embassy in Windhoek since both sides recognize there are a lot of possibilities and opportunities. A new Japanese ambassador is expected to be appointed later this year.
—What is the future for bilateral relations with Japan?
We expect that from later this year a lot of interchange will take place between Namibia and Japan. Namibia is very interested in having more students here. There is a huge potential, particularly for Namibian students, to learn from Japanese universities, and technological and science institutes. Currently, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has about twenty Japanese volunteers in Namibia. But that should increase considerably once diplomatic relationships are fully established. Visits by business delegations and business exchanges are looking at possibilities to invest. I expect a lot more activity in the next two to three years in the Japanese-Namibia relationship. The Namibian Ambassador’s idea here in Japan is to engage with academics and students and organize lectures and seminars about Namibia to show a different, more positive aspect of Africa that is not always considered.
Namibia faces many challenges: persistent inequality, high poverty levels, and an underachieving education system. Japan, on the other hand, needs to take into consideration its food and energy security. So, I think the two countries will complement each other.
—Can you explain the safety situation in Namibia?
There are no outside threats to Namibia and no internal conflict. There has been no serious outbreak of violence between ethnic groups since the independence unlike some other sub-Saharan African countries. The atmosphere is very calm and, despite high unemployment and widespread poverty, there is no serious social unrest.
Mining in Namibia
1. Objectives of the Ministry of Mines and Energy
- To promote investments in the mineral energy sectors in a transparent manner.
- To ensure the sustainable contribution of minerals and energy resources to the socio-economic development of Namibia.
- To create a conducive environment for the mineral and energy sectors.
- To minimize the impact of exploitation of mineral and energy resources on the environment.
- To provide professional and customer focused service.
2. Strategic focus areas of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME)
- Protect life and the environment.
- Improve socio-economic conditions.
- Promote, develop and monitor the mining sector.
- Create, research, promote, disseminate quality earth science information
- Promote, develop and monitor the energy sector.
- Create a conducive environment.
- Strengthen MME capacity.
- Mineral exploration;
- Mineral processing;
- Value addition;
- Small-scale mining;
- Energy projects;
I have also seen increasing numbers of Japanese tourists visiting Namibia over the years. Namibia has a pristine desert environment— one of the last in the world—and this is a huge attraction for tourists. There is a great potential for Japanese tourism to grow in Namibia. Namibia is a safe destination for tourists.