The Rise and Fall of the Basic Income Grant Campaign: Lessons from Namibia
Namibia is still characterised by deep socio-economic inequalities, as economic structures have remained largely intact after independence. Poverty is still widespread and unemployment has remained high with women and youth being particularly affected. In 2002, the Namibian government’s Tax Commission proposed a universal cash grant as the most effective way to fight poverty and to reduce inequality. In 2004, the Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition was formed consisting of churches, trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in support of the proposed grant. It implemented a pilot project to practically demonstrate the effects of the grant. The chosen location was the village of Otjivero where each inhabitant received a monthly cash grant of N$100 (US$9)beginning in January 2008. A research team closely monitored developments and found that within one year the rates of poverty, child malnutrition and school drop-outs had fallen significantly. Economic activities increased, school results and residents’ health status improved while the crime rate and women’s economic dependency on men were reduced. Despite these results, the Namibian government did not implement the BIG and the coalition failed to ignite a mass campaign. The country’s largest trade union federation did not play an active role and its leadership withdrew from the coalition despite support for the BIG among union members. The introduction of a BIG in Namibia will depend on the ability to the BIG coalition to create pressure ‘from below’. Trade unions and youth organisations in particular will have to mobilise their membership and present the demand for the BIG as a form of economic justice. In terms of financial and economic resources, Namibia could easily afford a national BIG and its introduction is a question of political will.
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