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A Q-Squared approach to Pro-Poor Policy Formulation in Namibia

Q-Squared Working Paper No. 49

Sebastian Levine, United Nations Development Programme, Namibia

Benjamin Roberts, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

Q-squared, Centre For International Studies

November 2007

SARPN acknowledges Q-Squared as a source of this document:
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When Namibia achieved Independence in 1990, the new majority government inherited a country marred by widespread poverty and deep inequality after more than a century of colonial rule and Apartheid. According to one conservative estimate at the time, at least two thirds of the population were classified as absolutely poor, including three quarters of the black population (World Bank 1992). The Population Census in 1991 (CBS 1993) and a Demographic Health Survey in 1992 (MOHSS 1993) provided the first real quantitative assessments of the state of social well-being among the Namibian people as a whole at the time of Independence and offered evidence to the deep inequalities in the provision and access to social services—especially between urban areas and the predominantly rural northern regions where the majority of the population lived.

In 1993, the Central Bureau of Statistics conducted the first Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES), which provided a consumption-based estimate of poverty according to which 38 percent of households were classified as “poor” and 9 percent “severely poor” (CBS 1996a). Geographical divisions were again highlighted but so were vast inequalities according to dimensions of gender, age and ethnicity. Moreover, based on the consumption data in the survey, a Gini-coefficient of 0.7 was derived, which immediately qualified the new country for the unenviable position as having the most unequal income distribution in the world (CBS 1996a; United Nations 2005).

Reduction of poverty and inequality through economic growth and employment generation has subsequently been at the top of the national policy agenda (GRN 1995; GRN 2001). In the course of formulating plans to actively combat poverty, its definition has been broadened to go beyond just monetary measures and include concerns related to capabilities, vulnerability and exclusion (GRN 1998; GRN 2005). A number of studies conducted by the Social Sciences Division at the University of Namibia (e.g. Devereux et al 1996) and a series of National Human Development Reports (beginning with UNDP 1996) seem to have played a particularly instructive role in building national consensus on the multiple dimensions of the poverty phenomenon, strengthening capacity for poverty measurement and facilitating policy analysis and dialogue. Moreover, as national authorities sought to build the national statistics system, a stream of data has been released over the years with the expected variation in both regularity and quality. However, the impact of this information flow on discourse and public policy has been uneven at best for a number of reasons that will be discussed below.

With national policies and development plans expressing a greater ambition towards becoming more evidence and results based (Office of the President 2004), and especially as the next five year National Development Plan is being prepared with poverty reduction again as a main objective, there appears to be a new demand for more systematic interpretation of macro trends and the likely impacts of policies directed towards the poor and vulnerable. Therefore, a key challenge facing policy makers at present is to draw conclusions from and reconcile a multitude of data sources, which often point in different directions and to a host of methodological challenges. The main objective of this paper is to derive some basic conclusions about the nature, level and trends of poverty in Namibia and thereby seek to deepen the debate about the possible impact of post-Independence efforts to reduce poverty. A secondary aim is to identify some of the causes that prevent, or at least impede, poverty research from informing the various stages of the policy and planning cycles.

We begin in Section 2 with an overview of current socio-economic trends to establish the macro picture and to begin exploring some of the complexities and apparent contradictions in economic and social developments in the post-Apartheid era. Section 3 lists a series of micro studies that have been carried out to investigate levels and trends of poverty and focus on the two most recent and extensive studies, the Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES), based on a quantitative household budget survey methodology, and the Regional Poverty Profiles (RPP), which were conducted primarily using qualitative research approaches. Both research efforts were commissioned by the government specifically to inform the preparation of the next National Development Plan and other strategies aimed at poverty reduction. When viewed separately, the two research processes can be interpreted to represent evidence of opposing poverty trends in Namibia. However, as explored in Section 4, where we revisit the tradition going back to Jodha (1988) and others in working with contradictions between results emanating from qualitative and quantitative research, much more is gained by combining the approaches than pitting them against each other. We then employ a Q-Squared approach by mixing the information sources to undertake additional analysis on the quantitative dataset and expand the poverty definition beyond income to include access to social services and assets. This helps us draw some preliminary and compatible conclusions about the levels and trends of poverty in Namibia that reflect the heterogeneity of poverty experiences. In the process, we also discuss how changes in survey methodologies have impacted results either by design or by default. In Section 5 we highlight a number of challenges in translating poverty research into policy action before we conclude in Section 6.

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